The other day I was thinking about the whole premise of The Stranded Starfish – the idea that even though there may be a thousand stranded starfish on a beach, throwing back one may not change the beach landscape but it makes a big difference in the life of that one starfish. This is a great story if that creature is as small as a starfish. What if there were a thousand whales on that beach?
There is a homeless man in downtown Atlanta that I’ll call Mark. Mark is pretty consistent in his choice of spots near the North Avenue Marta station. Our son, Jared, is a student at Georgia Tech. Jared regularly passes by Mark and offers him a sandwich or whatever food he may have on him. Whenever Jared comes home for the weekend, he remembers to stuff his backpack with some food because he knows that he will see Mark when he gets off the train at Tech.
Jared is a college student and doesn’t have the means to throw this beautiful starfish named Mark far enough into the sea so that it won’t return. So Jared does what he can, hoping that Mark will still be alive the next time he passes. Jared’s starfish is, for all intents and purposes, a beautiful whale to him. He can help, but he doesn’t have the resources to change Mark’s situation.
There are hundreds of Marks on the streets of Atlanta. There are hundreds of well-meaning Jareds as well. But the beautiful whales are still on the beach.
There are many ways to try and improve the homeless situation. Most of them involve addressing the homeless as a collective. We have shelters downtown. We have wonderful organizations that supply cold weather gear to them. We have job programs that try and encourage organizations to hire the homeless. Yet the beach is still flooded with beautiful, suffering whales.
I’m an innovator at heart and profession. As a result, I am constantly watching how new ideas become successful and how the vast majority fail. One of the more intriguing ideas to come along recently is called Kickstarter. Billed as a “crowdfunding platform,” Kickstarter is a place where someone with a new idea can try and get a large number of small micro-investments for his idea with the hope of raising enough capital to start manufacturing. If the investment is large enough, investors are often the first to receive the product when produced and at a discount off of the expected retail value. People can even invest as little as a dollar that might get them a thank-you card or their name on a list of original investors.
The key to Kickstarter is in the volume of small bets. The ideas with the best potential get volume and can make it big. These ideas are whales on a beach. They are too big to be launched into the ocean by the person that discovered them. There is likely no single, financial source with enough interest to make the Shark Tank like investment. But, if you can get a thousand people to spring for $20, you might be able to get that whale of an idea a movin’.
This is going to seem bizarre, possibly even dehumanizing at first, but bear with me. What if we had a system like Kickstarter created to try and help the homeless? What if Jared could create a Kickstarter project called Mark. Jared would fill in a page about Mark’s background, his skills, past situation, and what Mark was capable of accomplishing if he just had enough money to overcome the momentum of his currently bad situation? Jared could steward the funds into Mark and give progress updates on how your money was being used and how it is making a difference in Mark’s life. Mark’s situation isn’t going to change one sandwich at a time. It requires a larger investment to overcome the pull of the streets.
This of course relies on the investment of an individual to sponsor a homeless person. What if this role became the part of the departments that are currently tasked with addressing the homeless situation? It could be another tool to help them get closer to their objectives. What if churches became sponsors?
This idea doesn’t have to be limited to the homeless. There are many places where people are in bad situations that can’t be solved by one person’s attention. This idea is about taking a chance and investing in a person’s personal stock so that they can make great returns to society by becoming a more vibrant contributor to its health.
Yes, there are some sticky issues to overcome. The kickstarter system favors some individuals over others. Agreed. The kickstarter system does not address the needs of the collective. Agreed. The current systems in place that provide shelter and clothing to all is still necessary. This is an accretive proposal.
The point of the stranded starfish story was not to remove all of the starfish from the beach. It was to make a difference in the one and then move on to the next, using whatever ability we have and are willing to give. This is The Stranded Starfish adopted for a new age. A vibrant age where a good story can cause massive excitement and investment. An age where we no longer have to rely on the limitations of one kind soul. An age where technology can bring out the best in us to help others in new ways. An age where we no longer have to set our sights on helping starfish. It is an age where we can talk about The Stranded Whale.
There is great ignorance in what I am proposing. I will undoubtedly have hundreds of people telling me why this can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t work. I am happy to hear those. But somewhere out there is another starfish thrower like myself that will have a spark lit and do something in their own special way. Let me know if that is you.