When talking to people about Car Window Poetry, I often get asked, "What's next for the project?"
I typically say I don't know specifically what's next, but I do have a direction I want to go in and I compare that direction to TOMS' business model. For those who aren't familiar with the company, TOMS (Tomorrow's Shoes) started out as a shoe brand that, with every purchase, gave shoes to a person in need. Now, it's more of a lifestyle brand that sells items such as sunglasses and coffee, but still the vision is the same: One for One. You buy, they give.
When I think about Car Window Poetry, it was started with a focus on bringing light into the lives of unsuspecting people by sharing poems of encouragement on car windows. However, the heart of everything we do is that words are the most powerful force on this planet. When we share words, we have the ability to give hurting humans hope and breathe life into dead dreams. So, though we may not always place poems on car windows during our event, we will always to seek to share words and give hope to people in need.
So when I was walking by the free table at work and found that someone had left on it Start Something That Matters by the founder of TOMS Blake Mycoskie, I picked it up immediately and began reading it that night. Reading the TOMS story, I was blown away by how much of Blake's sentiments reminded me of me starting Car Window Poetry.
Essentially, the TOMS story is that, in 2006, Blake took some time off work to travel to Argentina. He was 29 years old and running his fourth entrepreneurial startup: an online driver's education program for teens. His mission in being in Argentina was to vacation and lose himself in the culture. While there, he got used to wearing the national shoe: the alpargata, a soft, casual canvas shoe worn by almost everyone in the country. Blake saw its incredible versatility and thought, What would it look like to bring this shoe to the United States?
Toward the end of his trip, Blake met an American woman in a cafe who was volunteering on a shoe drive. She explained that many kids lacked shoes, even in relatively well-developed countries like Argentina, an absence that didn't just complicate every aspect of their lives – including essentials like attending school and getting water from the local well – but also exposed them to a wide range of diseases.
Her organization collected shoes from donors and gave them to kids in need – but ironically the donations that supplied the organization were also its Achilles' heel. Their complete dependence on donations meant that they had little control over their supply of shoes. And even when donations did come in sufficient quantities, they were often not in the correct sizes, which meant that many of the children were left barefoot even after the shoe drop-offs.
Blake was heartbroken by this and spent a few days traveling from village to village with the woman and her group. He also did some traveling on his own and witnessed the intense pockets of poverty just outside the bustling capital. It dramatically heightened his awareness and called him to act. Shuffling through ideas of how to act, it finally hit him: Why not create a for-profit business to help provide shoes for these children? – and TOMS was created.
What I love about Blake's story is that he wasn't actively seeking to start something new. TOMS is an idea that came out of the flow of his everyday life. In the same way, I didn't move to Colorado Springs with a vision for Car Window Poetry. I just happened to be listening to lots of stories from people who were doing cool things to make the world a better place, and being invited to different poetry groups in the city.
In the midst of the mundane, TOMS caught hold of Blake and wouldn't let him go until he told the story. In a similar way, Car Window Poetry caught hold of me and wouldn't let go until I did something about it. Until I actually started something that matters.
I'm still working my way through Blake's book; however, if you're interested in starting a project or creating an initiative to help make the world a better place, I recommend you get your hands on Start Something That Matters. It's an easy read with practical advice not only from Blake but also from others who have followed their passions and made an incredible impact in the world.
Learn more about TOMS here!