How I became interested in social entrepreneurship
I started a project called Recycling Furniture with my friend Mike in 2011. At that time, I had never heard of the term social entrepreneurship and had no idea what it meant. It started in a simple way: throughout our teenage years, Mike and I occasionally picked up furniture that people had thrown to the curb. We thought there was a lot of good stuff that people were throwing out. I remember one day when we wheeled home a huge tube tv all the way across town- only to find out that it didn’t work when we got to his house. We did pick up a lot of furniture that we kept in our homes (and always made sure it was clean), though my parents sometimes made it clear they weren’t happy about it. I got a nice recliner and a coat rack that I used for years.
In early 2011, we wanted to make something of our summer break. We were also interested in making videos, so we decided to make a documentary about ‘garbage picking.’ That developed into a different idea when we realized we had no place to put everything that we would pick up. We decided to donate furniture to low-income families who might not be able to afford new furniture. Instead of ‘garbage picking’, we decided to spread the word that we were looking for donations of used furniture that we could pick up from people’s houses. We bought a small trailer off of craigslist, asked friends to make a logo, and eventually partnered with Habitat of Humanity of Suffolk County to provide furniture for four families that were having houses built. We borrowed camera gear from my school and asked some friends to help film the documentary (altogether we filmed about 50 hours, but it is still sitting in a bag of tapes).
We worked on Recycling Furniture for a year and half. During that time, we got to know the families and the people working for Habitat for Humanity well. We spent a lot of time at Habitat for Humanity events and participating at ’Build Days.’ We borrowed some ideas from Habitat and organized ‘restoration days,’ where we recruited volunteer high school students to restore/refinish/clean/paint the furniture with us and the families (with instruction from some friends who were skilled in furniture restoration).
Though none of this was originally planned, we were happy to be doing it because it was fun to work with everybody and it felt like we were doing something good. There was also a lot of work that wasn’t so fun (like moving heavy furniture or managing our donated storage units), but I have really good memories from that time and look back on the whole experience fondly. The people we met and the communities we spent time with- I think that’s what made it so rewarding. It was really cool to be with everybody in a situation people were working hard and helping each other.
Those good experiences inspired us to keep it rolling. As the project was nearing its end, we were planning to launch a permanent non-profit organization to scale it up. We spent many hours working on business plans and marketing plans. I researched organizations that worked for good causes and listened to talks from social entrepreneurs (like Scott Harrison of charity: water and Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes).
We delivered all of the furniture to the families’ homes and completed the project in the summer of 2012. We decided to put the plans for the non-profit organization on hold because we were just graduating college and there was a lot of other things that we wanted to pursue. Although we didn’t follow through with making a non-profit organization or a documentary, the whole experience left me feeling inspired to do similar things in the future. I had accidentally found a kind of recipe that seemed to make good things happen: mix a creative solution with hard work to somehow add value to the lives of others. I got a taste of how that felt. It felt good. It was an intertwined social and personal good- it helped others and helped me at the same time. I liked it. So i kept thinking about it.
This experience inspired me to co-create The Lottery Competition, a global collaboration of people on a mission to create social good by making changes to lotteries.
Learn more at TheLotteryCompetition.org .
Hope you’ve enjoyed the story.