What have you done for someone else lately?

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By Leo Valiquette

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with several individuals who reminded me how much a natural part of doing business it should be for philanthropy and giving back in some way to the community that sustains you.

At VLN Advanced Technologies, founder Mohan Vijay spent 13 years fighting uphill to commercialize his company’s forced-pulse waterjet technology. When at last his ship came in, the 75-year-old immediately redirected much of his company’s new profitability into the VLN Reach Foundation. Through his foundation, Vijay supports the Make A Wish Foundation, the Ottawa-Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities, the Brain Injury Association of Canada and Propeller Dance, and also makes cash donations to many other charities each year.

But most inspiring of all is his ambitious plan to create a sustainable funding model for worthy charities that struggle year after year to muster sufficient funding. He wants to construct a mixed-use development that operates on a not-for-profit basis, with any net profits donated to charity. The site could be used for almost anything: a convention centre, a retail space, commercial office space, condos or some combination thereof. But the most jaw-dropping aspect of his plan is the physical shape that he wants the building to take.

At the other end of town, I sat down with the Michael Arno, chief executive of Superna. This company is a growing success story that has reinvented itself from telecom consultancy into a world leader in data centre and cloud computing certification and Software-as-a-Service development.

This spring, the company will launch the Superna Innovation Centre, which will be housed on its premises on Schneider Road in Kanata.

The incubator will provide much more than office space and a corporate address. It will be a testing ground for the next generation of players in Superna’s industry, where entrepreneurs will be able to find mentors among Superna’s team, resources, and perhaps even stray IP that they can attempt to develop and commercialize.

Arno acknowledged that serving as a startup champion is likely to pay dividends for Superna down the road, but the most substantial benefit is of course intended for the startups that will be incubated under its roof.

From doing more for a charity than simply cutting a cheque, to fostering the next generation of entrepreneurs in your industry or even just donating some of your expertise on a pro-bono basis, there is always some way to give back or pay it forward. No matter who you are, or which industry you are in, I doubt you have achieved any measure of success without the benefit of someone else’s time and resources, freely given.

Back when I was editor of the Ottawa Business Journal and by default one of the judges for the annual Forty under 40 awards, it always struck me when an otherwise strong nomination package fell short on community involvement – worth up to 10 points out of a total possible score of 40. Many a nominee tried to earn a desperate point or two for coaching their kids’ soccer team. Some were so bold as to state that their work didn’t allow the time for such things.

I don’t profess to be a sterling example of selfless community building, but I try to do my part where I can. And under Francis’s lead, this shop has freely lent its time on numerous occasions to help various non-profit and volunteer-run organizations beat their respective drums. (Editor’s note: Our favourite is Help Lesotho, which we invite everyone to support.)

There are of course times when it really is not feasible to do so. Depending on your business cycles, some times of year are far more demanding than others. For example, I don’t expect too many accountants, bookkeepers or tax specialists are finding much free time on their hands right now.

But of course, there are so many different ways that you can give back, pay it forward and otherwise support your community. Somewhere, somehow, there is an opportunity that can co-exist with your various work and personal commitments.

So tell me how have you have incorporated some form of community involvement and support into your busy work life or your workplace culture. I’ll highlight these stories in a future post.

Image: JohnLeskoDotBiz


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