True innovation is when one creates solutions beyond the obvious and fulfills multiple voids within society all at once. In this complicated global economy, competition is fierce and innovation is key to differentiate and mobilize growth fast. I believe the most innovative leaders out there are those who have built organizations that are multi-faceted, usually servicing both a consumer and social need simultaneously.
At TheDoGooder, we offer our members DoGooder Deals, which are huge discounts on a variety of products and services. We essentially partner with merchants to drive our members to their store. This is our business focus, but we also have a social focus. As a means to bridge budget deficits and modernize school fundraising, profits from each DoGooder Deal sold goes back to a purchaser's preselected school or nonprofit. If a school or nonprofit member sources TheDoGooder a deal, their organization will get money every time others buy it as well. We create self-sustaining markets, empowering communities to leverage their relationships and support local economies while fundraising for schools, nonprofits and colleges. The idea was innovative enough to me that I decided to embark on the difficult road of launching TheDoGooder.com
I've always been most inspired by those who look beyond two-dimensional solutions to find win-win scenarios that double the impact. We have featured many DoGooder Spotlights who embrace the real life lesson of looking for the "win-win."
One DoGooder Spotlight feature that does this is Move for Hunger. Adam Lowy's New Jersey family has been in the moving business for more than 90 years. He grew up on a truck moving families from point A to point B. Along the way, he noticed the amount of food that was wasted. Non-perishables like canned food, pasta and rice were being thrown away with fruits and vegetables because most families didn't feel like packing it up.
After mulling over the situation with his father, they decided to collect the food and donate it to a local food bank instead of tossing it. In no time, they collected pounds of food without trying. When he delivered the food, Lowy was shocked by what they discovered. "I was stunned to learn that [the local food bank] catered to 140,000 people," he recalls. "It wasn't something that I thought was an issue in this area."
In 2009, he launched Move For Hunger and has donated more than 350,000 pounds of food since. Building on their success, Move For Hunger enlisted other moving companies from across the country and have built a network of 155 movers in 35 states. Moving companies who join Move For Hunger are added to an online registry where consumers can search and select a socially responsible mover. Affiliated moving companies leave a donation box at every job with a letter outlining the local hunger statistics.
Another organization we spotlighted and who has embraced win-win solutions is YouthLaunch's Urban Roots. The Austin, Texas-based nonprofit's mission for their urban gardening program is to engage under-served youth to grow food, provide opportunities to serve others and educate the community about the value of healthy lifestyles.
As a middle school teacher, Urban Roots founder Max Elliott discovered young people's enthusiasm for farming. "We realized kids really like to grow food and cook it," Elliott recalls. "I told YouthLaunch that if they were serious about pursuing a farming program that we could explore the urban farm model and create a youth development program centered on it."
Urban Roots hires 24 youth farm interns, three youth assistant crew leaders, and three youth agriculture interns to work for the upcoming program year. In the program's first year, 15 teenagers tended one acre of land and grew 15,000 pounds of produce. Now in its fourth year, Urban Roots has doubled in size and farms 3.5 acres of land to grow 32,000 pounds of produce. The program donates 40 percent of its produce to local soup kitchens/food pantries and sells the rest at farmers' markets in Austin. During the 25-week spring and summer program, the youth gets essential life and job skills while growing food for the community.
Additionally, Urban Roots provides a variety of workshops to ensure a well-rounded education on food, agriculture, and serving the community. The workshops incorporate life and job skills through the urban farming model. As a part of the program, Urban Roots offers public speaking, reflective journaling and identity workshops. In addition, Urban Roots teaches skills in money management and customer service that are used at the farmer's market as well as cooking techniques to provide a healthier lifestyle. Most importantly, the program provides awareness on hunger relief to inspire participants to give back to the community through soup kitchens and food pantries.
I love how these organizations rethought the traditional and created something that significantly impacts the community. Lowy and Elliot thought outside the box and built movements that have both helped to feed the hungry. At the same time, they are sparking awareness in their customers and afterschool participants about the world around them. Too often, people get stuck in their own worlds and opportunities to connect and help others are wasted. Both Move for Hunger and Urban Roots are thriving organizations because they re-engineered traditional practices with innovative solutions by embracing the "win-win."