Doing Well By Doing Good—How Three Entrepreneurs Made Their Names Go Viral

04/05/2017 02:00 pm ET Updated Apr 06, 2017
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The United States most important founding father, Benjamin Franklin (the only founding father to have signed all four of the key documents establishing the U.S.: the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaty of Alliance with France (1778), the Treaty of Paris establishing peace with Great Britain (1783) and the U.S. Constitution (1787)) once wrote:

“He is ill clothed that is bare of virtue. A good conscience is a continual Christmas.”

Wealthy enough to comfortably retire by the age of 42, he refused to copyright his inventions, preferring to encourage the advancement of all mankind as opposed to just himself. From forming the first lending library, the Philadelphia Hospital and the Pennsylvania Academy (the country’s first liberal arts college), to firehouses and beyond, Franklin dedicated his resources to giving back.

Recently it’s been my pleasure to come across a variety of people whose careers have received a much-deserved push into the spotlight because they’ve been “doing well by doing good.”

They haven’t chased fame and PR; it’s chased them. Here are three of those extraordinary individuals.

Chris Stuart-Wilson, Entertainment Entrepreneur

Chris Stuart-Wilson, whose entrepreneurial path has included acting, choreography, writing, producing and dancing, has been teaching dance classes to all ages and abilities for over 10 years. In addition, he’s also been well-known in the UK for his masterful Musical Theatre choreography and his creative self-produced and self-written shows like “Jesus L’ Oreal-Oh My Dad: Christ On A Bike,” presented at numerous venues including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (now celebrating its 70th anniversary).

Chris Stuart-Wilson
Courtesy of Chris Stuart-Wilson
Chris Stuart-Wilson

Although he has a well-established reputation within the UK performing arts industry, most people don’t know that his original career path was a scientific one. With a passion to help people in need, he created a series of programs based on the research many others such as The Harvard Medical School have advanced, which has proven time and again that dancing can help stem the tide of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

BBC Scotland News Choreographer Chris Wilson is using dance to enrich the lives of people with dementia. BBC Timeline made this film about his work. More: http://bbc.in/2mrl6Ix

Using his scientific background, Chris has created a seated dance program called "Seated Swing" for older adults suffering from Dementia or the effects of motor debilitating afflictions like Stroke. He also created “Dance for Dementia,” 30 minute classes using upbeat music inspired by the swing and jazz era, not only help to maintain muscle tone by providing light, physical exercise but also to improve memory retention and elevate mood.

“Dancing For Dementia.”
Courtesy of Chris Stuart-Wilson
“Dancing For Dementia.”

With funding secured by the outreach department of Dance Base in Edinburgh, Chris was able to visit care homes in the Edinburgh area providing these classes along with his colleague Fiona Blair.

Earlier this year, word of mouth led BBC Scotland News to film and to interview the attendants of one of his classes. “I assumed this would be a national piece for the Scotland crowd,” said Stuart-Wilson in an interview last week. “I was pleased that they took an interest, but I never expected it to go viral globally via Facebook. I certainly never expected that it would prompt so much media attention.”

Nor could he guess that the two minute video would achieve a whopping 15M views. Needless to say, Stuart-Wilson’s profile grew enormously overnight and he’s still trying to process this pleasant but surprising turn of events.

Meantime, there’s no slowing down for this talented guy with the rock solid physique and the head-turning good looks. He’s choreographing a version of Cole Porter’s High Society, which begins a 5 month run at Pitlochry Festival Theatre in May. Also in May, Stuart-Wilson’ Edinburgh Fringe comedy hit, Oh My Dad: Christ On A Bike is going to the Brighton Fringe for one night only at the Komedia Club.

His Dance Base classes will continue on a weekly basis; he’s about to launch weekly classes in Glasgow and he’ll be launching a blog about his work, outlook and experiences in the near future.

I don’t know where he gets his energy from. But his spirit obviously comes from a very good place indeed.

Julie Winokur, Documentary Filmmaker/Entrepreneur

Julie Winokur, Founder and Executive Director Talking Eyes Media, has been a storyteller for over two decades, first as a magazine writer and then as a documentary filmmaker. Having launched Talking Eyes in 2002, she’s focused on creating visual media that catalyzes positive social change.

Her latest project, “Bring It To The Table,” was the outgrowth of her son’s accusation that she had become an intolerant liberal. It was something of a wakeup call for Winokur, who is as passionate about her beliefs as she is about helping to give a voice to those who are in need of it.

Julie Winokur, “Bringing It To The Table.”
Courtesy of Julie Winokur
Julie Winokur, “Bringing It To The Table.”

With the hope of reintroducing civility into our political discourse, the film aggregates hundreds of interviews with voters of all types from every corner of America. Winokur had no desire to change anyone’s mind or perspective—she merely wanted to create a safe environment where people could share their reasons for holding particular perspectives with others who do not share those perspectives. In short, she’s doing what our political leaders should be doing—finding a way to bring about a civilized discourse and promote understanding between two sides of an issue.

Bring It to The Table: Table Talk Concept Democracy is founded on robust dialogue, but somewhere along the line, politics replaced sex as the one thing in America we don't discuss in mixed company ­ even amongst friends and family. Bring it to the Table is a participatory online platform, community engagement campaign, and webisode series aimed at bridging America's political divide and elevating the national conversation.

“When it comes to all of the heated discourse that erupted around the recent election cycle and the results of the current administration, I think it’s fairly clear that people are feeling frustrated, confused and perhaps a little lost,” said Winokur in an interview two weeks ago. “Nobody seems satisfied. And no one seems sure about what’s true anymore. We need to make this about issues and not so much about politicians. My goal is about trying to shift people’s outlook on this and making sure that young people aren’t completely discouraged from participating.”

Considering how venomous and personal discourse has gotten, Winokur’s approach seems almost revolutionary. Most of us (including myself) make personal judgments or assessments about family and friends based on what they believe. Many did what I chose to do, which was to simply use the “unfriend” button on Facebook when it got too ugly.

Courtesy of Julie Winokur

Winokur believes that the biggest value from having these difficult conversations is that it can teach us how to self-examine and how to listen to people we don’t agree with. Most of us don’t know how to listen actively because we’re too busy listening in order to respond.

Listening actively requires practice in order to become skillful at it. Likewise, we don’t usually become involved in political or religious conversations with the intent of learning from someone else; it’s usually more about sharing what we believe.

“Right now, we have a broken communications system,” says Winokur. “So the takeaway from a two-hour presentation is hopefully a set of tools people can deploy in their lives in order to communicate better with others. I ask them two questions: Do you want to be part of the problem? Or part of the solution?”

Winokur is right. We can disagree without being disagreeable. “But we’ve made disagreement almost a personal assault. There’s this assumption that if you disagree, that there’s a personal attack underway.”

Winokur suggests that the media has spun it this way. To some extent I have to agree, but by and large the media did not unleash Donald Trump into the spotlight. People did that.

It was the American public who did not step up to the plate and complain when the likes of Trump and Sanders turned negative. They also didn’t complain about all of the fake news surrounding Hillary Clinton. The American public is responsible for all of this. After all, people can only do to you what you allow them to do.

Regardless of my divergence on this point with Winokur, I admire what she’s trying to achieve. As a result of her efforts, her already respectable profile has risen considerably and deservedly so.

Winokur is currently touring the country, working with people who are hosting Bringing It events in their community. These can be done either with a live presentation or by sharing the film, with someone local leading the spin at civil discourse.

Perhaps we should all give it a shot—it just might change someone’s life in the same way it has changed Linokur’s.

Chris Castro, Sustainable Energy And Urban Farming Activist

I first heard of Chris Castro, the 28 years old Co-Founder and Advisor to Fleet Farming, a company which transforms unproductive, wasteful lawns into community-driven urban farm plots, by virtue of a friend who shared a link about him and Fleet on Facebook (yes, social media is good for more than funny memes and pics of babies).

Chris Castro
Courtesy of Chris Castro
Chris Castro

Castro’s program, supported by the sustainability advocacy group IDEAS For Us (of which he is also the Founder) and rooted in the fertility of eager homeowners and enthusiastic volunteers, wants to grow fast. An energetic and highly active community organizer and sustainability professional, Castro also has a profound passion for accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy.

He’s also currently the Senior Adviser and Director of Sustainability for Mayor Buddy Dyer and the City of Orlando, developing policies and programs to support the sustainability, energy & climate-related goals of the Green Works Orlando municipal and community action plans. Whew!

Castro and his partners, Justin Vandenbroeck, Clayton Ferrara, and Lee Perry (also millennial leaders), share a self-proclaimed obsession—turning the perfectly manicured lawns into mini-farms. Not just in Florida, but across the nation. Not content with their already busy day jobs, they spend most of their spare time supporting this and other initiatives—something for which neither he nor the team receive any payment. Hmmm.

Castro's parents are palm tree farmers in south Florida, and his degree in environmental science and policy is a perfect combination of his day job and side projects, including Fleet. All of Fleet’s workers are volunteers, with an exception of 3: a part-time branch manager, a farming coordinator and a volunteer coordinator. This is clear evidence that the urban farming and local food production can actually make economic sense. Going from garden to garden to harvest the produce, they only do so riding bikes.

“A swarm of bicycles.”
Courtesy of Chris Castro
“A swarm of bicycles.”

"A fleet of farmers arrive in a swarm of bicycles," Castro said, "harvesting lettuce, kale, arugula and many other types of produce. Along with sales at the farmers market, to local restaurants and being hired to build raised bed gardens for apartment complexes, schools and retirement communities, Fleet will also soon be selling toolkits to start Fleet Farming branches in other communities. As a pilot, they have started Fleet Farming branches in Oakland, Calif. and Jacksonville, FL, both which are selling produce to local restaurants.”

"The amount of interest is incredibly surprising," Castro says. “We’re asking people to hand over a good chunk of their precious yards to volunteers who plant gardens full of produce. Homeowners pay us to do this for them and receive the benefit that they can pick and pluck all they can eat. Slowly but surely, we’re spreading this into a national movement.”

The “product” of Fleet Farming’s initiatives.
Courtesy of Chris Castro
The “product” of Fleet Farming’s initiatives.

Both Castro and the Fleet team have plenty of savvy, drive and a passionate concern for the planet, all of which is bringing about positive progress. Fleet is growing faster than they can keep up with; properties are always being added to the growing waitlist.

They are in the careful process of formulating plans for nationwide opportunities for Fleet Farming franchises. Unlike other franchises, these would keep all of their profits, paying a nominal annual fee to remain a part of a supportive collective.

“This isn’t about us making money,” said Castro. “We do that with our day jobs. It’s about making a difference and improving the lives and communities that we live in around the Country.”

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