Depressed and at a career crossroads, Michael Lavigne expected to find nothing but misery and poverty during his 2013 trip through Southeast Asia.
“I definitely saw the poverty,” said the 37-year-old. “But, not the misery. Kids that had nothing were happy playing with sticks and mud. I would be invited into people’s homes and I had more money in my pocket than they make in a year, yet they would give me food. It enriched my life. I had to come back to Kelowna and do something to make a difference.”
That something is Open for Change, the for-profit social enterprise Lavigne launched in December 2013.
Much like Facebook, OpenforChange.com is a social network, but Open’s network is all about social change rather than posting selfies and letting friends and relatives know what you’re up to this weekend.
Open sells $5 bronze, $25 silver and $100 gold memberships to raise money, much like crowd funding.
Members then get to vote on what charities should receive the money from Open’s membership fund pool.
With 230 members, there isn’t enough money yet to start doling out cash.
However, Open is active in the community in the meantime to raise its profile.
On Valentine’s Day, Open helped mobilize 91 volunteers for a Love Inn event to raise awareness of homelessness in Kelowna and raise money for organizations that help the homeless.
Open did the social media and helped create buzz for today’s free workout at Global Fitness in support of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
People are encouraged to drop in all day at Global to find out how mental illness impacts way more people than we ever knew and then also take part in a big group fitness class from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Soon, volunteers will take to various neighbourhoods with recycled bottles full of sand for Bottles for Change.
If you put the bottle in your toilet tank, it displaces water and saves one litre per flush.
“It’s a local effort to raise awareness and conserve water,” said Lavigne.
“But it’s also a global effort because we encourage everyone in the world to do the same thing.”
Once it has more members, Open will start investing in more charities.
Besides membership, Open also has several other ideas for raising money that can also be invested in more non-profits.
Shopping for Change will soon be launched to connect consumers with clean products with Open making a referral fee.
Open is also creating a certification program for socially-conscience businesses, looking to produce a feature-length documentary, get into crowd-source funding, business- to-business referrals and advertising.
Lavigne grew up privleged in a family of entrepreneurs who did well with a private Montessori school, wood recycling business, construction firm, real estate and websites.
He happily worked in the family business until a series of losses and challenges threw him into grief, depression and soul searching.
“My brother has been in a coma for two-and-a-half years and my sister, mother, grandfather and dog all died close together,” he said.
“I walked away from my career to find purpose in my life. I found it’s not about me. It’s about helping others. Once I realized that, my life turned around. I’m in such a better place.”