Ignite Talks – Local Leaders as Social Innovators

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Kevin McDonald, founder and CEO of TROSA, was the second speaker of the Ignite series

Kevin McDonald, founder and CEO of TROSA, was the second speaker of the Ignite series


This Fall, I have started to attend a unique innovative series called the “Ignite Talks” offered by the Levin Jewish Community Center in Durham, North Carolina. Ignite is a networking and educational forum offered to members of our local community. Through talks and interviews with business and community leaders, the series provides a unique venue to promote social responsibility, community building and continuing education.

The first two sessions could not have offered two more contrasting, different speakers: one a Harvard MBA and CEO of a major technology firm, and the other a high school graduate who spent many years as a drug addict living on the streets before starting a successful impactful community organization. And though these two men appear to be polar opposites, they both offered the consistent message on how leaders can make a profound, positive impact on communities and the world.

Jim Whitehurst, CEO and President of Red Hat spoke on September 17, 2013, on “The Role of Corporate Social Responsibility in Building a High Performing Culture.” Two of his main points:
1. It has to go beyond simply writing a check – that is too easy. It is important to find participatory ways to engage in community volunteerism. And corporate leaders should be role models and set an example by participating in active, visible community efforts.
2. Corporations that promote community involvement should do so in ways that will resonate and connect with their employees and that are aligned with their corporate mission. He offered an example of Red Hat’s commitment to “open sourcing” that aligns with community efforts to provide free access to important information and applications.

Kevin McDonald along with other TROSA staff and the TROSA clients, training to work in the food industry and serving that morning's breakfast

Kevin McDonald along with other TROSA staff and the TROSA clients, training to work in the food industry and serving that morning’s breakfast


Kevin McDonald, founder and CEO of TROSA (Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers), spoke on November 12, 2013. TROSA is the largest residential substance-abuse treatment program in North Carolina in North Carolina and a model of social entrepreneurship. After narrating his own personal journey, Kevin shared about the TROSA business model, which connects with the community and develops program graduates who gain skills to make a positive impact on the community through jobs and community service. TROSA’s intense two-year program has an extremely low relapse rate (15%) compared to national averages. Kevin applied the hard lessons he learned on the streets of Los Angeles with his intense commitment to community and people to start and build this very successful program.

So Jim Whitehurst and Kevin McDonald come from two extremely different environments, but both are leading for positive community impact within their spheres. This demonstrates to all us, that no matter our backgrounds nor vocation, we can each align our personal passions and the current environment we are in to ignite impact on our communities.

Link here for more information on the Ignite Series and to enroll, support and attend.

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