Do you remember back in the late ’80s and early ’90s there were a series of movies about computers going haywire after getting hit by lightening and mannequins coming to life? One movie, Weird Science, is representative of the genre.
In Weird Science, two teenage boys use a computer program to design “the perfect woman.” She’s stereotypically hot, she’s smart, and because of the era, she’s sensitive too.
It got me thinking about The Perfect Donor.
The Perfect Donor
All else being equal, the perfect donor is a social entrepreneur with proven business acumen. He is responsive to market needs, thinks big, and feels a deep sense of personal and social responsibility to the world around him. He is invested in his community and considers himself a key agent of social change.
Harold Grinspoon is a quintessential example of such a man.
- Business Acumen: As a young man, he started work as an ice cream vendor. Gaining immediate success, he quickly segued into a managerial role, running a fleet of 30 ice cream trucks.
- Social Entrepreneur: Transitioning into real estate, Grinspoon became a developer. His specialty was buying undervalued lots, rehabbing them, and selling high. This strategy earned him Ernst and Young’s 1996 New England Real Estate Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
- Change Agent: Grinspoon wanted change and decided to make it happen. He started in his own community, partnering with Mass Mutual to provide college scholarships to disadvantaged youths. That was in 1984. The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation has since disbursed over $40 million to similar social enterprises.
- Adding Social Value: Diane Troderman, chair of JESNA (and his wife) says of Grinspoon: “Harold is targeting niches—creating projects that harbor Jewish identity—between the camps, day schools, and teen philanthropy. He dreams big and encourages others to dream big too.”
The American Dream
On top of all this, Grinspoon has an American Dream story. Growing up, he reports facing virulent anti-Semitism. He was a loner, a troublemaker, and dyslexic to boot. College held him for two years before he dropped out to work—and never returned.
The Making of an Entrepreneur
I often wonder how important the socioeconomic background of a social entrepreneur is. My conclusion: those who bleep our radar as markedly successful are those who grew up poor, but with sufficient social resources to advance. You have to gain a foothold somewhere. (And also, it makes a more interesting story.)
That’s what is so classic about the American Dream. You have to have little financially but seek much. Certainly growing up without resources would make you more profit oriented as an adult. There’s no motivation like money hunger.
Grinspoon is a brilliant social entrepreneur. Here are some of the programs sponsored by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation and the Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy. Note their ingenuity in creating social change and promoting opportunities for growth.
- B’Nai Tzedek Teen Philanthropy Program: Enables adolescents to create and manage small scale endowment funds. Its benefits: empowering, capacity building, increases networking and engagement with the Jewish world as teens explore giving opportunities.
- Tuition Incentive Program for Jewish Day Schools: Parents considering Jewish day schools for their children are eligible to receive a grant of $2,500 to incentivize sending Junior to school. Grants are disbursed regardless of family income. Similar subsidies are available for Jewish summer camps, Israel trips, and college study in Israel.
- The PJ Library: Children up to the age of six are sent monthly packages of Jewish books and music to help promote early Jewish cultural literacy and emergent readers.
My primary information source for this articles was Lifestyles Magazine’s: “Harold Grinspoon and Diane Troderman: Advancing a Cultural Agenda,” which can be accessed via the Jewish Funders Network.