“Before you leave, I want to say thank you. Thank you on behalf of the Latin American community we will be partnering with for this summer’s development project. Thanks to your support of the program, we have just raised $4,000 for a school. I hope you feel more confident and ready for the exam. Please come chat if you have any questions. Good luck!”
The bewildered look I get is simply infectious. It’s the look that says, “Wait…You are thanking me? For $20 bucks, you just walked me through the whole course in three hours in a relatable, simple to understand way that cleared up a ton of questions and helped me identify what I need to focus on. You are welcome?”
This feeling is core to why I worked to launch this student club nationally, appropriately called Students Offering Support (SOS).
Back in 2004, I was 19 and alongside a bunch of friends in my program, we created the feeling during sessions for WLU’s first year Economics course. In that year, we taught 150 students and raised $5,500 for a school. Fast-forward three years, and during the four years remaining in my undergrad, Laurier SOS taught 2,000 students and raised $140,000 for three school projects; projects that we not only funded but built on volunteer outreach trips at the end of each year. This provided students the opportunity to truly appreciate the impact that their time and effort has on those around them locally and globally.
Graduation… so now what?
I could inquire back at my co-op placements (RIM, Sympatico, new tech-startups) to see if there are full-time opportunities. Or, I can see if my extra-curricular passion can be turned into a career. With help from advisors, professors, volunteers, and prize money from business plan competitions, the latter was made possible in September 2008. My living room became the national office of Students Offering Support. By donating my first eight months of salary to the cause, I was able to push through with 11 student leaders across Canada to launch SOS chapters at their school. That year, the model was proven; 300 student volunteers taught just over 5,000 students and raised $100,000 for four outreach trips and development projects in Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica.
How does the model work?
The core to SOS (and to many sustainable social enterprises), is its ability to provide a want-satisfying good (and service) to ALL the stakeholders. We place this as a focus of our organization. For the students we teach, we strive to provide not just the best nonprofit teaching service in the university space, but the best of all the available options. For our volunteers, we work really hard to devise positions that provide real-world experience and enterprise-scale impact. Where can you volunteer for five hours a week and at the end of a term, have taught 50-600 students and raised $1,000-$12,000 for a school to be built? One which you’ll be building with your own hands in May?
Our chapter presidents and executive teams manage local social ventures that raise between $1,000 and $110,000 in one school year. I became addicted to the opportunity when I was in university, and that is exactly what we still try to do seven years later: empower student leaders with an opportunity to enable a huge positive social impact while gaining the best extra-curricular experience possible.
Currently, the 2011-2012 school year is about to kick off, and SOS’s now four staff members are crazy busy getting ready to support the 1,500 student volunteers who are involved with the 26 SOS chapters now active on 23 Canadian and 3 US universities. Last year we were able to raise $300,000 for 19 development projects, and we are well stocked to help students this year to “raise marks, raise money, and raise roofs”.
Greg Overholt is the founder and executive director of the national student-led social venture Students Offering Support (SOS). Since 2004, over 20,000 students have been taught across 23 universities, raising more than $700,000 for 35 development projects.
Greg graduated in 2008 from Laurier’s business and computer science program. He has been recognized for several honours and awards including one of Waterloo’s Top 40 Under 40, as well as a recent recipient of a special citation in Social Entrepreneurship in E&Y’s Entrepreneur of the Year program in 2011.