Most of us are familiar with the concept pay it forward – the idea that one good deed can start a ripple effect; perhaps the person you treat kindly will pay it forward by doing a good deed for someone else, sustaining a chain of small actions that amount to something great.
This idea intrigued me and guided the way I lead my personal life. I did not give much thought to how small acts of kindness could translate in business. Business is fundamentally driven by profit and loss, not deeds of kindness. So it was a wonderful surprise when the act of paying it forward led to the birth of The Global Good Fund–an international multi-million-dollar social enterprise. Perhaps small acts of kindness can drive successful business after all.
The small act of kindness that changed my life was a gift of lunch money on my 26th birthday. My boss at the time, Knox Singleton, CEO of Inova, gave me a birthday card. Inside the card was a check for $100 and a note that read, “Here is the money I would have spent taking you and your colleagues to lunch for your birthday. Now you can start to live your dream.”
The dream Knox mentioned was an idea I’d explained to him two months earlier. I was grateful to have a mentor who challenged me to think big, a sponsor who coached me and pulled me up. Knox’s actions conveyed that he believed in me. What if we could pair emerging young leaders like me with executives like Knox who have top-tier experience and hearts of gold? What if we backed this pairing with targeted financial capital to serve as a catalyst for social good? What positive social impact we could have!
Newly 26-years-old, and without connections or influence, I was a kid with a fistful of lunch money. I thought to myself, “What if we could turn $100 into $1,000?” I got to work, emailing organizations I volunteered with to ask how they would spend $1000 to create sustainable impact. I was inspired to receive responses that we could improve literacy rates in a DC classroom, support community agriculture for 10 families in Haiti, and enable 25 women to go to secondary school in Tanzania – all with $1,000.
Inspired, I emailed friends, family–and ultimately every person in my contact list–explaining that my boss gave me lunch money and that if we each gave a little, maybe it would add up to something great. I titled my email “The Global Good Fund” since every email needs a subject heading. I was dazzled when my friends donated $5, $20, $50.
And then an anonymous email response changed everything. A gentleman I met at a conference one year prior was touched by what others considered my naivete. He offered to write a check for $1,000,000.
I figured his email must be a prank, but what if it was real? I asked him to meet me for a conversation. To my utter shock, he arrived with a bank certified check made out to The Global Good Fund for $1,000,000 and asked me what I would do with the money. Mortified, I explained I did not think he would show for our meeting and that I was unprepared, that The Global Good Fund was merely the subject heading of my email. Then I pitched my idea: I would use his money to identify and accelerate the personal development of high potential young leaders using entrepreneurship for social good by pairing them with seasoned business executives and targeted financial capital.
I walked out of the meeting (shaking, sweating and hyperventilating) with $1,000,000 for The Global Good Fund. I reported straight to my boss, asking for his help after explaining what became of his lunch money. My boss offered to match the $1,00,000 donation and his sustained mentorship.
It has been nearly five years since The Global Good Fund was born. Today, the Global Good Fund’s flagship product is our Fellowship, a 15-month experience supporting social entrepreneurs around the globe. This year, we received 2,500 applications for 14 Fellowship positions. Our secret sauce remains a focus on experiential learning and support from executive mentors and leadership development coaches who dedicate their time. We developed proprietary tools and leadership services that help our Fellows grow and bring sustainable development to their local communities.
It is ironic to think about the ‘big break’ that enabled The Global Good Fund to get off the ground. I am beyond lucky to have received donations, big and small, especially the $1,000,000 and the lunch money. But the biggest break was finding a boss who invested his faith in me, a mentor who planted the seeds for The Global Good Fund by believing in me to the point that I wanted to pay it forward to other young leaders. I am starting to understand that greatness begins with a small step.
What small act will you do today that will make the world a better place?