Center for Social Entrepreneurship

at Middlebury

Hal Colston: Leading From the Heart to Improve the Common Good

In our last Friday Speak Series, MCSE Advisory Board member Hal Colston shared the lessons he has learned about the importance of leading from the heart and inclusivity in change making.

Colston has considerable leadership experience within the realm of social entrepreneurship: In 1996 he teamed up with Lutheran Social Serves to found the Good News Garage, a program designed to create transportation equity for low-income populations; in 2006 he launched NeighborKeepers, a Vermont-based organization which helps families in need of resources build relationships with allies; and today he serves as the Executive Director of ServVermont, a government organization designed to promote, encourage and recognize volunteerism and civic engagement throughout the State of Vermont.

Hal was inspired to found Good News Garage after a friend told him that after she had scraped together $500 to buy a car, only to discover that her newly purchased car had no brakes. He was sad for his friend, but frustrated with the systemic problem that had caused this to happen and with the disempowerment experienced by his friend and other people suffering economic distress all over the United States.

“My thought process in thinking about [my friend] was like a process in which a movement is born,” Colston remembered. “I thought — Let’s find a way to get a new car for the cost of a used car’s repairs. Seeing my friend faced with this situation inspired me to see the idea through.”

Around the same time, Lutheran Social Services was looking to start a new social program in Vermont, so Colston teamed up with his local Lutheran pastor; after conducting interviews with nonprofit leaders in the area, they discovered that lack of transportation equity was a community-wide concern that needed to be addressed.

In July 1996, they founded the Good News Garage, where Colston served as the director until 2003. During his time in that role, he said the most important lesson he learned was to be inclusive of those affected by the problem when devising a solution.

“The key is to start out on the path to make a difference, and then get the perspective of others, to contribute their thinking. That will give the idea life.” Colston advised the audience.

“The platinum rule – even more powerful than the Golden Rule –  is don’t just treat others as you would like to be treated; instead,  ask the people the way they want to be treated. It goes a long way for building respect and trust, and you will always find a learning opportunity.”

After his tenure at Good News Garage, Colston launched NeighborKeepers, a non-profit anti-poverty organization that focuses on building supportive friend networks that direct families and individuals toward the resources they need to improve their health, get an education, find a job and discover a sense of purpose and belonging. Colston said his personal emphasis on inclusivity and deliberative dialogue helped him to be successful in designing NeighborKeepers.

Colston closed with advice on building inclusive solutions to daunting problems:

Success will come to you when your eyes are set on something bigger than yourself. Discover and nurture passion. Build visions bigger than you. Create an idea that comes to life through others to make a difference, and tomorrow will be more hopeful.


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