During the holiday season, we are constantly reminded to "give back." Maybe you volunteered at a soup kitchen this December, participated in a holiday toy drive or, if you're like me, you're currently wondering how you will ever eat all of the numerous snacks you bought to support the Girl Scouts.
There are about a million good reasons to give back to our communities and particularly for businesses. Not only is it satisfying to help someone and a great way to rack up karma points, it's also a means to build office morale, strengthen teamwork, and grow more visibility for your company. But too often, we forget about charitable giving as soon as the holidays are over.
Perhaps this is because we aren't able to really see the lasting effects of our efforts. Who are the faceless people at the homeless shelter we donate to and what happens to them once the holiday season is over? Well, here's one story.
Thirty years ago, a young Alex Haditaghi fled Iran with his mother and three siblings; sadly, one of his brothers died of health issues, due to the fact that the family was so poor they could not afford a doctor. After living in refugee camps and pleading with the embassies to save them, the family found themselves in Canada with only $100 to their name. Luckily, they were taken in by a Jewish shelter, where they lived in one small room and visited food banks to get their groceries in order to survive.
As a young teenager, Alex began working as a dishwasher after school, but he soon realized that the job was not going to move his family out of their situation; after hearing about the local West Indian Festival, he got the idea to start a hot dog stand. He used what little money he had and bought some hot dogs to sell to the masses at a small profit.
"I made $500 the first day and I couldn't believe it," he remembers. "When I went home to tell my mom, she slapped me in the face and asked if I was selling drugs." He explained to his mom that the money came from the hot dog stand, so she came the next day to see for herself. Once she saw how popular it was, she quickly jumped in and started helping him.
"That hot dog cart became a symbol of freedom for me," Alex says. "I knew I wanted to control my own destiny by working hard."
Next, he created a business listing site, called "Yes.ca," which was built up and eventually sold to a private equity firm. From there, he went onto become the President of Lending Tree Canada, until he founded MortgageBrokers.com, and subsequently Radius Financial, his current company.
It has come full circle. In this case, charitable giving created a successful entrepreneur; because Alex was given a chance, he was able to step up, innovate, and create jobs for thousands of other people, which is why he himself still donates money and time to the same food pantry that helped his family get on their feet when they were starving.
"It's so important for entrepreneurs to give back," he told me. "Money should never be a reason to do anything. A couple of wrong moves, and we could lose it all - any one of us. And a hundred years from now, no one will remember who was the richest. But they will remember good actions."