Online service providers' charitable efforts are making a big difference locally and globally
By John Chivvis
One net. One child. One family. One starfish.
One policy. One mother. One sister. One starfish.
One starfish? Anthropologist Loren Eiseley once wrote about watching a young man on a beach full of dying starfish throwing them back into the ocean. He asked the young man what difference he thought he could make. As he threw another starfish back into the ocean, the young man answered, "It made a difference to that one."
What can one person do? Make the most of "starfish" moments. For one insurance professional, what started off as a single question now offers hope in Africa. For another, what began as a marketing idea now raises awareness and support in the fight against breast cancer.
Hope spans continents, conditions, and cultures
"If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito." —Betty Reese
Kelly Turton is literally a man on a mission. As CEO of EZBuy e-Sales (www.ezbuyesales.com), Turton is making his mark developing electronic signature (e-signature) solutions for the insurance industry. However, he's also making a mark in Africa.
Seven years ago, Turton and his wife went to Kenya as part of a mission trip with their church. While they fell in love with the Kenyan people, it was the effects of poverty that struck a chord. "I remember walking around the town we were in, seeing the poverty and not liking it," starts Turton. "Here were all of these smart, bright, wonderful people not able to make a living."
Turton recalls vividly that first trip because he and his wife started asking a single question to those they came into contact with—townspeople, pastors, families, and caregivers. They would ask, "What's your biggest need?" And even though they had come to Kenya with supplies and medicine, the answer was resounding and repeated—mosquito nets.
How does something as small and seemingly insignificant as a mosquito net make a difference? Each year more than 500 million cases of malaria are reported, with 90% of those occurring in Africa. One million people die each year from the disease, most being women and children.
Malaria is not only one of the leading killers in Africa, but also a leading cause of poverty. On a continent where most families are lucky to earn a dollar a day, estimates put the long-term economic cost of malaria to Africa in the tens of billions of dollars.
So why a net? Malaria is contracted through mosquito bites.
After hearing this, Turton founded Hope Span (www.hopespan.org) to meet the need for mosquito nets. Hope Span works with a factory in Tanzania to construct the nets. These are not the typical cotton nets but instead are constructed of a durable, synthetic fiber mesh that's treated with an insecticide that lasts for up to five years.
Using the contacts he made through local churches and ministries, Turton was able to create a distribution method that would bypass much of the administrative red-tape and cut down on overhead. "The local churches in Kenya—and there's one in almost every village—provide us greater efficiency in reaching those who need the nets," says Turton. "Because of the interpersonal relationships the churches have with the people, we are really able to reach the neediest of the needy this way."
Since that visit seven years ago, Turton has made 16 more trips as Hope Span has grown and expanded its mission of "giving hope to the hopeless."
Additionally, Hope Span is now working in Kenya to support the needs of orphans of parents with HIV/AIDS or who themselves are HIV positive. Through the charitable efforts of Hope Span and its contributors, these orphans not only are receiving medical attention and meals but are also receiving an education to prepare them for adulthood.
When asked about making a difference, Turton says that some people think they aren't able to help because they think the cost is too great. "When it comes to getting involved, the question isn't why, but why not?" says Turton. "Mosquito nets are $10 each—we're not talking about an arm and a leg here; it's the price of Snickers and sodas that can save lives."
A "supreme" effort in fighting breast cancer
"It's easy to make a buck. It's a lot tougher to make a difference."
Atlanta-based Siuprem, Inc. (www.siuprem.com), may be a full-service online premium finance company that has been in business for more than 40 years, but its starfish moment began in March 2010.
Siuprem (pronounced "supreme") CEO Wes Duesenberg Jr. has always made a point each year of contributing to some charity. This past year, though, Duesenberg approached it a little differently. With direct billing coming into the premium finance arena, he was looking for new ways to spur interest and increase share. One possibility was to use philanthropy as an angle.
"When we were looking at what to support (and breast cancer research was one possibility), I realized that I've been blessed that my wife, mother, sister, and daughter were never diagnosed with breast cancer," starts Duesenberg. "That was reason enough to support it but, really and truly, breast cancer hits all of us close to home, one way or another."
Duesenberg is right. According to the American Cancer Society, the probability of a woman developing breast cancer during her lifetime is as high as 1 in 8. In 2009 alone, estimates put breast cancer at 27% of all cancer cases, and represents 15% of all cancer-related deaths. The Center for Disease Control reports that breast cancer is the leading killer of Hispanic women and the second leading killer in almost all other ethnicities.
However, Duesenberg is quick to point out that through awareness-building, earlier detection, and improved treatment procedures, the survival rate for breast cancer has jumped 15% in the past 25 years to almost 90%. This is achieved through breast cancer research and outreach—from donations and support from folks like Duesenberg.
Duesenberg and Siuprem, that is. In March of 2010, Siuprem launched its "Siuprem Cares" campaign. "Basically, any time a commercial policy is financed with Siuprem, we make a $5 donation to breast cancer awareness and research," explains Duesenberg.
Siuprem has also integrated the breast cancer awareness message into its brand adding it to everything from brochures and promotional collateral to trade show displays and sponsorships. Their Web site (www.siuprem.com/cares) and Facebook page provide campaign information and their electronic newsletter provides customers with opportunities to participate.
"It's really taken on a life of its own," says Duesenberg. "It's become part of the company's culture by raising the level of awareness among our own folks as well as our customers." As an example, during national Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Siuprem pledged $100 per person (up to a maximum of $500 per agency) for agencies participating in breast cancer walks.
Siuprem has set a goal of $50,000 and, according to Duesenberg, that number may have to be adjusted for 2011. "At $5 a contract, that's a lot of little contracts, but we are on target—in fact, we are about to decide if we want to up the ante," he says. "Personally, I'd like to see that."
Start with one starfish
"If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one." —Mother Teresa
"Act as if what you do makes a difference.It does." —William James
Both Turton and Duesenberg agree that whetherit's cancer or malaria, these starfish moments have to not only be sought out but acted on. "You have to look within yourself to see exactly how you want to get involved," says Turton, suggesting that one's involvement needs to have a personal connection. It could be something local, it could be volunteering time, it could be raising funds, or it could simply be meeting someone else's needs.
"For us, it seemed kind of a random choice at first, but we knew it would strike a chord because everyone has been affected somehow," recalls Duesenberg about choosing breast cancer research. "I was recently at a luncheon and one of the agents we sponsored in a local breast cancer walk came and gave a testimonial, and I was really moved by her story."
And like the young man on the beach throwing starfish, Turton's comments on getting involved ring true, "Don't worry about it [efforts] being small; small has a way of becoming big."
John Chivvis is a Texas-based writer whose work has appeared in a number of national and regional publications.