TED Conversations

Andrew Thorp

Founder, Speakeasy Groups

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Have you reinvented yourself, or started a movement?

Seth Godin, Sir Ken Robinson and Derek Sivers all talk about the potential we have to effect the change we want and start something that attracts attention and gets followed. I believe this too, but I'd love to hear from people who've done it. What was it you changed, and why? What struggles did you have and how did you overcome them? And what lies ahead for you?


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  • Jun 7 2011: I started a movement. Twelve years ago, I started a business that helps low-income and other vulnerable populations move to self-sufficiency through an online community, online training and a computer and internet access in their homes. If they complete their program goals, they earn ownership of the computer.

    Our program helped start the movement of using technology in social service programs. In the beginning, we had many people who thought it couldn’t be done. “Poor people with hock the computers for crack!” they declared. “Social services have to be done face-to-face,” they said. “This will never work!”

    The nay-sayers were wrong… We've served more than 10,000 families in 180 programs throughout the U.S.. We've helped people on welfare, at-risk youth, people coming out of prison, kids coming out of the foster care system, Native Americans, and many more. We’ve been studied by several universities and the results have been outstanding – our program in Dallas has resulted in 84% of our participants getting off welfare AND staying off (up to seven years after program exit!)

    Opening a new market has been a struggle – particularly because most of our programs are paid for through the government. We’ve learned that getting outstanding results isn’t the only thing that matters – sometimes we’re fighting against the whims of the general public (“the government shouldn’t spend money!”), sometimes we’re fighting against people being set in their ways (“we need to see the whites of their eyes to really know they’re doing it!”), sometimes we’re fighting against program staff that just don’t really care about helping people.

    Add the drone of those voices to the difficulty of maintaining a business in these economic times, and you get a sense of the constant negativity pushing back against us from all sides. It’s relentless. Sometimes it feels like it’s just too much to keep enduring. But we fight on, for our achievers, because it's changing their lives.

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