I have to remind myself that the blog stories I want to share with you are not about listing the shiny accomplishments of the person I'm featuring. Especially when the list is long and there are many amazing moments woven in. No, what we want to know here is the "how" of how a powerful idea got started and got going. We want to hear about the creative process that goes into the 'making it real' when inspiration keeps you up at night - especially when a 9 - 5 job is a consideration.
Saran Ouk is a change maker, and a creator of opportunity. She's also a loan officer at Alliant Credit Union here in Madison. For many underrepresented young adults, ages 18+, her non-profit, conNEXTions, is the hand you reach for if you are trying to move up and on to the things you want, like decent employment and home ownership, but lack the tools to get you there. Her group provides resources for networking, mentoring and professional development. And to the young adults in her program, this means access to business contacts who can guide you, inspire you, and more importantly, refer you. Workshops on resume writing and interviewing. And networking opportunities that simply would not be available otherwise. She knows how it feels to need all kinds of help, and how grateful you are when you get it. You see, even though Saran is a UW-Madison graduate with a degree in Community and Non-Profit leadership, owns her own home and has a job she loves, she is a member of a refugee family who arrived in the US with basically nothing. They needed food, clothing, housing and a sense of community - all supplied by non-profits - and she's never forgotten this. conNEXTions is her way of honoring this help, paying it forward, and answering a need that she's seen first hand through her work.
KS: How did you become aware of this idea for your own non-profit?
SO: "A friend of mine asked me to give advice to a young lady who was majoring in Finance. I learned that this person wanted to become a financial adviser, and I felt really connected to her when she said that she was passionate about financial literacy. She wanted to help low-income people invest their money wisely so they could end the cycle of poverty. I thought WOW! I need to help her get there. I remembered another friend who had just opened his own investment firm, so I contacted him to ask if he would be willing to meet with her to help her with this goal. He said of course, and that's when it just clicked! Making that connection for her felt like my 'calling', and I decided to pursue it. I wasn't sure how right then, but I knew that I could combine my love of non-profits and this kind of work."
KS: What advice do you have for someone who wants to bring their idea to life?
SO: "First, keep reminding yourself to believe in the dream. When I would feel overwhelmed, I would remember how it felt when my family received help, and how I wanted to make this possible for others. With my degree and background in banking, I knew I could do it somehow. Speak out loud to others about your idea. It made me accountable to get it going, and people's enthusiasm really helped me along the way. Ask people to join your circle and trust your instincts along the way. And just do it! instead of getting lost in the details of a big plan. I'm not a creative person and culturally I wasn't brought up to think of myself as a 'leader', but I wanted to step out of that box and make this happen."
Saran traveled back to Thailand last summer, hoping to see the refugee camp area where she and her family had lived after fleeing Cambodia. Since it wasn't there anymore and you can't 'google' that kind of thing, she had to rely on locals for ideas and directions. Along the way she met a woman whose kindness she will always remember.
This beautiful GEM (Good Energy Maker) Saran chose to share with us was a gift from this woman. Saran says it symbolizes the kindness, patience and caring this woman shared with her as she made her travels alone. Interestingly enough, with its egg shape and moving part at the top, neither of us could figure out what it might be! Still curious, we looked up the symbolism of the peacock and found a Buddhist source that described it as representing 'openness and acceptance'.
Just the right kind of energy a young person would hope for as they venture out into the world.