Charitable is good but change maker is priceless

November 18, 2016
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’Tis the season employers and employees are deliberate in making a statement in regard to participating in the community with shared gifts and talents to favored human services agencies most in need. The beneficence of the West Michigan community is often heralded as second only to Salt Lake City, Utah, but at best, of a dozen such study rankings, the Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo/Battle Creek area shows at No. 17 on a list of 50 most generous cities in a survey completed by Christian research organization Barna Group. It should be understood, however, contributions in addition to tithing, canned goods, clothing, diapers, coats and child food programs — and those beyond the “experiential” immersion of volunteering — can build a legacy for decades to come, and well beyond the months of November or December. Community foundations make such points all year.

The Business Journal report on “From Aid to Trade” author Daniel Jean-Louis is an apt example of leading in a new way for a long-term good. Jean-Louis focused his lecture to Calvin College students on the example of Haiti, where 18 months of political unrest, a 2010 earthquake and the September Hurricane Matthew brought an outpouring of nongovernmental support from organizations, which never reached the Haitian economy. Jean-Louis began organizing conferences to help connect organizations with Haitian businesses after the earthquake and, in his work, is finding those connections make a big difference in seeding recovery from the hurricane. He is leading a new, creative process proving to be a difference maker.

As was noted during the nomination and selection process of 40 young area business leaders under the age of 40, a generation of “rock climbers” rather than “ladder climbers” are “creators, empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers,” as Michigan Future President and “40” judge Lou Glazer described the class. In addition to their efforts as “doers,” the group represented demonstrated leadership in both business and community involvement, offering new ideas that have inspired others to help create new or unique initiatives.

One example may be Tami VandenBerg, a 2014 honoree, who owns two entertainment businesses and created Well House, which offers affordable housing to the homeless and opportunities to earn incomes. Both the businesses and Well House have grown substantially with new ideas and creative leadership.

At a similar age, another community leader comes to mind: Fred Meijer. The successful “grocery store owner” created the city’s first ambulance service when none existed inside city boundaries. He was a founding board member of Goodwill of Greater Grand Rapids and was recognized this year on the occasion of the agency’s 50th anniversary. He also created some of the first bike/hike trails through Kent County and beyond, as just one of his many environmentally focused ideas and demonstrations of leadership.

“Giving” leadership is more than showing up for volunteer opportunities or representing a business by giving time to a nonprofit board. It includes new pathways putting talent to leadership, which often is a game changer.

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