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Origins Event Speaker Highlight: Tara Russell

One of the speakers who will be a part of the The Origins Event this weekend is Tara Russell.

Tara is the co-founder & CEO of The Momentum Group + Common Ground, social + entrepreneurial ventures that provide job-training and job-creation for disadvantaged and at-risk international community members. Tara is a visionary, an entrepreneur, a wife, a mother to kids who inspire her daily, and passionately committed to empowering those with the least through innovative business and training. (taken from the Origins Event speakers page)

I had the privilege of interviewing Tara via email, and here’s what she had to say!

I’ve taken a look at the Momentum Group site and think it’s a great initiative! Can you tell me a bit about the story behind the formation of Momentum Group? What prompted you to do it? What were you doing beforehand?

My background is fairly corporate – big business (General Motors, Intel and Nike around the world). I had the opportunity to be part of a GM start-up in Shanghai back in 1999 training Chinese engineers and teams to build minivans. It was there, learning far more from those I was supposed to “teach and train” than I could have ever imagined, I saw the vision for my life clearly coming together.

I have always loved business, and feel that is where my strengths lie, but I fell in love with the Chinese people, and knew that International work and development would be the heartbeat of my work moving forward. I sensed a growing desire to explore the world, start socially responsible businesses that improved people’s lives and mostly, to broaden my mental horizons and learn from the cultures so unlike my own. To start breaking the rules of my culture – to long for more than just a paycheck, but rather to use my gifts and talents to try to change the world.

I wanted to see the merging of business and global transformation possible – and I wanted to mobilize others to see how business could become a powerful vehicle for International Development. I have always had this huge sense of responsibility to take all the experiences that God has allowed me to enjoy and learn from and turn that into life transformation and the mobilization of others. A deep passion of mine has always been helping others find their passions and encouraging them to take the leaps of faith into the scary, wonderful place of pursuing their passions, relentlessly.

The Momentum Group started in 1999 and was initially focused on International Development work (“creating economic independence for those who have the least within the International community.”) – filling professional gaps – we assisted NGO’s and Mission Organizations around the world with the development of businesses and with sound business operations. We mobilized professionals from the US to use their business talents to assist on “virtual consulting” projects and team focused, in-person project specific work. While living in Bangkok, we started NightLight, an organization focused on empowering women involved in the sex industry to leave their work for new employment, and we launched the micro-enterprise behind NightLight Design.

In 2006, we returned to the US and began Easy Office, a social venture focused on providing affordable services (finance, accounting, bookkeeping, etc.) tailored to the needs of Non-Profits. The Momentum Group began to explore what our domestic programs would look like. As we relocated and based in Boise, Idaho, we saw the huge gaps in the employability of refugees coming to the United States, and that birthed the Common Ground program that is now the backbone of the organization.

What’s your vision for Momentum Group? Where do you see it going?

The Momentum Group is in a bit of a rebirthing process right now – growing from a fully volunteer staff to a team of 33 paid staff in a year has been a wild (messy), but exciting ride. Right now, we operate a training business (employability and language training for refugees) and small-farms. Next month, we are beginning a manufacturing business.

We believe we are helping fulfill part of God’s vision for the empowerment of those who have the least. We want to teach the world that you can build strong businesses by understanding the market and capitalizing on the gifts and talents of those cultures you’re surrounded with. We are trying to build and transform global communities, one local at a time. We are building sustainable businesses that are also creating life transformation in at-risk populations. We are building sustainable business models and training programs that we hope to roll out to communities nationwide, and eventually internationally as well. We grow people, products and services. That said, we have a ton of opposition – and we’re trying to break down a ton of prejudice, stereotypes, and a system desperate for innovation.

What is your connection to The Origins Project?

Dave Gibbons is a part of our family – we worked together closely in Bangkok and have always felt like close family. He was one of the first visitors to meet our first son at the hospital! Spending holidays together overseas and dreaming together, he has always been a dear friend, family member, and hugely respected mentor of ours. We have learned so much from him, so when he suggests we participate in something – it’s hard to pass up! :)

How do you see yourself contributing to this inaugural event of The Origins Project?

I feel I will learn and gain far more than I have to offer! But, I hope to challenge the way people think about business and about their professional talents. I hope to help people think outside the box about using their gifts and talents to love and reach people – to plunge into pursuing their passions in some meaningful way. I hope to show people what “love in action” means for our team, and ways they can take steps to change lives and grow immensely from the International cultures surrounding them.

If there is one (or two) things you’d like people to take away from your contribution to this even, what would it be?

How businesses can do well by doing good and how we “let show don’t tell lead love in action” among new cultures.

What would you like to walk away with/learn from The Origins Event?

New allies – people to share “in the trenches” stories with, learn from, encourage. I would love to have a new group of dynamic people to get advice from, glean wisdom from, and feel united with. It’s at times really lonely trying to go against the grain! It’s great to be able to talk about the mistakes we’ve made with others experiencing similar walks.

Why should people come to this event?

Talk about a huge collision of creative synergy, innovation, and inspiration! I don’t know why people wouldn’t come to Origins. I’m part of the event, and I’m just as excited to learn and be challenged by all these tremendous people. Just look at those who are participating – each and every person has such a unique story, a fantastic challenge or a beautiful gift to share. I can’t wait! Everyone who can should come – talk about a great investment in your future.

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