Tony Wells created a family foundation in 2001; providing technology and social entrepreneurship grants to nonprofit organizations after selling a successful business he ran with his wife. He designed and funded the concept of GroundWork Group, a shared services model, enabling nonprofits to advance their mission through strategic use of IT. He has also developed and funded the Social Innovation Initiative at Ohio State University (OSU) to design and commercialize socially benefiting technologies. This was the first philanthropic organization to execute a technology license agreement with OSU
Tony was a featured speaker of the TechColumbus 2011 Leadership Series sponsored by Vorys.
Tony opened his presentation talking about the one trait many of history’s great leaders had in common; a commitment to giving back from an early age. Such examples were: Rockerfeller, Branson, and Oprah to name a short list. While we may look at them as some of the richest people in history, they have also been committed to giving back to those who are less fortunate. I would add to this list Bill Gates and Warren Buffett as two people highly visible on the current world stage.
The core point I took away from Tony’s presentation is the idea that the new generation of leaders is committed to doing well by doing good – they want to make a positive impact in the world while also succeeding financially. While many of us spent our early careers establishing ourselves so we could give back later, this generation wants to do both from day one.
The Tony Wells Family Foundation exists to create the next generation of Social Entrepreneurs and Social Innovations. Their goal is to move social innovations forward, providing experiential learning for the students and create new sources of revenue for our local nonprofits. They are committed to building a vibrant community of social change agents by investing into activities that expands the leadership capacity of nonprofits, students and faculty.
Their unique approach goes beyond the classroom theory and participating in traditional business plan competitions – they actually help build and take socially benefiting products to market.
During the very days that we are seeing protests in hundreds of cities around the world people, with large representation from these young leaders, Tony offers an interesting antidote. His family foundation is funding several initiatives that involve students doing projects to create commercially viable solutions to real problems non-profits are facing. The students spend in many cases months finding innovative product based solutions. They develop business cases to prove the commercial viability. At some point they will involve commercial businesses in the design and manufacturing of the final product. The non-profits then deliver the products as part of their business model.
Many of these products have secondary uses. An example is students created a device to help children with Down’s syndrome manage tasks within time limits. This can also be used for stroke victims and people with other physical challenges. The secondary uses can either fund additional non-profits or be turned into for profit enterprises.
Tony gave lots of statistics and case studies but his message consistently came back to the underlying theme, we can solve many of the problems we are facing by marrying the innovative spirit of entrepreneurs, innovation, a desire to do good in the world, innovative leadership, a family foundation, and a foundation founder who is highly involved and shepherds the process.
The students participating in these programs leave the university with their names on patents and more importantly, they have very important life skills and an awareness of the challenges others face in the world and the ability to DO something about it.
This presentation is an interesting juxtaposition to a lunch presentation at the Columbus Metropolitan Clubwhere Charles W. Gehring, the CEO of LifeCare Alliance, the people who bring us Meals on Wheels, talked about how they created a catering business to help fund the non-profit. At the same lunch, Michelle Heritage, Executive Director of the Community Shelter Boardtalked about her goal of ENDING homelessness in Columbus.
Earlier this morning I attended an Advisory Board Exchangemeeting hosted by Business First where business leaders learn about serving on Boards of Directors. Don DePerro was clear in his conversation that the primary motivation in serving on boards is helping other businesses succeed.
I mention the three meetings I attended today to highlight that even during days that seem so dark to many who are hungry, homeless or worried about their ability to take care of their basic needs, we may also have the solutions to many of these challenges right here in our community. Tony Wells is the role model with his foundation and he is creating opportunities for OSU students to get involved early. LifeCare Alliance is able to deliver meals to hundreds of local residents because they are supported by volunteers – some individuals and some businesses and by a catering business they launched.
Tony talked about his involvement in non-profits early in his career. Before he could afford to donate money, he donated time. Do you have a skill and time to volunteer? Skill can be your core profession, a hobby, or a basic skill like driving meals to people who cannot get out of the house. If you are not already, what can you do to use your talents and creativity to help solve the challenges our community faces?
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