Like many of you, I attended SuperSaturday two years ago as we launched the National Retail Federation show 2013. As I sat in the room, I experienced an elegant mixture of retail analysis and industry expertise with compelling stories of need and how the retailers and providers through RetailROI were making a difference throughout the world. Like others, I felt I had to do something.
I committed that I would connect LÜŌ, an organization focused on improving the quality of life for impoverished children in the community of Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa, with ROI to see if together they could partner to make a difference.
ROI picked up on funding the computer lab devices and also connected us with Luke Filose of the Intel Corporate Responsibility Office, who after some due diligence agreed to take on this project. The Intel team and their experience in education showed us that this was more than a computer lab – it was an educational program. What was also amazing was not only the retailers who donated funds through t-shirt and painting purchases, but also if you visited 360pi's booth during NRF, they donated funds to help pay for the lab.
The Intel team and everyone who helped to set up the computer lab were amazing. There were a large number of obstacles to contend with a project of this scope, including the setup of a C3 server and 30 tablets, which each needed imaging, not to mention training the teachers as well as the students to use the tablets for research, spelling, art and more.
As is usual, it is the little things that bring joy. For me, I found it in the faces of the children. For the first few days of setup, the main task was to supervise over 60 children (130 in the afternoon) so that others could do the technical work and the teachers could focus on learning and training. It was exhausting, but what kept me going were their smiles. When any of those kids smiled they looked so beautiful and despite having so many things stacked against them – they had a special glow about them that touched our hearts.
Many people have asked me several questions – which I will attempt to answer below:
Why I went (even if it was to just to be a helper as opposed to a prime mover)
We all have something to give: money, skills, time, resources, etc. For me I went because I had to turn my care and thoughts into action to make them count. I have donated for years, but as it is with our kids, time is the most scarce and precious resource and most meaningful. I saw that if I committed my time and energies that, combined with others, great things are possible. At the end of the day everyone who gets involved helps lead and move the dial forward.
Why it matters (to the kids and to the future)?
We all get so busy with our daily work and raising families and caring for parents, that with the added digital communication and social networks we tend to multi-task our purpose until we are diluted. Most of us live in metropolitan areas where we experience condensed variety and too many choices. We all deserve the opportunity to immerse ourselves in vast simplicity and engage in parts of our world outside our norm. These kids were brought into this world without the basics that we have and their lives without change will be a long constant struggle with no way out.
Time, a smile, a touch matters to these children. To have someone who cares and acts to extend two arms to pull them out: Hope (that things will get better) and Faith (that they will) matters to any of us including these children. We did that with your help. We change the course of their lives and we will continue to do that – we need each of you.
What do you recommend that other retailers can do?
Think about that first new venture you decided to do: a new position or job, getting married, going sky diving for the first time, etc. With each there were others commenting and personal thoughts full of plenty reasons why you shouldn't or how it would not workout. Each of us made our own decisions to venture and grow and we were glad we did.
My recommendation to other retailers and providers is to listen to your heart and know that the time you spend to get involved is the greatest gift. The experience you will have going on a trip will be your greatest reward. And if you combine it with your children, the impact is a lifetime.
An added benefit for me was that I went on the trip with my son, niece and nephew. Sharing this experience with family and making memories that last a lifetime was incredible. However, only through a lot of effort by each of the involved companies and volunteers, it was possible to improve the lives of many of these children who needed help.
To ROI, Intel, 360pi, LÜŌ and those of you who donated and showed up to support us; thank you, you made the difference directly. I can't wait to go back and I encourage everyone who has ever felt the inclination to undertake a journey such as this not to hesitate.
John Orr is the senior vice president of retail strategy and execution at Ceridian. To contact John, please email John.Orr@Ceridian.com. To learn more about Retail Orphan Initiative, please visit www.retailroi.org. To learn more about LÜŌ, please visit www.luo-setfree.org.