Fifteen years ago, as a young mother of two kids on the brink of divorce I considered myself fortunate in the middle of all that stress. I had a good job, education, people around me and a good relationship with my soon to be ex-husband. Things could have been different and I could only imagine the distress if I had been facing severe illness, unemployment, exclusion or poverty on top of it all.
I knew in my heart that I wanted to help other mothers with children who were not as fortunate as me. I'm a 'doer' so empathy without action wasn't for me.
My first idea was to find a charity I could support with preloved baby clothes and utilities, and a small money donation. I wanted to know where my donations were going and be involved somehow – hands on.
It took a while to find my match. A charity with almost 100 years of history of helping underprivileged women and children resonated with me the most. The services were designed for depressed mums and former addicts and families who had been in social exclusiveness for generations. I really liked their mission, values and methods and was utterly impressed by their CEO who took the time to sit down with me, showing faith in me by sharing some of their major concerns as a charity and as a leader.
That meeting was a turning point for me.
I ended up setting up a charity with like-minded women who wanted to combine their professional ambitions with philanthropy. We created a membership-based charity where various professions were represented combined with a doer mentality, offering that varied skill set to those needing help. We started with 25 women.
We soon realised we could achieve a lot more if we focused less on raising money and more on using our networks and connections. It was fairly easy to obtain free goods and services from companies to charity we were helping.
Our projects included renovating playgrounds and properties, delivering presents to annual celebrations, helping out individual families and pampering the staff of this charity who did such a valuable work with very low pay. These were the moments of shedding tears of joy and enjoying the helpers high.
After 5 years of running the charity it hit me - there should be a digital solution to help people and companies find their favourite charities and make the same rewarding difference. And this platform should cover all resources: time, money, goods and services.
This idea was a BIG idea and it became my calling.
But things are not simple. Not all ideas can be implemented by snapping of fingers. So I carried this idea in my heart and several powerpoint presentations in my briefcase for a decade before an epiphany moment while standing in Piccadilly Circus in the Spring of 2016. I had just got out of a meeting with one of the most influential gate-keepers of charity and start-up sector who had asked me to come by and present my idea.
What had happened?
“You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”
Few months back I had joined DrivenWoman. I was totally lost what I should do with my career after maternity leave with my third child, moving to the UK and finishing my MBA. In a DrivenWoman Lifeworking group everyone was sharing their ideas very openly so I decided to share mine and to my surprise I was supported and encouraged, not dismissed. Until now, nobody had taken my idea seriously because it was so BIG.
But this group was different. These women believed that anything was possible if you would just keep taking small steps, put your best effort into it and give yourself enough time.
I had to imagine the smallest doable step I could do immediately to take my idea further.
I decided to make a 'hand video' presentation and test the grounds with it. I was encouraged to aim high to whom I would send it to and not be shy. This meeting had been a result of those high hits, but the outcome was somewhat surprising and not at all what had I expected.
They (honestly) called me in to tell me that my idea was NOT doable, it was too big of an idea, it would be too disruptive and NOT a start-up concept. And they sent me away.
This might had put me off, or anybody really, but I didn't hesitate. I was empowered as I now knew I had something here. Stupid or unrealistic ideas generate no emotions since they are indifferent. Mine did. I took this as a sign and decided not to share the idea anymore with random potential dream partners but to set up my own tech start-up. I still remember that sun shine on my face at the traffic lights when I made a phone call to my future co-founder.
It took me a over a year to refine the concept, run focus groups, create a prototype, engage with the sector and find funding. The whole time DrivenWoman was my rock and something I knew would stay regardless the end result. I got unconditional support and a place where I could grow and strengthen myself while facing the obstacles every start-up entrepreneur has to face.
I stepped out of my comfort zone so many times and with such leaps that the zone grew from a pond to a lake.
'There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come', someone wise has said. This statement makes me smile and I truly believe ours is here. And what is more, I'm so grateful for surrounding myself with like-minded women who supported me all along the way. Without this group I might still be carrying the powerpoint presentation around with me!
I am proud to present our first version of whatCharity.com launches on 15th March 2018 on www.whatcharity.com. I hope our platform helps you find your favourite charity close to your heart and home.
One of the leading power women of the world, Oprah Winfrey puts it so beautifully:
“I choose to rise up out of that storm and see that in moments of desperation, fear and helplessness, each of us can be a rainbow of hope, doing what we can to extend ourselves in kindness and grace to one another. And I know for sure that there is no them – there’s only us.”
Tiia Sammallahti is founder and CEO of whatCharity.com
Watch Tiia's interview with London LIVE TV here.