I once sat in a law firm team meeting and everyone had to tell the group why they chose to practice law.
“To help people and make the world a better place”, I said without skipping a beat. Despite the fact that it may have been a little cliché, that was the truth. And you know what? Other lawyers (including the Partner) laughed! Now I didn’t really mind and I don’t think they were being cruel; I think they genuinely thought it was a little bit sweet and ‘quirky’ that I was sitting in a regional law firm talking about making the world a better place. Hey, I used to be a government prosecutor so I’m pretty sure they chalked it up to public service silliness.
So with my naïve idealism firmly shoved back in my pocket, we then went round the group and people said stuff like “problem solving”, “intellectual challenge”, “making shitloads of money”, yada, yada, yada (to his credit, the Partner did say “it gives me purpose” which I thought was a great answer too and was much more aligned with my warm and fuzzy, group hug kinda values). And yep, I get all of the above and law can be all of those things too (plus a gold watch and a set of steak knives if you hang around long enough).
But even in a corporate law firm, the desire to pay it forward and make a meaningful contribution through your work need not go down the drain while you clock your life in six-minute units – in fact, many lawyers and law firms are at the forefront of community contribution.
So whether you’re practising law or you’ve just launched a new business, don’t forget that so much joy in life comes from sharing and giving a little back. You may be a small business owner or entrepreneur, all caught up in your ‘vision and ‘mission’ statements and your ‘why’, so it really is the perfect time to include a bit of community love in your ‘why’.
Here are five examples of people and businesses making a difference, being social entrepreneurs and paying it forward.
1. The Ripple Effect: Rosa’s Fresh Pizza
Inspired by the “suspended coffee movement”, owner of a Philadelphia pizzeria, Mason Wartman, who left his Wall Street desk job to open Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, lets customers “pay it forward” by pre-purchasing $1 slices of pizza for people in need. And as Philadelphia apparently has the worst deep poverty rate in the country, with roughly 185,000 people (including 60,000 kids) living on incomes below half of the federal poverty line, it’s clear that this big-hearted pizza guy is serving a community need.
According to Upworthy, Wartman says pay-it-forward pizza started with one customer, one dollar, and one Post-it note and has now grown to represent a huge 10% of his business as well as preventing people from resorting to petty crime out of hunger.
“I knew it saved people money,’ Mr. Wartman said. ‘I hadn’t considered that it stopped people from committing crime.’
How’s that for a positive ripple effect?
2. The Matchmaker: MentorMe
Studies have shown that 18 million kids in the US want, and need, a mentor, referred to as the “mentoring gap”. Brittany Fitzpatrick, tech entrepreneur and Founder and CEO of MentorMe, experienced the brilliant benefits of mentoring as a young child when her single mother had to work two jobs to support the family and enrolled her in mentor camps and programs when she was at work. Fitzpatrick decided it was time to pay it forward by becoming a mentor herself for many years.
With a passion to help those young children in particular who desperately need a mentor or a guide in their lives, Brittany eventually founded her own start-up, MentorMe, based on matching mentors with mentees and built on the principles of reciprocity, mutual respect, shared values. Leveraging technology to provide organisations with a platform to create strong matches between mentors and mentees, the business is paying it forward to thousands of young men and women in the US.
3. The Microfinance Supporter: Nest Legal
“We’d like to leave the world a nicer place than how we found it. And we suspect you might too.” We do! Laura Vickers of Nest Legal, a virtual Australian law firm is paying it forward every time a past client refers a new client by investing $10 in another woman’s business via Kiva, an organisation dedicated to providing safe, affordable access to capital to help women around the world create better lives for themselves and their families.
Nest Legal says it chooses to invest in women, as women are proven more likely than men to share the rewards of microfinance and put their income back into their families and communities, driving illiteracy and mortality rates down and GDP up. So Laura not only runs an award-winning virtual law firm, she’s giving back too. We love it.
4. The Sisterhood: Dell Australia
Hoping to track support for 1 million women entrepreneurs by the end of 2015 by leveraging its network, Dell Australia started its Pay it Forward initiative, harnessing the power of Dell’s women’s networks to positively impact the future of women’s entrepreneurship. The aim of the campaign is to encourage women to help other women in business, share their skills, money and experience, and to create a global community of women supporting women. With International Women’s Day just around the corner, I can hear all the kick ass women out there go “yeah!”
5. The Knowledge Sharer: Andrew Weinrich
Beginning his career as a banker and lawyer, Weinrich fell in love with the seductive world of start-ups and left to become general counsel for a tech company. After being granted the first patent for social networking and selling his start-up, sixdegrees (a Facebook predecessor), for $125 million, Andrew went on to build a number of software products and later decided it was time to pay it forward to the world’s budding entrepreneurs.
Andrew’s Roadmaps was the result of his socially minded endeavours and desire to find disruptive companies masterminded by charismatic founders who need funding and support – a two-day boot camp for early-stage start-ups, hosted several times a year in New York City, and accepting only 60 applicants per session.
So if you’re a lawyer, entrepreneur, small business owner or you’re simply looking to make bit of a difference before you shuffle off this mortal coil, take a tip or two from these business minds. As Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
How do you plan to revive your business and give back a little?