Light the Fire and Clear the Path


In Jon Mertz’s new book, Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders, Jon talks about Soul Sparks:

“Soul sparks are those small ignitions of inspiration that fan into big changes, new directions, or fresh works. They come from deep down inside. Make your body and mind shake with excitement. These are soul sparks.” 

I am blessed to have had bosses who saw soul sparks in me and gave me opportunities to develop and spread them. These bosses mentored and supported my soul sparks up to the highest levels of the company and made sure I succeeded.  They viewed their job as lighting the fire and clearing the path for me.  Because that was how I was managed and led from the start of my career, because that was really all I personally and gratefully knew, that was how I managed and led others; how could I know otherwise?

Just as one candle lights another and can light thousands of other candles, so one heart illuminates another heart and can illuminate thousands of other hearts. ~ Leo Tolstoy

In my career, I’ve helped clients ignite soul sparks and surpass goals we thought were long shots.  I’ve had C-suiters give air cover to employees with soul sparks that when implemented changed industries, delivered value propositions for their customers’ customers and created opportunities for new hires and employee growth.   Needless to say, this is fun, rewarding and keeps sparks spreading.

Perhaps most joyful has been fueling soul sparks with Millennials I’m privileged to mentor who also mentor me.  Serendipitously, many of their stories are posted on Swearer Sparks! I love “my” Millennials sense of entitlement.  Yes! Entitlement –of being entitled to pursue their soul sparks to change the world and ignite soul sparks in others.  

Soul Sparks challenge orthodoxy

Sidney Kusher founded CCChampions as a junior in college to match kids going through the horrors of cancer treatment with pro athletes and heroes, to help them feel like champions.   Sidney’s soul spark changes the lives of these kids, their families, their doctors and nurses and their “champions” in ways he never could have anticipated.  And it changes the lives of those of us who have been a part of this journey.   I’ve been privileged to help Sidney keep the spark going when the daily frustrations of managing a staff, fundraising, and emotional drain of cancer’s reality take a toll. But soul sparks cannot be contained.  Soul sparks are contagious.  I don’t know who benefits more – Sidney when I help him be the leader at 24 I wasn’t at 30 or me from his wisdom, honestly and authenticity.  Despite the rapid growth of kids in need without the rapid growth in staff to support it, CCChampions March Madness March to Friendship surpassed all expectations and broke records – raising enough funds to support 40 new kids with cancer! 

Soul Sparks ignite when the focus is on others, not on oneself.

Jayson Marwaha and Han Sheng Chia started MED-International as sophomores in college providing medical equipment and tools for maintenance in emerging markets.  They started in Zanzibar with incubators and X-ray machines that were too ‘old’ for us in America.  Computer science and engineering students caught the spark, developing tools to track and repair equipment so it could be up and running to save and heal lives.  MED tried to grow into other emerging markets, but no viable business model emerged. After a summer of research in Tanzania and Ghana, they realized that to scale and impact patient care, they needed to be on the ground most of the time.  As a board member, I should have pushed shutting the business down earlier, since there was no viable path to profitability.  As a mentor, I knew they needed to come to that conclusion on their own, having tried all possibilities.  In the end, they created an elegant, gracious and compassionate solution – they open-sourced the software so it can be used in any hospital anywhere in the world.  In the four years MED was running, it saved lives.  Not many of us can claim that.

Soul Sparks are real.  They drive us to innovate and to make an impact.  So what will you do to ignite the Soul Spark in others? Find a way, because it will ignite a spark within you!

 

This post is part of a community-wide initiative on Soul Sparks celebrating the launch of Jon Mertz’s book, Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders.  Please read it and visit his site, Thin Difference

“Goodbye Mr. Jones”: The End of the Dow as an American Index

Is the concept of national corporations and financial indices outdated? Perhaps! Charles Hensley's perspective about tax inversion challenges us to think about 'national' status, incentives, and the constraints of 20th C thinking. This is taken from The Intercollegiate Finance Journal (IFJ) is an undergraduate student-run journal about how current finance, economics, business and technology issues affect students' lives.  Please consider supporting the IFJ to ensure that our youth's voices are heard and heeded. 
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Pfizer, America’s largest pharmaceutical company and a member of the Dow Jones Index, made a bid to acquire its British competitor AstraZeneca this past May. The acquisition would have allowed Pfizer to perform a tax inversion by moving its headquarters from the United States, which has the highest corporate tax rate of any rich nation, to Great Britain, which has one of the lowest.

American and British lawmakers alike were up in arms over the deal, which AstraZeneca eventually rejected. American lawmakers denounced the potential loss of corporate tax revenue and of Pfizer as an American company – even though none of its assets held in America would invert. It would simply have been unpatriotic. The Dow has long been considered the showcase of American corporate power and the loss of one of its 30 members to the British would have been a huge blow to America’s corporate hegemony. The British similarly decried the potential loss of one of their most prestigious corporations to foreigners.

The corporations themselves do not take patriotic pride into consideration, however, and see tax inversion simply as a sound business plan.
Corporate Mythology

Decrying tax inversion as unpatriotic misses the point. The idea of an “American” corporation is increasingly becoming a myth.

Pfizer’s CEO, for example, is British. According to The Economist, Pfizer’s domestic density index, which measures a company’s domestic business compared to its international side, is 49 percent. AstraZeneca’s CEO is French and it has a domestic density rating of only 12 percent. Even Coca-Cola has less than half of its sales and staff in the United States, though, like Pfizer, a majority of its shareholders are American. America’s corporations are not really as “American” as we might like to think.

This is the case for much of the Dow and corporate America in general. Medtronic, one of the world’s largest medical device makers, is currently in the process of inverting from Minnesota to Ireland; Burger King plans to send the King himself to Canada; and Chiquita – the only Banana company anyone has heard of – is moving to Ireland. This is all bad news for American corporate tax lawyers because, with their official headquarters overseas, companies will no longer be subject to American’s convoluted corporate tax code.

Officially, the US corporate tax rate is 35 percent, but it is so fraught with loopholes and tax breaks that companies rarely foot the whole bill. Moreover, corporations headquartered in the United States are supposed to pay taxes on revenue generated all over the world but are only required to pay taxes on the money that they actually bring home. Consequently, companies have stopped bringing foreign revenue home: U.S. corporations have around $2 trillion on foreign balance sheets.
 

The Trials of Tax Reform

Tax inversion is not unpatriotic, but it is nonetheless a problem. The United States loses more than half of total corporate tax income to loopholes. Inversions will only compound this problem and siphon off more tax income. Congress is moving to change the laws governing inversion, which currently allows inversions as long as stockholders who were not holders of the U.S. company hold at least 20 percent of the merged company. The Stop Corporate Inversions Act of 2014 introduced by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) aims to raise the level of ownership to 50 percent among other stipulations. Congressional Democrats claim that their legislation will keep $19.5 billion per year in the United States.

The Treasury Department has also stepped up regulation in the face of the spate of recent inversions. New regulations proposed by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew would cut down on “spinversions,” which are a form of inversion where a company splits off one of its parts and turns it into a separate corporate entity backed by the original company and governed by the original company’s shareholders. Secretary Lew also aims to regulate “hopscotch,” which allows companies to access their foreign cash reserves without paying taxes. However, new regulations will not affect the Burger King deal or many others in their final stages of inversion.

Tax inversions are a symptom of a larger problem: America’s bloated corporate tax code. Substantive tax reform is one of the most politically poisonous issues to grapple with in Washington D.C. and corporate tax debates arouse great rancor from politicians and interest groups. In light of these hurdles, these new measures are stopgap at best. Tax inversions themselves do not need to be legislated away, if that is even possible in the face of an army of corporate tax lawyers. Instead, the corporate tax code needs to be streamlined and the tax rate lowered to be on par with that of other developed nations.

Economics is the study of incentives, so a good economist knows that to change the corporate system, you have to change corporate incentives.

Incremental regulation has failed in the past and will continue to fail as long as other nations have comparatively advantageous tax codes in the eyes of corporations. The idea of corporate patriotism is not enough to keep corporations in the United States. Politicians and regulators must accept this fact and work to alter the incentives so that corporate taxes for work done in the United States go to the United States.

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Charles Hensley is a junior at Brown University concentrating in Philosophy and Economics.  IFJ is a rapidly expanding student-run publication that seeks to educate the undergraduate community about topics in finance, economics, business and technology. The IFJ blends sophistication and accessibility to provide relevant, informative and entertaining financial content. We pride ourselves on having “an article for everyone”. Comprised of students from Brown, University of Chicago, Columbia, NYU and MIT and is expanding to other schools. Please support this organization to let our youth's voices be heard!  The IFJ can be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

5 Lessons from an Office on the Edge

Kris Ansin is the executive director of Mali Health Organizing Project - an amazing company increasing access to primary maternal and child healthcare in Mali.  This past year, Mali repelled an Islamic coup and had it's first case of Ebola, hopefully contained.  To say Kris lives in a complex and complicated world is an understatement. This is his story of what he's learned living and working at the edge.
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I have a passion for exploring the world’s corners – those places far away from a Wall St, Main St, or any another familiar boulevard. These corners have been the places and times where I’ve learned the most about the world and myself. For the last three years, I have satiated this string of my DNA with an unconventional job – as Executive Director of a small NGO addressing maternal and child survival in slums of Mali, West Africa, where health outcomes are among the lowest in the world. Despite this unconventional “corner” office, the lessons I’ve learned (or in some cases, those imposed by necessity) have been profound, and many seem applicable in myriad professional settings.

More and more offices exist at the corner, situated in the messy confluences of cultures and technologies and in the borderlands of traditional disciplines.  As a millennial leader, I see the ways our generation’s coming of age in the workforce has prepared us to lead from these spaces, to support a more inclusive and empathetic framework, and to embrace failure as an inevitable process towards achievement.

Delegation

Every time I have assigned someone a task, rather than taking it on myself, the net effect – short-term, long-term, or both – is decidedly positive. As my grandfather, my own mentor in management, would remind me, “delegate, but don’t abdicate.” Far from the desertion of tedious tasks or monotonous busywork, this means giving team members control and independence, and constantly cleaning the edges of my own plate that, almost by definition of the role, will constantly overflow. Identifying the right person for the right job at the right time is not always obvious and itself merits deliberate thought.  This process feels more like the conducting of an orchestra than the delivery of orders or obligation. Effective distribution of accountability and responsibility, then, leads to better musicians, increased practice, more time in the spotlight, and most important, harmony.

The Danger of Assumptions

So often dissonance, disappointment, or disaster is a result of poor communications. In this job, it’s necessary to navigate differences in language, culture, and distance. It is easy for messages to be lost or distorted with such obvious traps. The recipient of a message, for completely legitimate reasons, understands in a wholly difference context than its original intention.

Assumptions, conscious or not, frequently contribute to poor communications, and I’ve tried to make that admission to myself in my interactions – often, I have no idea what another person is thinking. I have to ask, and I have to make time for the answers, and both steps are equally important. The difference between interest and position (thank you, Getting to Yes) is often clouded, but if you ask enough and listen more, the way forward can also become clear.  Last, if possible, I save important conversations for when there is no computer screen separating me from others. Despite technology’s accomplishments, there is no substitute for physically being in the same space.

Motivation

I can’t outcompete anyone, or nearly anyone, when it comes to employee compensation. It’s a troublesome and common trend in nonprofits but particularly in a small organization with a startup attitude. What I’ve found, however, is traditional views of compensation don’t reflect how people behave in – or towards – this organization. Other factors, like meaningful work, a wide degree of autonomy, and strategic recognition (both internal and external) seem to be more powerful drivers.  The ability to offer an environment replete with these conditions have nullified, or at least mitigated, what would commonly be seen as an Achilles heel. We have to pay something, and expect compensation levels to reach more equitable levels as we grow, but more meaningful forms of motivation have boded well for this organization. Interns are given real responsibilities (with real results), staff are trusted and given their own budgets to plan and manage, and a mission-driven attitude is permeable when staff members collaborate, focusing on a shared pursuit. Employee of the Month, annual Family Days, professional development stipends, the distribution of meat to field staff at the end of Ramadan, and FedEx Days are all ways we have built this culture of compensation beyond bottom line.

All of me

Professional roles in Mali are rigid. Structure and formality are common in the professional context, and if I were graded based on this rubric, I’d fail. Just ask my staff. Rather, during my extended stays in our field office, the traditional divide between work and life blurs. For me, this is a positive development. Bosses in any culture hold a degree of power and can encourage interactions that are artificial or soul-sucking (One NYT Sunday Review article just cited the fact that in a typical day, spending time with one’s boss is the #1 unhappiest activity one can perform).  Allowing my staff see a more personal side of me has led to a more intimate and productive office.  They can laugh, and appreciate, when I stammer through local languages, and helping me to navigate unfamiliar moors provides space for them to lead. They come to know me better when I share personal experience, or spend time with them in an informal setting. And in turn, they can be more of themselves, and bring more of themselves, to our shared cause.

The F-word

Addressing child survival is no small undertaking. If progress were easy, this challenge, and the many like it, would undoubtedly have been solved. But behind a simple problem are often complex influencers that necessitate sophisticated solutions. Which carries greater risk. In the nonprofit sector, results are often necessary within a calendar year, and in a business setting, quarterly earnings often inform value and success. Real progress however, is more messy and less linear. We have to innovate, test, fail, and try again, in order to ensure a true impact on such a societal problem.  Yes, evaluation is important and progress is our goal, but failure is an important part of the process, and too often swept under the rug. In traditional contexts, failure is the opposite of success; instead, failure must serve as a tool that helps achieve a goal, a course-correction that must be recognized and understood, not reduced and forgotten. The challenges of today require a redefinition of failure, and young leaders are poised to carry that torch. Having lived in a short time in the context of incredible forces of progress and regression, we realize both the consequences and the opportunities. Both are great. To find success, we have to fail.

BIO:  Kris Ansin is the Executive Director of the Mali Health Organizing Project, increasing access to quality primary care in peri-urban communities, the world's fastest growing populace. Through health saving and financing initiatives, strengthened systems between communities and clinics, and quality improvement programs at local health centers, Mali Health is developing a sustainable and participatory model of healthcare delivery in resource-strained environments. Kris grew up in Massachusetts, holds a Masters of Public Health in International Health and Development from Tulane University in New Orleans, and has worked with a number of large and small organizations in Africa and South Asia. As Executive Director, he is responsible for crafting Mali Health’s strategic vision, communications, programs, financing, and fundraising. He divides his time between the US and Bamako, Mali.

A version of this was originally published in Switch and Shift.

Does HR Need a New Business Model?

Innovation requires rethinking how we do business. My guest post on ZDNet (Thank you, Michael Krigsman!), shares an approach for HR to re-examine how it serves the needs of Millennial workers, using the Business Model & Value Proposition Canvases

"...HR is in desperate need of a new business model. The combination of boomers retiring, Millennials expanding their presence in the workplace, intense competition for top talent, confusing and changing regulations, and new technology make HR ripe for change." Read on here.


15 Hours: A Common Sense Action Blueprint for Congress

What if our youth started to take government back? Well, it's happening. SamGilman and Andrew Kaplan, college juniors started Common Sense Action in 2012 with one chapter.  Now they have over 20 chapters in 15 states with AGE, The Agenda for Generational Equity to get their voice impacting policy.  Read on, be proud of our next generation and get on board! See why I love learning from these guys? 
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15 Hours: A Common Sense Action Blueprint for Congress

Don’t you wish that we sometimes forced Republicans and Democrats in Congress to sit in a room until they agreed on how to move the country forward? Unless you’re one of the 9% of people who view Congress favorably, you probably do. 

A generation ago, politicians saw eye to eye – literally.  Our Democratic and Republican members of Congress lived side-by-side in the nation’s capital, linking their professional lives with their personal ones.  They ate and drank together; their families were friendly; they stood on the sidelines of their children’s baseball games together.  So when it came time to negotiate and make a deal, they trusted each other, knowing they would have to see each other the next day. Today, most members live in their home states and travel to Washington for three days for a whirlwind of legislating, interest-group meetings, and fundraisers – quickly returning to their home states on Thursdays whether business is finished or not.

At one event last summer, we spent half-an-hour listening to a Representative professing to make an enormous effort to get to know members of the opposite party. Seconds after the Representative finished talking, the former chair of the member’s committee walked in.  This former chair was from the opposite party.  They introduced themselves to each other for the first time. They had never met.  This kind of disconnect is unacceptable, especially when the political gridlock we face can only be broken by the power of relationships. Without time to get to know each other, how can we expect the Senator from Michigan to trust her counterpart from Georgia?

But what if Congress followed the old model today?  What if Congress used a Common Sense Action blueprint?

On Sunday, January 6, delegates from Common Sense Action (@CSAction) chapters across the nation gathered at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington to finalize the Agenda for Generational Equity, CSA’s foundational policy agenda.  The setting?  A single conference room.  The goal? Don’t leave until it’s finished.

At 9:00am, we came to that table, all 40 of us, strong in our own beliefs and ready to fight for them – principled partisans in short.  Before beginning debate, we set community norms that allowed us to create a safe space. In particular, our discussion was guided by three principles:

  • “Trust intent, name impact.”
  • “Safe space, honest space.”
  • “Make space take space.”

In other words, we trusted that people have good intentions, but were not afraid to call out hurtful or wrong speech; we created an honest space; and we established a structure for everyone to participate in discussion.  How else could leaders from rural Mississippi, inner-city Baltimore, and suburban Iowa all feel comfortable sharing their experiences?

At first, our debates were cautious.  We did not know each other very well and we were not familiar with each other’s policy beliefs and political ideologies.  It took awhile to get comfortable. We spent two hours discussing the first of 12 potential policy areas – Social Security reform proposals. After finally settling on a policy position for Social Security, we were exhausted.  The discourse, which had started cautious, had turned contentious. Having accomplished little by 11:00am, it was time for a short break.

When we returned to the table, the mood shifted.  During the break, we had hung out with each other, got coffee, and ate breakfast together, sharing a little bit of ourselves with our neighbors.  As the day went on, the conversation grew more and more productive.  At times, we disagreed passionately on ideological grounds. And we honor that disagreement as a necessary part of a responsibly partisan process. However, we were able to build trust through discussion. We tried to live the example that we wished Congress followed: we had made a commitment to ourselves, to each other, and to our chapters to craft an agenda by working together across difference. Of course, the norms helped, as our chapter leaders would consistently bring the group back to the norms before making a critical point or if debate began to get disrespectful.

Ultimately what emerged from this process was an Agenda for Generational Equity that plays between the 40 yard-lines. No Democrats or Republicans got everything they wanted in the Agenda, but everyone proudly endorsed the Agenda as a whole.

15 hours, 3 meals, 3 pillars, and 53 policies later, we had finished.  We finalized the Agenda for Generational Equity as the midnight bell tolled and Monday arrived.

The Agenda for Generational Equity will only have as much life as Common Sense Action members breathe into it.  CSA is building a movement across the country to organize around it. We invite you to endorse AGE to begin building political pressure on Congress to solve our nation’s problems.

Hey Congress – take a page out of Common Sense Action’s book. We have the humility to know when we are not the policy experts, to know that negotiating policy on a federal level requires time, patience, and courage.  But spend some time together.  Get to know each other.  Maybe stay in a room for 15 hours.  It isn’t too much to ask.  By starting with the basics, Congress can get back to good governance, do away with the political football, and start solving the nation’s problems.

Sam Gilman - Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sam is a junior at Brown University, pursuing a Bachelors degree in public policy. He is a C.V. Starr Social Innovation Fellow for his work on Common Sense Action. Sam is currently student body Vice President at Brown and previously served as Treasurer and Communications Director. In the summer of 2012, he interned at the Bipartisan Policy Center where he did research for a book on the causes and implications of gridlock in American politics. When he's not working at CSA, Sam is an avid runner, New York Yankees fan, and Civil War buff.  Sam can be reached at Sam@commonsenseaction.org.  

Andrew Kaplan - Co-Founder and Chief Action Officer (CAO) Andrew is a junior at Brown University where he is pursuing a Bachelors Degree in Political Science and Literary Arts. He was selected as a 2013 C.V. Starr Social Innovation Fellow for Common Sense Action. In the past, Andrew worked at the Port Authority of NY/NJ and the Queens Long Island Medical Group. When he isn't working on CSA, Andrew likes to read historical fiction, play baseball and soccer, and occasionally strum the guitar. He is a proud member of the Brown Taekwondo club, the two-time defending national collegiate champions, and he also welcomes anyone to challenge him in Lord of the Rings trivia and/or a cook-off.

January's Top 5 Posts

The top 5 posts for January includes 1 from 4 months ago! Yes, Hanna McPhee's post on Design & Science is still a top post - as it should be!! Here are the top 5:

 

Trust Principles for Creativity and Innovation

I'm honored to have Jon Mertz (known to many of us @ThinDifference) guest post. Jon is VP of marketing in the healthcare software industry. He has an MBA from The University of Texas at Austin and has worked for companies like Deloitte, IBM, and BMC Software. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a terrific community to inspire Millennial leaders (you should join) and close the gap between two generations of leaders.  Thank you, Jon, for posting here!!! 
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Trust Principles for Creativity and Innovation

One of the great things about the generation ahead is that Millennials get trust. They have the trust in themselves and how their ideas can change the world. Embedded within this is a strong community and collaboration angle built into their digital DNA. Working across boundaries is natural. Combined, this generation is unbound from tradition while focused on innovation and creativity to construct better gadgets, apps, mindsets, and art. It is an open field.

While this is true, the principle of trust needs to be revisited. A balance between self and community is necessary. With this mix, trust enhances actions and collaboration. Millennials, along with all generations, need to embrace this blend.

Creativity and innovation requires a combination of Self-Centered and Community-Centered trust. An evenness is required to create and innovate in more meaningful and productive ways. Within each, there are two trust principles to use.

Self-Centered Trust Principles

Trust your voice. We have a voice. It can encourage or discourage us. It keeps us on track or off track. Which way our voice takes us depends on our self-trust. It isn’t over-confidence. It is self-confidence with a strong center of purpose-filled action. In other words, with a clear purpose, the clarity of our voice will grow and, along with it, our trust levels rise in what we have to say, do, and act upon. All gain strength with clarity of a purpose-driven voice.

Trust your voice in what you are creating and innovating. Trust your purpose.

Trust your strength. There will be critics in every balcony. Taking your creative work or innovative solutions outside can be harsh at times. To take the steps outside your comfort zone, a strong presence of trust in your ideas, innovation, or work of art is vital. Whatever you are working on has made it this far so continue to trust in what you have created.

Time is too short to be ignorant. Trust your concept but verify, enhance, verify again, and decide steps forward. With each step, your creation and innovation will gain in strength. Keep strength in your ideas and build insight.

Community-Centered Trust Principles

Trust others. At times, it feels easier to go it alone. We feel we can just maintain our focus and eventually we will win over others. However, it is equally important to remember how different perspectives can add value to our ideas and concepts. Involving others in the brainstorming and creating process broadens our own views. By engaging others, we can incorporate a more human-centered design, too. We can begin to empathize more and see how we can modify our innovations to better fit how people will actually use them.

Use the variety of opinion to strengthen what you are working on. Your views need to be balanced with broader perspectives. A community offers diversity, and diversity strengthens anyone. Trusting in your community will empower your ideas more than if you are all alone.

Trust in tension. Anytime we ask for feedback, we open ourselves up. We become vulnerable. In the vulnerable moments, a tension begins. It is a tension between acceptance and rejection. The reality is tension creates an enlightening force. It tightens our ideas and heightens our awareness. Embracing productive tension results in improved thoughts, better concepts, and enhanced innovation.

Healthy tension is required to refine and validate. We need to trust the feedback and trust in our vulnerable moments of placing our ideas and art out in our community.

Trust Simply Makes Art and Innovation Work

Trust makes everything work better. It is just that simple.

Trust is discussed often in terms of relationships, culture, partnerships, and agreements. It provides the foundation for human interaction to stand upon and conduct conversations, transactions, and education in a productive, engaging, and enjoyable way.

Just as trust is central in all of those things, it is also needed in creativity and innovation. Trust takes on a new role of being self-centered and community-centered. By embracing trust in his manner, it removes barriers and enables extension across boundaries, especially generational ones.

To get the best ideas and move our created works forward, trust plays an essential role. Millennials need to use trust as a principle in what they create, and we all need to engage in a trust-based way to support innovative thoughts and works.

What role does trust play in your ideas, innovations, and artwork?

The Time is Now to Become an Entrepreneur

I met Ilan Saks through my education entrepreneur guru Aron Solomon who has never steered me wrong.  Ilan, Founder of The Founder Project, is no exception and I can't wait for The Founder Project to come stateside! This is the type of engagement we need to get economies growing, build trust and a sense of ownership for our Millennials as they grow into leadership positions.  

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Time is a scarce commodity. There isn’t enough time on this planet, and unfortunately we can’t create more of it. But, to truly understand this concept, time must be taken from you.

On August 21, 2012 I suddenly lost the ability to walk. I was exercising. I lost all strength in my fingers, arms, body and legs to the point that I could not take my contacts out of my eyes. I also lost the ability to feel the difference between hot and cold. This lasted for about 6 weeks. The cause of the incident was a complete mystery. Not one doctor, and I saw many, could figure out the cause.

At the time, I was 23 years old, and I thought my future had been greatly compromised. But, by some miracle, I have fully recovered. Physically, I am essentially the same as I was before August 21, 2012. It’s as if nothing happened..

Well, not really... The experience led to a spark of thought: ‘The only certainty is that tomorrow is uncertain’. The time was now to pursue my passion: To empower students to solve problems and become entrepreneurs.

Consequently, last year I founded TheFounderProject - a new type of venture fund run almost entirely by students that invests in student startups.

My quest to change student entrepreneurship on a global scale seeks to solve these challenges: how to engage students and the younger generation in entrepreneurship, and how to get them to build companies.

Startups are the main drivers of economic growth. Unfortunately, less people are starting companies and most early startup dreams die at the vine. Even more ironic is the fact that students are the best positioned to start companies; they have less obligations to barriers like family and mortgages. Instead, many opt for the corporate route to pay back loans or pad their resume, playing it safe.

TheFounderProject exists to turn students on to entrepreneurship by providing access to capital, resources, and mentorship while encouraging students to remain in school. TheFounderProject is making entrepreneurship not only cool, but attainable and a viable option as a path forward

Our growth has been organic. We are now a team of 30 ‘student venture capitalists from all universities in Montreal, Toronto and Halifax. Our goal is to raise enough money so we can begin investing $10,000-$15,000 into student companies.

How does it work? The students are the eyes, ears, and feet on the ground in the universities, dorm rooms, classrooms, and frat parties. The students are the ones scoping out high growth student startups for potential investment. Once identified, they’re brought to the table where the students actually vote on what deserves an investment.

But, why are students making investment decisions in fellow students? Well, Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook from his dorm room, Sergei Brin and Larry Page built Google as a grad project, and Bill Gates founded Microsoft while studying at Harvard. I believe students are capable, and will build the next game changing, global tech companies. And I also believe students are capable of making great investment decisions. They’ve been born into the world of computers and the internet. The tech startup space is a student’s playground.

But, at the heart of TheFounderProject is much more than just high growth investments. Since it’s inception, TheFounderProject has contributed to the creation of over 100 student-run companies (check out these impressive student startups: Outpost, NeedleHR, Plotly) by throwing university-wide competitions, linking students with mentors, and engaging students in the startup space.

Some student startups have even received seed and series A term sheet offers from Canadian venture funds, and a couple have been accepted into Canadian accelerator programs. Companies, and jobs are literally being created out of thin air. TheFounderProject is disrupting the startup ecosystem by engaging young students in startups. And, it’s resulting in innovation and economic growth.

In the next few months we plan to expand to Vancouver and then the U.S. We have amassed corporate sponsors including Google, Microsoft, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Softlayer, Fasken Martineau, Real Ventures, and FounderFuel. And, we intend to partner with many more sponsors in the future.

I have learned that life can change on a dime, and the importance of appreciating all that I have. Everything - your health, job, etc. - can change in a split second. Seize the moments while you still have them.

The time is now to become an entrepreneur.