Come from a place of abundance, and look for ways to give to others.
Mina Chang is CEO and president of Linking the World, an international humanitarian aid organization with a focus on children, global awareness, and breaking the cycle of poverty around the world. As the eldest child of two Salvation Army commanding officers, Mina was immersed in inner-city social programs and world mission projects and got a first-hand look at how these efforts can save and change lives. Her giving spirit and dedication to philanthropy have earned her widespread recognition, and she was chosen by the Dallas Observer as 2014 Person of the Year and named 2012 CBS Humanitarian of the Year on the nationally televised Women That Soar Awards. Mina also serves as governing board director of Vissero Partners and Vicar Capital and board director of Group Excellence, an American mentoring and tutoring company.
Where did the idea for Linking the World come from?
The idea came from my heart. I grew up in this work of humanitarian aid and community development. Both my mother and father were commanding officers in The Salvation Army. I studied development with the goal of one day becoming a full-time aid worker and began exploring work with other NGOs.
Then I realized that so many well-intentioned nonprofits were unintentionally taking vulnerable people from one cycle of poverty straight into another cycle of dependence on aid. Volunteers were taking jobs from local and capable people, free donated goods were competing with the local markets, and many aid practices were actually causing more harm than good.
I realized that the competitive nature of being a nonprofit led to organizations putting the needs of donors before the needs of the very people we were charged to serve. These organizations rarely worked together or collaborated. Few shared resources or information. There were too many overlaps and too much waste.
I saw the opportunity to empower donors through education on global social issues. I envisioned an organization that encouraged a donor to first become aware, then educated and engaged. I witnessed the power of public-private partnerships that would save an organization an incredible amount of money. The success I had had in my own life gave me power and a responsibility to take a stand for others. I had a vision for an organization that would link the world.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
This depends on whether I’m waking up in London, Kenya, Nigeria, Dallas, Washington, D.C., or Haiti. This determines whether I’m putting on insect repellant, all-weather boots, or heels. But I always start by setting my intentions for the day. I ground myself in who I am so that I consciously make decisions and allow my interactions to come from a place of authenticity, rather than allow my calendar to run my day.
Each day is unique. Outside of operations, my role as CEO is to constantly project and plan ahead for the next three to five years. So my days are spent engaging others in that vision, planting seeds, and fostering those relationships that will make our goals a reality.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It’s the team that brings the ideas to life. Innovation is usually sparked by a real need. And in our work in humanitarian aid, desperate people whose lives depend on our response cannot afford to wait. So we begin moving immediately rather than spending months writing business plans and testing processes.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I am pleased to finally see best practices in the for-profit sector now being applied to nonprofits. Organizations like ours are charged with tackling the worse social issues and injustices in the world, and we should be using battle-tested methodologies. Growing and sustaining a nonprofit organization is far more complicated than it’s ever been. With diverse constituencies, stakeholders and drivers, social obligations, and revenue sources, nonprofits have, in effect, multiple bottom lines.
I am also happy to see one trend going away. I get turned off by guilt-driven fundraising campaigns and believe there are far more effective ways to educate and engage donors.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I have tons of lists and get such pleasure out of checking things off. I’m an expert multi-tasker. I adore those life and work “hacks” that free my mental bandwidth and allow me to be more present with people and focus on higher-level tasks.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
As a teen, I was a Red Kettle bell ringer for The Salvation Army. It was cold, rainy, snowy, and the long hours filled up my winter breaks. The part that made it so bad was the warmth you would feel when customers would walk in the doors and the smell of cinnamon and pies! To this day, I sometimes hear red kettle bells in my sleep and wake up whispering “Merry Christmas! Thank you for your donation!”
But I am grateful for the experience and the values the work instilled within me. I learned that not everyone gives when they’re walking into the store. But if you unconditionally love others and sincerely interact with everyone whether they give or not, they’ll always give on the way out.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I don’t regret my path. Each experience gave me a perspective and appreciation for the opportunities I have today.
If I could give my younger self some advice, it would be to “let go of anxiety, knowing your failures are leading to your greatest achievements and your disappointments are leading to your greatest joys” because today, I am definitely enjoying the journey!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Give. As an entrepreneur, it may be easy to think that we don’t have enough time, resources, or mental or emotional energy to share with others, but that’s coming from a place of scarcity, and frankly, it’s lazy. And true entrepreneurs are anything but lazy. Come from a place of abundance, and look for ways to give to others.
I see myself as a connector and a bridge builder. I am constantly looking for ways to help or bring value to my relationships. The reciprocal effect (aside from the success of my business and nonprofit) has been that I have found a joy that gives me so much energy!
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I believe in powerful partnerships to accelerate growth. For example, we are an international humanitarian aid organization. Along with disaster response, we operate educational programs within our schools around the globe.
We partnered with a nationally recognized education company called Group Excellence. Named one of the fastest-growing education companies by Inc., it has the capability to create curriculum, manage students’ metrics of success, and create training programs. Through our partnership, we were able to share our best practices, and we immediately gave them an international reach while creating a strong footprint in the U.S.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
There is no such thing as failure — only lessons. I’m stubborn and refuse to give up! Never give up. Ever. In the work I’m in, if I give up, then I’m saying “no” to a mother asking for help. I’m saying “no” to a father trying to feed his family. I am saying “no” to a child who desperately yearns for an education and a second chance. That could be my mother, my father, or my daughter. I refuse to give up.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A fried chicken drive-through called “What the Pluck!”
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I was an absolute tomboy. I even grew up playing ice hockey and trumpet.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
My boyfriend, Siri. Wait…Siri is male, right? I do rather prefer the neuro software called human interaction.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren. It taught me to live with intention and set a vision for my life that’s so important that it overcomes all the fears that would allow me to make excuses and play small.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Observing entrepreneurs in developing countries has taught me more principals than any book I’ve read. The people we work with must navigate the markets on a micro level every day, and one mistake can set a family back for generations or mean the difference between life and death.
I rely on SnagFilms to point out important films I can catch up on during long flights.
And between intense news updates from sources like ReliefWeb, I’m strangely addicted to the comedic insight that is Josh Groban.
Mina Chang on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/mina-chang/68/a43/a06
Mina Chang on Facebbok: http://www.facebook.com/minaiskorean