Prairie Portrait: Jason Arnold of NeighborWorks America
Name: Jason Arnold
Bio: I was inspired to pursue grass roots entrepreneurship while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in El Salvador. I believe strongly in the power of community and entrepreneurship.
Title: Community Scholar with NeighborWorks America
Residence: Kansas City, Mo.
Intro music: "Cancion Para Un Niño En La Calle," by Mercedes Sosa with Calle 13
Silicon Prairie News: In your short time with NeighborWorks America, what have you witnessed as far as what entrepreneurship can mean to a community in terms of the creation of jobs and wealth?
Jason Arnold: NeighborWorks is a very well regarded organization in the field of Community Development. Historically, the conversation has been about helping families achieve homeownership, which is seen as a first step towards economic and social stability. Today, under the U.S. CDFI fund, local organizations are providing access to capital paired with technical assistance for community-based entrepreneurship.
SPN: After you'd spent years spent working in education, service and youth ministry, what compelled you to make the move to Paruzia Technologies last year?
JA: I was a rebellious teenager with a disdain for the business school. I was also not a very good youth counselor. My lack of direction in life was chronic until I went to El Salvador with the Peace Corps. I learned that leadership was a critical asset in the 21st century, and that my creativity and passion could be useful in the business world. One of my first projects was with a small group of Catholic youth. I bought a book on weaving palm fronds and I began teaching them how to make products for the tourist market. I spent $20 on the venture. Later on, my counterpart was approached by a leading international institution to help more community members enter the tourism industry. I realized that I actually wanted to learn business.
When I met David Eck (the founder of Paruzia), I recognized that I had an opportunity to learn the technology of the future from a genuine leader.
SPN: What lessons did the Paruzia team take from the experience of competing in (and winning the People's Choice Award at) the Gigabit Challenge?
JA: We learned that you can never be too intimate with the customer. I also learned that the startup community genuinely does want to help out. It was an amazing experience, and I am grateful for the folks down at Think Big.
SPN: What was the impetus for your Connecting Hearts eWaste campaign, and what's the latest news on that effort?
JA: My aunt was a program director at a facility for adults with disabilities. I have very happy memories of hanging out with the residents of the community, even though we as kids were pretty rude to the residents. I helped SIFE form the partnership with Forerunner Recycling because I believe in the mission. You can measure the values of a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members.
When old computers are written off, they are usually handled as an afterthought. We want those computers. It provides a revenue stream for the Lakemary Centers sheltered workshop, as well as employment for the workers. The program will also provide the SIFE UMKC organization with a small number of refurbished computers to be used in youth entrepreneurship efforts. You can sign up for the newsletter at this [permanent] link: http://eepurl.com/iFg8z.
SPN: A point of emphasis for you in your MBA studies was "managing creativity." In your experience, what are some environmental factors that foster optical creativity?
JA: Great Question. My father is a plein air painter, and he would probably say that you need high ceilings and some Chet Atkins on the record player. His advantage is that he never learned how to tweet (www.joearnold.org). Blocks to creativity include unsupportive peers, too much hierarchy and dissatisfaction with early results. I think a good place to start is just to believe in yourself and choose who you are going to listen to. It also helped me to understand that different people have different types of creativity. I am stronger with words than I am with a paintbrush. I am OK with that. We are all created unique.
Credits: Photo by Terence Berger.
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