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7 Questions with Mona Purdy
7 Questions with Mona Purdy
Name: Mona Purdy
Current title: Founder/Executive Director
Current organisation: Share Your Soles Foundation
While on a trip to Guatemala I signed up to run in a local running race in a remote area of the country. When I arrived at the start I realized I was the only woman, the only tall person, and the only runner wearing shoes. One of the six local youth was wearing mountain climbing boots. The others were shoeless. Running in the middle of the day in the sweltering heat was hard enough but knowing I was the only one wearing proper running shoes made me uneasy. Along the rough terrain little children were cheering us on. Some offer us water. It was a couple miles into our run I saw the group of little kids running alongside us. They were not wearing any shoes but they had applied tar to the soles of their feet to protect them in lieu of shoes. I asked one of my running mates why they do this. He said the parents just can’t afford shoes for them. At this moment I felt my calling. On my way home still shaken by these images I sat next to an orthopedic surgeon who told me if children had shoes he would not be coming down to treat their damaged limbs.
Sharing my experience with my own children was amazing. My youngest, Hannah was the first of my kids to react. She came down to the kitchen from her bedroom with two pairs of shoes to donate. I said Hannah you only have two pairs of shoes, she replied but they are getting small on me. You can take them with you when you go back and give them to the kids. We began contacting schools, churches and community organizations to engage them in our cause. We needed gently worn, new shoes. Share Your Soles was born, privately and quietly. Not associating with governments or any religion. After connecting with a major airline I was able to ship my first shipment of shoes to Guatemala. When I was leaving one of the orphanages the head nun asked me “when are you coming back”? I knew I had stumbled upon an idea that would help both the ones who shared shoes as well as those who received shoes. A win-win. I returned home to find boxes and bags of shoes by my door. We started researching other areas in Central America we could reach out to. AA continued to support transporting shoes along with me to various locations. It was maybe into my third year of collecting shoes and two policemen came up my driveway. Apparently neighbors had reported the activity going on at my home, I was served two warnings. One my house had become a nuisance and they claimed the home was an eyesore. The huge dumpster for unwanted shoes bothered people. It was that story that ran on the local front page of the newspaper that got me a donated warehouse to use. That location enabled me to host tons of volunteers weekly. That publicity got us yet another bigger better donated space to operate out of. Things were going great. My kids were becoming amazing people, the volunteers were dedicated and the need for shoes was growing. I had already become a non profit, charity and foundation. I had sponsors who thought it best if I committed to the cause so ten years in I gave up my hair salon and was 100% dedicated to the charity. I’m going into my 22 year this April. It’s been life changing for everyone involved. Shy of 5 million pairs of shoes have been hand delivered to over 40 locations around the world.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?
Our biggest challenge is raising financial funding. The underdeveloped communities we serve are usually remote and not easy to travel to much less ship a container to.
2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was the visionary for the non profit. I’m fairly good at networking and engaging people.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I try to start my work week on Sunday so when my Monday comes around I’m ready. I depend a lot more on technology than I did in the early days and I’ve learned to delegate.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
How to listen to people smarter than me would be number one. Train others to do what I do then trust them to be better than I am at something. That the world will survive if I am not running things.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
The seven habits of highly successful people.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?
Young philanthropist organizations
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?
I met a man in Haiti who asked me if I’d take his son home to raise. He said look at me I don’t even own a pair of shoes. Turns out I removed mine then and there. They fit him. It was the best feeling in the world.