Giving back through travel: An interview with Mark Horoszowski

Have you ever wanted to travel overseas to volunteer your expertise?

Mark Horoszowski had that same aspiration. In 2010, Mark left his job at a marketing agency in Seattle to travel and volunteer his professional skills around the world for a year. That year would change his life, and it might just change yours.

From a chance meeting with a fellow globetrotter in Buenos Aires, Mark and Derk Norde would spend the next year creating a global platform that connects other professionals with volunteer opportunities all over the globe. Since its launch in 2011, MovingWorlds.org has already helped unleash over 1 million dollars worth of professional skills to social enterprises and NGOs in over 30 countries.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Mark about MovingWorlds, and how its growing network of Experteers is helping to create change throughout the world.

Mark, can you tell us a little about MovingWorlds and how it works?

MH: We’re a social enterprise empowering locally led organizations that are solving last-mile challenges and have the greatest potential to create jobs. We do this by connecting them to talent to overcome any creative, technical, or business challenge.

Think of it like a short-term Peace Corps for skilled professionals. We help people volunteer their skills overseas for any length of time. In exchange for skills, our field partners provide free accommodation and immersive experiences. Our matching site makes it easy to find potential projects, and more importantly, it connects you to our support team, online training, and facilitated planning process to help you have a safe, high-impact trip.

Where do the volunteers typically get placed? And what types of organizations and projects do they get involved with?

MH: Our goal is to connect volunteers to organizations in any country where they want to travel. Beyond non-profits, we actually connect most volunteers to start-ups and social enterprises. An easy way to envision the organizations we work with is to look at your own community: Think of a small start-up working on education, an advocacy group working on environmental issues, or a university launching a social innovation lab. Now envision that organization in another country, like Colombia, Indonesia, India, or Kenya. They are small, growth-minded, and resource-hungry groups with real potential to create change. The right skills at the right time can really be catalytic to them, and they provide you a local, exciting experience in exchange for your know-how.

Let’s talk about your origin story. What compelled you to start MovingWorlds? Was there a particular “light bulb moment” that motivated you to take action?

MH: Yes and no. I spent a year traveling and volunteering my skills around the world to figure out how I could best support the social enterprise movement. For the longest time, I didn’t know that my very experience was something that others were looking for. It took a lot of people messaging me on my blog and a serendipitous meeting with Derk Norde, my co-founder, to come up with the idea of creating a platform to scale international skills-based volunteering, which we call Experteering.

Mark Horoszowski Experteering in Nepal with the Nepal Wireless Project
Mark Horoszowski Experteering in Nepal with the Nepal Wireless Project

 

You use the term “Experteers” to describe the volunteers that you help to place. If you had to explain it to your grandmother, how would you describe an Experteer?

MH: Someone who volunteers their expertise. Our most important assets are our time and brain, and Experteering is the giving of that to solve some of the biggest challenges facing global development.

Let’s hear about one of your success stories. Can you share a recent example of a community that was helped by one of your Experteers?

MH: We hope that every Experteering engagement accelerates the impact of organizations in the field. This can vary greatly, but one of the recent stories that I just love is of Deana. She’s an accomplished UX Designer at a major corporation. She only had a week of vacation, but really wanted to make an impact while traveling, and the chance to connect to an immersive travel experience. She helped Maya Traditions, a social enterprise creating education and job opportunities for its community, plan a new website to increase exposure of their local, artisanal products. Since she only had a week, we then found two other Experteers, a couple, to pick up where she left off. Deana actually ended up staying engaged virtually after returning home and was able to help mentor the two younger Experteers in the field, helping them not only develop a new site better than anyone could have imagined, but also was able to help teach them best practices so they could continue to grow in their fields. Check out the new Maya Traditions site!

Deana Experteering with Maya Traditions in Guatemala
Deana Experteering with Maya Traditions in Guatemala

 

What about the volunteers themselves? What do they take away from the experience?

MH: There is a quote I just love by Harvey S. Firestone: “You get the best of others when you give the best of yourself.” This message really resonates because in exchange for people giving their most valuable assets, they get this immersive, exciting, and impactful experience that many people call “the trip of a lifetime.” But what we’re seeing is this is more than just a trip. It’s a catalytic event. These experiences have helped people get new jobs, developed their skills, and given people the confidence to start their own socially responsible enterprises. We actually call “Experteeering” a gateway drug. It’s not for everyone, but some really get addicted as it blows their mind and then they can’t get enough.

Drew Miller, an architect, in front of his sustainably built “magic cabins” in Panama
Drew Miller, an architect, in front of his sustainably built “magic cabins” in Panama

 

Starting a new organization from the ground up is hard work. What advice do you have for someone who has an amazing social innovation idea for a new business and wants to make it a reality?

Go talk to potential customers and stakeholders and validate it using lean start-up principles. There are way too many failures in this space because people think they have good ideas. They don’t… they have passion and that is even more important.

Finally, how can people get involved with MovingWorlds?

MH: Visit MovingWorlds.org/join, tell us where you want to go, what skills you have, and when you want to go, and our support team will find projects that are the best fit for your skills. We do charge a membership fee (plans start at $99), and in exchange you get customer support, our facilitated planning process, and a guaranteed match to an organization that never charges you additional fees to volunteer.

Mark Horoszowski is co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org, a global platform that connects people who want to travel and volunteer their expertise with social impact organizations around the globe. For more information, or to join up, visit the MovingWorlds website.

Didn’t See It Coming: An interview with Marc Stoiber

Even though he has 25 years experience in advertising and marketing, it would be inaccurate to call Marc Stoiber an “ad man.” That brings to mind a Mad Men type character who spends his days dreaming up slick taglines to sell some flagging product that nobody really wants or needs. If you’ve ever seen Glengarry Glen Ross, you get the picture.

Marc is the polar opposite of this. First of all, he doesn’t look the part. No slicked back hair, no three-piece suit, and no three Martini lunches. Marc is laid back to the point of being chill. He epitomizes the West Coast: He cycles to his business meetings in blue jeans, and his ideal weekend getaway is a surfing trip with his family. But that’s just the superficial. It’s not until you start talking with Marc that you realize how much he is unlike the archetypal ad man. Perhaps most noticeably, he is a vocal critic of wasteful, unnecessary over-consumption. In his view, rampant consumerism is taking us down a dangerous path with potentially disastrous consequences to our health, culture, and the environment. That’s a refreshing – not to mention surprising – perspective from a guy who makes a living helping companies sell more stuff.

But, Marc is a marketer with a strong moral compass. He is optimistic about the role of corporations to do good in the world – and he’s on a one-man mission to help the good companies do better. His new book, Didn’t See It Coming, tells the story of how these companies can get ahead by building brands that are authentic, innovative and sustainable. I recently had the chance to chat with Marc about his new book, as well as his career path in advertising and marketing.

Marc, you make a living by helping companies to improve their brands. In your view, what are some of the most common problems with corporate brands these days?

MS: Companies have a difficult time understanding how to articulate what they stand for, what needs their customers are hoping they’ll satisfy (beyond simply providing a product or service), and why any of this matters. For the longest time, people were happy if you simply told them your skin cream would make their skin more beautiful – now they want to know your stand on climate change, and more often than not they want a say in how the cream is formulated. You can imagine large corporate marketers having a bit of a struggle with this.

Funny thing is, this incredible sense of disruption and new world order is also spawning some incredible brands and products – everything from Tom’s Shoes to Etsy.

You use the phrase “futureproofing” when describing how to create better brands for companies. What exactly do you mean by this?

MS: I’ve had a few careers in my time – I’ve worked as a big ad agency Creative Director, I’ve run an agency focused on making sustainability sexy, I’ve worked in innovation, I’m currently working on launching a couple of new companies. If nothing else, it’s all given me a good perspective. The biggest lesson I’ve learned? Companies don’t give a crap about advertising, they don’t get innovation, and they tend to love sustainability intermittently. What everybody DOES care about, though, is keeping their jobs. The need I saw in the market was to offer brand stewards and CEOs a way to build brands resilient and tough enough to survive the shock waves of today’s market. That’s where futureproofing started.

In the beginning, it was just a phrase I used. But I noticed in my speaking engagements that everyone would suddenly wake up when I said ‘futureproofing’. So I started to build a methodology around creating brands that understood what they stood for, how to express that belief, and – most important – how to keep an ear to the ground and adapt to what consumers were thinking. Fairly basic stuff, if you think about it. But as the saying goes, common sense isn’t usually common practice.

Not every brand makeover results in a home run. For every Old Spice, there are probably a hundred New Cokes. From your perspective, why do some rebranding efforts work so well, while many others fall flat? What’s the secret ingredient to creating brands that soar?

MS: The beauty of this profession is that our customers are people. And – no insult intended – people are weird. They can’t be ‘solved’ with an engineering equation. You can’t guarantee they’re going to love what you do, simply because your research told you they would. I’m surprised on a daily basis when I discover what triggers peoples’ ‘on’ switch. ‘I haz cheezburgers’, cat websites, stuff like that.

What that means is that you get to combine research with intuition, numbers with hunches. You get to create things that haven’t been seen before. And as anyone in any creative profession will tell you, you won’t hit homers every time.

So is there a secret ingredient? I’d say the willingness to try, try again is the only secret formula. Fail forward, learning every time you strike out. Unfortunately, joyful failure and (as they call it in tech) pivoting isn’t in the vocabulary of most companies. Their brand stewards are terrified of going for anything more than a bunt to first.

Your new book, Didn’t See It Coming, is now available. It’s a provocative yet fun-filled read that draws on your war stories, experiences and insights gained from over 25 years in the advertising and marketing game. Can you tell us a little about it?

MS: Didn’t See It Coming started out as a speech I honed over five years. I tweaked and tweaked it until it really started to resonate with audiences. Inevitably, after every talk, a few folks in the audience would come up and ask if I had a book. Each time I had to give them this lame answer – I’m a copywriter, I only write 30 second commercials and half page print ads, insert uncomfortable laugh here.

What changed everything was my trip to Bali. I took my family there for the better part of 2014. My only ‘job’ in Bali was to buckle down and write. So I hammered out Didn’t See It Coming, in copywriter-length snippets.

I set out to craft a piece that worked on multiple levels – as a guide for CEOs wanting to futureproof their brand, a thought starter for young marketers wondering how to cope with a job morphing beyond recognition, and for a general population looking for a fun read and a peek inside the kimono of big advertising and marketing. From the reviews, it seems to be working quite nicely on all levels.

I’m happiest that it’s resonating with folks outside the marketing world. My mother-in-law told me yesterday that people in her hiking club had leafed through her copy and loved it. The last thing the world needs is another dull-as-dirt pontificating business book. If a 70-year-old hiker likes it, business readers are going to like it.

Behind every lazy copywriter who needs to get a book out is a tireless, patient, whip-bearing wife. Marc and Colleen Stoiber in Bali. (Photo by Dex Stoiber)
Behind every lazy copywriter who needs to get a book out is a tireless, patient, whip-bearing wife. Marc and Colleen Stoiber in Bali. (Photo by Dex Stoiber)

 

In the book, you write about some of the nasty side-effects of overconsumption – ranging from climate change, to technology overload, to cultural exploitation. But, you also admit that much of your career in advertising has been built on convincing unsuspecting consumers to buy more and more stuff they probably don’t need. Talk about cognitive dissonance. At what point did you realize you had to change course in your career?

MS: I’ll give you a snippet from the book, describing the precise moment the lights went on for me:

I’ll never forget the day.

I was creative director at a multinational ad agency, and my team had been drafted to breathe new life into the comatose Mr. Clean account.

We were doing well. Mr. Clean was en route to becoming Procter & Gamble’s global turnaround of the year. Go team.

This particular day, one of the account service people walked into my office clutching an array of Mr. Clean bottles filled with brightly colored liquids.

“Spring, summer, autumn, winter scents!” he declared. They were all new, created expressly to cajole North American homemakers into buying a bottle of Mr. Clean every season, even if there was still a half-full bottle in the cupboard. After all, you wouldn’t want your floor smelling like spring if it was summer.

Really?

I looked at my account person. He looked at me. Someone in the last row of the imaginary audience coughed, and we called it a day.

That evening, I talked to my wife about the dim bulb of doubt that was glowing in my head. “Does the world really need four more flavors of floor cleaner?” I asked.

Her answer, a simple “No,” pretty much ruined my life.

Because when you work in advertising and you finally realize the world doesn’t need what you’re selling, you’re screwed. I was screwed.

As the bulb of doubt began to glow more brightly, I saw the insanity everywhere. Most of the products I marketed could’ve gone straight to landfill without consumers missing a beat. The millions spent on advertising this stuff, meanwhile, could’ve been redirected to charity or (drumroll please) innovating products that actually improved the human condition. Either way it would’ve bought the company more goodwill.

And that was just the stuff I was selling. When I took a hard look at all the products advertised around me, my mood got very dark indeed. How did I not see the pointlessness of all this before?

As you might imagine, my days in Big Agencyland were numbered. I quit my job and set out on a career journey that, over the course of ten years, would expose me to some tectonic shifts in marketing.

I like how your book remains hopeful, in spite of all the doom-and-gloom facing the world. You present a number of principles and recommendations for creating brands that can survive – and in fact thrive – in an uncertain and unstable future. Can you describe one or two companies that have done this well, and how they have benefited?

MS: In the book, I write the better part of a chapter on Patagonia. They ‘get’ the company’s reason for existence, and they live that purpose. No compromise. Speaking with Rick Ridgeway, their VP of Environmental Initiatives, I discovered that in the sewer of the recession, with a product that was expensive, they enjoyed incredible growth. When the world collapses around us, we turn to those we trust. Patagonia has built a trustworthy company, and they’re reaping the rewards.

There are plenty of other companies described in the book – from Unilever to 7th Generation – that are pushing hard to walk the talk, and doing well by it.

One of the recommendations in your book is for companies to know what they stand for, and to align their brand with that higher purpose. In a word, the brand needs to be authentic. Suppose, for a moment, you were advising Marc Stoiber Inc. What would you say you stand for? And how does your own personal brand reflect that?

MS: Gee, it’s personal revelation time? I’m all about staying curious. Everything I do needs to align with staying curious, keeping learning and not getting too comfortable with my status quo. It’s terrifying, but it keeps me bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

How does my personal brand reflect that? Right now I’m consulting with clients who want to build better brands, helping launch a next-generation search company, launching another (still top-secret) company, teaching entrepreneurial marketing at university, and doing public speaking. I’m constantly treading the fine line between pushing myself into new unfamiliar territory and spinning off course into irrelevance. That’s my personal brand. It makes my banker very nervous.

Lesson 1: Always throw yourself into things that turn you into a perennial beginner. Lesson 2: Wear rubber. (Photo by Ella Mickelberry)
Lesson 1: Always throw yourself into things that turn you into a perennial beginner. Lesson 2: Wear rubber. (Photo by Ella Mickelberry)

 

Marc, you spent years working for large advertising and marketing firms. Then you made, what many people would consider, a risky decision to leave a lucrative career path to start your own small company that leveraged your marketing powers for good. What compelled you to take this leap of faith?

MS: There are risks, to be sure. What I realized somewhere along the way, though, was that the biggest risk is not risking. Our world is transforming itself at a frightening pace. Anyone who wants to pull the blinds down and wish it away is toast. So I decided to embrace the risk of striking out, as much as I hate striking out. I’d rather swing for the fences than bunt.

Finally, what advice do you have for others who want to make a big change to align their career with their own values and purpose?

MS: One terrific bit of learning before you jump: Ask your most trusted clients and friends what they think you do best. I did it, and got three answers back consistently. I connect dots other people don’t see. I simplify. And I add a creative twist, making the mundane charming. No matter what I do, I try to fall back on projects that allow me to make the most of those skills.

If you’re going to jump, don’t jump off a cliff. Take the risks, but make sure each risk allows you to accentuate the stuff you’re good at. It helps you sleep at night.

Marc Stoiber is a brand consultant, entrepreneur, and writer. He has worked in the corner office, the basement, and at coffee shops around the world. His work – even the legitimate stuff clients paid for – has been recognized by virtually every international industry award for advertising and design. Marc writes on brand innovation for Huffington Post, Fast Company, GreenBiz and Sustainable Life Media. He also speaks on the subject from coast to coast, and has been featured at TEDx. You can find him at www.marcstoiber.com. You can find his book Didn’t See It Coming at Amazon.

The Lipstick Project: An interview with Leigh Boyle

When my father was in the last stages of his life, in the midst of all the awfulness that comes with aggressive terminal cancer, one of the things that struck me was how much he wanted to be touched. Not overly demonstrative by nature, while he was sick he relished every opportunity to be close to others – whether cuddling with my mom, gently holding hands with me and my brother, or just being physically close to the many friends and family members that visited. Touch had a calming and comforting effect on my dad, and gave us all some small, loving moments to cherish in the middle of all the stress, uncertainty and grief that engulfed us. It was a simple thing that made an enormous difference.

Leigh Boyle is someone who knows the power of human touch firsthand. In 2011, Leigh had a life-changing experience in Ethiopia: simply by giving manicures to local women who were dealing with a serious health issue, she personally witnessed the solacing benefits of caring touch. So after returning home to Canada, Leigh decided to start a charity called The Lipstick Project Foundation. Based in Vancouver, the volunteer-run organization provides free, professional spa services to patients who are in recovery or approaching the end of their lives.

Recently, I had the chance to ask Leigh about The Lipstick Project, as well as the importance of compassionate gentle touch to people in the last stages of their lives.

Leigh, can you tell us a little about The Lipstick Project and how it works?

LB: The Lipstick Project is a 100% volunteer-run organization that provides free, professional spa services for people in our community that are facing significant health challenges. We partner with amazing organizations like Ronald McDonald House of BC, Canuck Place Children’s Hospice and the North Shore Hospice and visit their residents on a regular basis to bring comfort, relaxation and dignity through manicures, pedicures, hair services and massage.

A patient receiving a haircut from one of the professional stylists volunteering with The Lipstick Project
A patient receiving a haircut from one of the professional stylists volunteering with The Lipstick Project

 

What compelled you to start TLP?  Was there a particular “light bulb moment” that motivated you to take action? 

LB: I was working in Northern Ethiopia in 2011 and while the work I was doing was fascinating, I was terribly lonely. I had read about a hospital in the area that works with women who have a childbirth injury called obstetric fistula. More or less eradicated from the western world, obstetric fistula is prevalent in places like rural Ethiopia where there is a lack of medical care and women often give birth at home without the attention of a midwife or doctor. The injury is the result of an obstructed labour that leaves a gaping hole in the woman’s birth canal, often causing her to leak waste uncontrollably. The loss of her baby coupled with this persistent trickle of waste, is traumatic on many levels – physically, psychologically, and emotionally. This particular hospital works with these women to help rehabilitate them and ultimately cure them as over 90% of obstetric fistulas are surgically repairable.

While touring the hospital I was deeply moved and felt compelled to volunteer. I wanted to help take care of the women and do what I could to support the amazing efforts of the staff. The doctors said they didn’t need any volunteers in the kitchen or doing the laundry, but they did offer up Sunday afternoons and said that if I wanted to do something during that time that would simply make the women happy, I was more than welcome to do that.

But for real, what was I going to do? We don’t speak the same language or come from the same culture. What could I possibly do to make them happy while also bridging that gap? At a loss, I emailed some of my girlfriends back home and it became clear very quickly that simple manicures would be a great way to connect, have fun and relax.

So, there I was the next Sunday – a few bottles of nail polish, some hand lotion and a nail file. To say that it wasn’t awkward would be a lie, but as we got used to each other and as more Sundays passed, our Sunday Spas became an event we all seemed to look forward to. It seemed to help break down some of the walls the ladies had put up through their years of isolated suffering. It also seemed to fuel my soul to be around such wonderful, gentle women every week who, for as much as I cared for them, they also took care of me.

I called it the Sunday Spas, The Lipstick Project and that was that (or so I thought).

Until one day, a friend from Vancouver got in touch. A family member had passed away at the North Shore Hospice and interestingly enough, she had wanted her hair and her nails done as a last request. It was ultimately, quite challenging to fulfill and so, after she had passed, he got in touch with me and mentioned that there might be space for something like TLP back here at home. He didn’t say much, just that I should keep it in mind and consider the possibilities when I got back.

So here we are, almost four years later with a strong team, great program and hundreds of clients. There was no true “light bulb moment.” Just a small series of fortunate events that slowly peeled back the layers about what it means to be connected as humans, and what it means to take care of the people around us in a practical, loving way.

That’s truly a poignant and inspiring story, Leigh. From your experience, what is it about human touch that’s so beneficial to people approaching the end of their lives?

LB: Up front, I have to say that I have no expertise – only what I have witnessed through the various experiences I have had with The Lipstick Project. What I’ve seen is entirely basic and 100% human nature: touch is grounding and calming. It brings you back to the present and can be incredibly comforting. We don’t heal people or save lives, but I do think that we have a huge capacity to help give our clients “good days.” Good days to us are days when our clients can feel “normal” or like themselves again. Days when, even if for a few minutes, their minds wander away from any pain and suffering, and towards something lighter and more lovely. Touch plays a big role in these good days because it helps people to know they’re not alone, that someone is there with them, focused on them and reminding them that they matter.

Many people might think that only female patients would be interested in receiving spa services, but TLP provides a range of services for men too. Can you tell us a little about the similarities and differences between the male and female patients that you serve? 

LB: When it comes to male and female clients, there are actually very few differences in what they desire. I thought for sure we would see more females than males and that we’d be doing a lot of fun up-dos, fancy nails and funky make-up but that’s really not how things go. When it comes down to it, we rarely use makeup and fancy curlers and things like that. Our work is about bringing someone back to their “normal.” Trimming beards, cleaning up ear hair, filing and cleaning nails, massaging cracked feet. It sounds pretty basic but plays a significant role in returning dignity and a sense of self.

And what about the people who provide the services – all the volunteer estheticians, massage therapists, make-up artists and hair stylists? What do they take away from the experience?  How does it change or impact them?

LB: The work they do is very intimate. They are caring for people who are in incredibly vulnerable situations, and so the experiences leave a mark. Some days our volunteers leave the hospice light and happy and some days they leave quiet and more inward focused. It all depends on the day and what happens and what the energy is like inside. But no matter what, the compassion and care they show our clients never waivers. But I know our volunteers feel their experiences deeply and carry it with them. To me, their willingness to step into such challenging situations where they confront their own mortality and the fragility of life exemplifies courage, strength and a deep understanding of what it means to be in community with people. Because ultimately that’s what they’re doing – they’re being there for people when they need it the most. They’re coming alongside people and letting them know they’re not in it alone. Isn’t that what community is all about?  But truly, they’re the most diverse, loveliest group of women I know. They’ve got spunk, attitude and are the gentlest, most compassionate caregivers I have ever met.

Leigh Boyle (second from left) with some of the volunteers from The Lipstick Project
Leigh Boyle (second from left) with some of the volunteers from The Lipstick Project

 

If you had to choose one thing, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your work with TLP?

LB: Never wear grey when you public speak under hot stage lights and always, always, always surround yourself with people who are smarter, stronger and more creative than you.

Starting a charity from the ground up is hard work. What advice do you have for someone who has an amazing idea for a new charity and wants to make it a reality?

LB: Get some really good people in your corner. The Lipstick Project is the product of a small army of really talented, intelligent, passionate people. No one ever does anything on their own and TLP is no exception to that. So know who you want on your team, know who you trust and know who you believe in. These are the people you’ll go to when you are celebrating a big step, or when you’re facing a big question mark. To journey through it all together is the key to it all, so make sure you get wonderful people on your team because they’ll take your idea and run with it and make it better and more beautiful than you ever thought possible.

Finally, how can people get involved with or help support The Lipstick Project?

LB: They can get in touch with us! We need all sorts of support, from financial to volunteers. We will take it all! We love RMTs, estheticians and hair stylists and we also love accountants, lawyers, photographers, videographers, social media gurus, etc. Given that we are 100% volunteer-run, it takes a lot of different people with a lot of different skill sets to make everything happen. So if you like what we do and what we’re about, just jump on our website and send us a note.

Visit The Lipstick Project website for more information, or to help support and get involved with the charity.