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Sam Sawchuk is the co-founder of Sandwich for a Story, an initiative which focuses on using Virtual Reality as a tool to help immerse people coping with homelessness in job interview settings. Sam is also a TEDx speaker, startup advisor and contributor to major publications including the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Influencive, HustleTime and Startups.co.
Thanks for being here Sam. Tell us, what sparked Sandwich for a Story?
Sandwich for a Story began four years ago when I was eighteen years old living in Vancouver. This was my first escape away from home, and I spent my summer internship working for a tech firm that built applications that were revolutionizing the health industry — It was an incredible experience being on the forefront of this innovation, but everyday, as I walked home from work, noticed that there was part of society that experienced a far greater disconnect.
Our story began on June 13th, 2013, when we decided to take a very human-centered approach to finding our next project — We knew we wanted to help empower people and change perspectives and that Vancouver had an extremely well documented homeless problem, but we had no idea what these people were really facing. Human-centered design is such a big component of the design thinking approach these days, but I don’t know how you can solve a problem without talking to people. Why is that so novel these days?
There we were a few minutes later sitting on the sidewalk with our new friend Jeremy talking about his life and some of the struggles that he had faced up to this point — one of the most apparent challenges that he identified was that people never gave him the chance to tell his story, simply choosing to walk by him and never look him in the eye.
Evan and I took a small individual risk that day to reach out and say hello and we are proud to say that to this day, over four-thousands smiles, sandwiches and hellos have been given out by Sandwich for a Story volunteers and those who have been inspired by the cause.
Our friend Jeremy left us with a quote that day that inspired our work to this day…
“Strangers are just friends that we have never met before.”
Sandwich for a Story has spent the last four years engaging with students, companies and other non-profit organizations to inspire them to reach out to those in their communities who are dealing with homelessness. By connecting passionate people with those in their community, Sandwich for a Story has been able to show the homeless side of homelessness to thousands of people through social media, and inspire many young students that in many cases those without a home are not much different that us. Today, Sandwich for a Story is in the early stages of a pilot focused on interview preparation through our unique mentorship program built around immersive interview preparation using virtual reality. What does that mean? We work with employers in the construction, warehousing, and trades industries and film their existing interview process using 360-video. We bring that experience to those in our seminars and offer a variety of coaching in order to inspire confidence and improve employment outcomes.
What has been your biggest obstacle with Sandwich for a Story? How did you overcome it?
One of our biggest challenges that we initially faced with Sandwich for a Story was generating publicity for the idea. A good idea means nothing at all if no one knows about it. We had this notion that it would our idea would catch fire and change people’s perspectives around the globe… and guess what! It didn’t happen. This discouraged us and caused us to take about a year off from the project.
When I got back to school the next semester I said you know what I am going to reach to do a bunch of different media outlets and tell our story… it wasn’t anything that had a massive reach or incredible impact at the time … It was a story built on the human connection.
The number one tip I would give anyone who is trying to generate publicity for their venture is that media outlets are looking to learn about your struggle, so be authentic. Where were you? What have you overcome? Where are you know? And how have you inspired others based on those experiences?
What do you envision Sandwich for a Story becoming in the next 2-3 years?
Sandwich for a Story has the vision to connect employers in the trades, construction and warehousing industries in Canada with those with those who possess skills and passion in the homeless community. By leveraging bleeding edge technologies to simulate the interview experience, Sandwich for a Story hopes to improve employment outcomes and confidence for those in this marginalized community.
What is a skill that you possess that gives you an edge?
I think our team has a really unique blend of talent — having spent much of my career in the technology space, I have a variety of different technical, marketing and analytical skills, but I think many people have these skills to be quite honest. If I hadn’t taken on this initiative with my co-founder Evan Beck, I would have never developed these raw empathetic skills and engagement strategies. Technology is great… but think about the number of times you are sitting at the dinner table and the person across from you is on their phone — disengaged. As a society, we have forgotten how to connect with humans and sometimes it is important that we remember the simplest initiatives have the power to spur a movement — a smile, a hand, and a hello.
My co-founder Evan was the one who spurred me to even consider getting into the social entrepreneurship space. He has professional experience working closely on these issues with international students, homeless individuals in Canada and impoverished populations in Uganda.
Do you use any software tools or websites that you recommend?
Some of the most effective tools that we have used are Tilt and then Facebook, as our predominant social channel. I have heard from many friends lately that they want to get off Facebook. It’s space filled with politics, banter and endless opinions, but the way we saw it was a way to take the human connection that we created on the streets and bring it to the masses.
Tilt, which is a crowdfunding platform, has also been an excellent tool in enacting some of our one-off crowdfunding campaigns to assist those who are coping with homeless. Through our work we helped one man in Victoria, BC named Ken to collect the funding he needed to assist him with his medical conditions, and also crowdfunded warm clothing for Calgarians to deal with our brutally cold winters.
In business, it seems like everyone is simply looking after themselves, how can you build empathy?
I think this change really has to start from a foundation of curiosity — when you put yourself in a position where you are willing to learn about others, different ventures and ways of achieving success, it is the first step to eliminating this wall that many people put up when they are confronted with a new or different opinion.
We must be eternal learners who are willing to engage with the world around us — we must ask first before we build — and must take a human-centered approach to solving some of the world’s toughest challenges. Where does this human-centered approach begin? With a simple hello.
Why is giving back important? How can people at all socio-economical levels give back?
This year we asked a large group our friends and family what they would do if they found out one of their friends was homeless and had no place to sleep.
From Calgary to Costa Rica to Melbourne, to Glasgow people responded…
“I would offer them my couch and definitely make them dinner”
“I would tell them the system has failed you and society have turned it’s back on you, but I refuse to let you fail. My home is your home.”
“I would offer them a place to stay until they got back on their feet”
“I would tell them you can move in with us. We don’t have extra room, so you can share mine!”
Sandwich for a Story asked people in Calgary, Canada about their dream jobs.
Mark from Victoria told us he just wanted to drink coffee in the morning, talk with the neighbors and watch TV. Simply, he wanted to return to his normal life, one that he was not capable of living due to his financial situation.
The energy of compassion can be our strongest tool in giving people back the sense of dignity they deserve, a smile, a handle a hello. A reminder that even if you cannot give monetarily we all have something within ourselves to give.
What matters to you?
In a world where people have become so defensive and judgemental, a simple hello and a smile have the power to truly empower people. Why? Because it isn’t the norm in our society anymore. Don’t worry about changing the way others act, but set an example to those around you starting with kindness.
That’s Sam Sawchuk folks. He’s very charismatic and always down to lend a hand to anyone that needs it. I don’t know about you but his story today inspired me to go out of my way and ask a complete stranger how their day was going and created a connection between us. Being there for people that need you is important and I am glad Sam is taking the initiative and leading the way to creating socially conscious businesses.
Want to be interviewed? Message me.