Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Social Entrepreneur, Sylvia Allen, Champions Community-Building and Education for African Orphans

Two thousand children, thirty-five thousand villagers, an entire national population – these are the amounts of people directly and indirectly impacted by Sylvia Allen, a near-lifelong New Jersey resident who has dedicated both her personal and professional lives to becoming a social entrepreneur; and one who has proven that she will stop at nothing to get the job done.

At 73 years of age, Sylvia Allen has spent eight of those years operating a volunteer, non-profit organization called Sylvia’s Children, which helps underprivileged African children, specifically those in the village of Mbiriizi, Uganda, who have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. The organization has helped to raise funds that have subsequently afforded Allen and her volunteers the ability to build a school, purchase acres of land, and provide the children of the Mbiriizi Advanced Primary and Day Care School with a better education, a working fresh water well so that the children can drink clean water and avoid illness, a library complete with books, additional classroom blocks, dentists, nurses and health care services, which are all among some of the larger successes in developing this small community that has had a much larger impact on the nation of Uganda.

Allen additionally teaches the 1,001 children and the local villagers about becoming entrepreneurs of their own. She has developed a self-sustainable model in African entrepreneurship that, when completed over the course of the next several years, will help the school to have an economy through the implementation of a corn milling business, a chicken farm, a health clinic, a uniform sewing trade, a fair-trade coffee business, and an arts and crafts cooperative, all of which will additionally enrich the village. This social entrepreneurship model, once perfected, will then be taken to other underserved schools in the surrounding sub-Saharan African villages to help build local economies.

“If you had said to me when I was 65, ‘I guarantee you, Sylvia, that in 12 months you’ll be running a non-profit for underprivileged African children,’ I would have said, ‘What a joke!'” explains Allen about her efforts. “It never entered my head.

“What happened was that it was put in front of me and I had no choice. Sometimes things are just given to us; we have to be awake enough to see them because they’re just given to us.”

Sylvia Allen has also spent a large portion of her life developing her own business back at home in the US … a business that has helped her raise money and create awareness for Sylvia’s Children. For over 30 years, Allen has headed one of New Jersey’s leading public relations agencies, Allen Consulting, which has provided strategies in generating positive publicity and media relations services to both profit and non-profit organizations. She has authored and co-authored books on the industry, and has recently released a media industry commentary on DVD. Allen Consulting absorbs all costs for Sylvia’s Children, allowing for 100 percent of funding raised by the non-profit to go directly to the children of Uganda.

“Don’t let existing patterns impact you,” Allen offers as her advice for professionals interested in pursuing careers in social entrepreneurship. “People will tell you it’s impossible to raise money. No, it’s not! You just have to be more creative, smarter. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do it because, if you believe in your heart that what you’re doing is right, you do it!”

Running a non-profit organization, however, does not involve thinking like a non-profit, according to Allen.

“You have to apply for-profit principles to a non-profit organization,” she suggests. And that means creating a system of checks and balances because “entrepreneurship is a for-profit philosophy.”

Therefore, by not only believing in your mission, Allen contends that you have to aggressively go after funding. With Sylvia’s Children, she has developed partnerships with organizations that have donated a percentage of revenue to her organization, she builds long-lasting relationships with donors and large companies, and she has been eager to go after sponsorship dollars.

Recently, from May through June, 2010, eleven Starbucks retail locations in New Jersey held clothing drives to help raise funds for Sylvia’s Children. There were nearly 16,000 pounds of clothing collected, which, when multiplied by 15 cents per pound, generated $2,400 for the non-profit organization. Another New Jersey-based Starbucks clothing drive is tentatively planned for September through November, 2010.

Allen has also teamed up with Avistar Parking at Newark, La Guardia and JFK airports wherein travelers save ten per cent on their overall parking fees, and an additional ten per cent of parking revenue will be donated by Avistar Parking to Sylvia’s Children.

By thinking creatively Allen has already passed last year’s total revenue by the end of June 2010. She expects to exceed over $100,000 this year (and that’s just part time).

Sylvia Allen works with the philosophy that states if you are making a difference in children, then you are making a difference in the future growth of a country. This philosophy helps direct her work so that she is always prepared. “I have to constantly be ready to say ‘do this, do that, back off’ or simply change direction. You have to be very flexible, and ready to change on a dime. You also need to recognize opportunity and never be afraid to ask for money. You have to have zero fear!”

For less than one US Dollar per day, Allen continues to help each of the 1,001 children at the school; one-fourth of which are orphans.

Volunteers interested in assisting Sylvia’s Children can set up Sylvia’s Children chapters, whether they be teacher chapters, student chapters, church or college chapters, girl or boy scout projects, Allen has created a number of prototype projects that could be done. She says that if someone wants to champion one of these projects that there is absolutely no money involved in remuneration, “but it is the most unbelievable happiness and joy they’ll ever have.”

Sylvia Allen’s Website: Sylvia’s Children (www.sylviaschildren.org)

by Stephen J. Lucin
Partner, grapevine pr
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