Every day on HuffPost, we'll be highlighting one 'Greatest Person'- an exceptional individual who is confronting the country's economic and political crises with creativity, generosity, and passion. Gene Epstein, a 71-year-old philanthropist, is HuffPost's first Greatest Person of the Day. Through his latest venture, Hire Just One, the Philadelphia-based retiree has pledged to donate $1,000 to charity every time a small business in the country hires an unemployed person, up to $250,000. "It's up to real people and small businesses to get this economy going again," he says. We chatted with Gene recently about the Hire Just One campaign.
HuffPost: When did you first have the idea for Hire Just One? What prompted it?
Gene Epstein: There was no one moment that inspired Hire Just One. It was put into this world by the build-up of my frustrations with unemployment in this country. I was watching unemployment rise, and seeing no real programs put out by anyone from any political party to fix it. I'm not partisan; neither party knows what they're doing!
HP: Where do you see the solution?
GE: As a small business owner, I knew that the solution is in small business. These days, employee productivity has peaked, and employees are stressed out and putting in as many hours as they physically can. They fear being the next person laid off because businesses have trimmed back to be 'mean and lean.' At the same time, 80 percent of small businesses are making a profit (granted, not as much as before), but are holding off on adding employees to wait for definite direction from Washington concerning taxes and various proposed programs that will take forever to implement. Why wait when we can encourage small businesses to hire ourselves? If, out of the 5.7 million small businesses in this country, only 10 percent invest in one new employee, the ripple effect will be absolutely monumental. It will be the beginning of a New Era.
HP: Elaborate a little on how you're encouraging small businesses to hire.
GE: I thought to myself, I'd be willing to take my income and give it away if it encouraged people to hire people. So that's what I'm doing, that's what Hire Just One is all about. But the point isn't about giving the money to charity. No business should hire someone just to get $1,000 for charity; that's bad business. The $1,000 is to attract attention to the ideas behind the Hire Just One campaign, to show people that hiring a new employee is the best way to grow your business. By pledging this money I'm hoping to get many more than 250 small businesses to hire new employees.
HP: What has the response been to Hire Just One?
GE: Around 170 small businesses from around the country have gotten in touch with me, saying they're going to start hiring, and 1,300 unemployed people have contacted me and shared their stories. People feel good just letting it out, and having someone to share it with. I used to get five to ten e-mails a day and could easily respond to them all. After the recent press coverage, it's been one a minute. I just hired someone part time to help me answer all the messages. See, even I'm hiring because of this!
HP: If you could sit down with Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia, what would you tell him to do to get people back to work?
GE: Call every business owner in town to a convention hall and explain to them that they can turn their businesses around. It's up to them, they have the power that can do it now. Why wait? Hiring now is the cheapest investment that pays the highest dividends.
HP: You've clearly turned your thoughts into action with Hire Just One. What can someone who can't afford to give away $250,000 do to participate in what you've started?
GE: What you can do as an individual is simple: spread the word. Tell businesses about the website, www.hirejustone.org . Encourage them to share their positive hiring stories with other businesses. Go out and talk to businesses in your communities, speak up at township meetings, or chamber of commerce get-togethers. Individuals can make a difference. My $1,000 donations are just to grab people's attention. What I really want is for people to realize that hiring just one right now is a great idea. It is a win-win situation.
HP: Name a hero of yours.
GE: My grandmother, a great Jewish woman who used to have a candy store in north Philadelphia. My grandparents were poor, but they were the biggest contributors to the charity at the Catholic Church, which was across the street. I asked her when I was a kid, "How can you give that much?" She told me that as long as we have enough to feed ourselves and put clothes on our backs, the rest could go to help people who needed food and shelter. She taught me mitzvah--kindness. Not to use a pun, but I think helping others is in my genes.
HP: Where do you get your strength, what helps you get out of bed in the morning, what helps you rise above the challenges you face?
GE: Honestly, I don't know. I'm amazed. I think I'm going to run full steam until I pop. My father died at 47, however my mother lived until 104 and she was bright until the very end. I'm just trying to make things better, because I'm here. If there is a God, somehow I just might end up in heaven -- if a thousand people writing, "God bless you" by e-mail is worth something up there. Who knows? I just have to keep trying.
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