Built to Give Back


My father was a physician with his own family practice when I was a young girl. I remember going there on Saturday mornings; the whoosh of the heavy metal back door opening and the medicinal smell in the air. The nurses would be brewing coffee and chatting in the kitchen.

I would follow my Dad down the hall, past the exam rooms to his office where he would change into a starched white lab coat, while I would take a seat at his desk with the large black chair that rocked and swiveled.

To keep me busy, I was given the task of typing out envelopes and putting return stickers on them. At age 12 this was a laborious two-fingered process, but it made me feel very responsible and accomplished. Seldom did I see the patients coming in and out from the waiting room, but I could always hear my mother's laughter rising up from the hallway as she walked them into one of the exam rooms.

My father handled a myriad of health concerns, from minor surgeries to scrapes and bruises; high blood pressure to birthing babies at the hospital. It was back in the day when a general practitioner saw the whole family and, unless you needed a specialist, this was where you went for everything.

As the years went on, Dad's practice attracted more and more elderly people. He would often return home from the office in the late afternoon carrying baskets of fruit or homegrown vegetables; porcelain statues or plants. I never asked why he was given so many gifts.

After he died, my mother began to tell me the stories of each and every item they had received over the years. Who had given it to them and how long my parents had known them. She took me by the hand to their office and showed me more things -- pieces of art, pens and paper weights, letter openers and his name plate that sat on his desk for as long as I could remember.

"These were all gifts from his patients," she said. "So many of them had no insurance and couldn't afford to pay for their bill or the medicine they needed. Your father always took care of them without ever expecting anything in return. But when they showed up with these gifts, he kept every single one."

In the months leading up to his death my father and I shared many quiet talks, reflecting on his life and his work. I asked him what accomplishment he was most proud of, and without hesitation he answered that it was becoming a physician so he could help others. "It was a gift that was always giving back to me," he said with big fat tears pooling in his gentle blue eyes.

"To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Success is measured by such different metrics for me now that I am in my 50s. I have already had the big, sexy career in my twenties and thirties. I am well traveled and have worked for and with people of great fame and fortune. As a result, I am seldom impressed with either.

Over the last year I finally decided to commit to developing something that has lived as a germ of an idea in my head for seven years, and I had one major criteria: It had to be built to give back.

I studied many examples of socially-minded businesses who had brilliantly wrapped giving back into their brand: Toms Shoes, Burt's Bees, Warby Parker. And slowly I gained the clarity I needed to round out my brand and online store, kindred: I would dedicate 40 percent of the merchandise profit to a giving fund to help someone who has been swept up in a major life event. The kind that throws you off your course and stops you in your tracks. When your life as you know it ceases to exist and a new one must be made. The kindred giving fund will serve every day people who just need a helping hand to get back on their feet again.

In my version of a beautiful world, every company would be built to give. Then again, maybe others didn't have the inspiration I had. All I know for certain is I am my father's daughter, built to give back.

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?" ~Martin Luther King