What is “seedership”? It’s a mix of concept, mindset, passion and, hopefully, my legacy.

September 4, 2019

To answer this, we need to do some time travel because the origins date back to when I was growing up on a 100-acre farm in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in southeast Ohio. When people learn this fact about me, they usually ask, “on a real farm with crops and animals?” Yes, on a real farm. We had cows, pigs, chickens, sheep and a horse named Polly. Our food came from the land we lived on and the animals we raised. Family was important and visits were common. I knew everyone in my entire school, and at home we had one TV with one channel! It was a much simpler time.

Farm kid: Three principles

Growing up on a farm ingrained three principles in me, and these formed the foundation of seedership.

1. The value of hard work. As a child, I had a list of daily chores and responsibilities. Before going to school, I’d go to the barn to feed and water the animals. Depending on the time of year, my afternoon would include gathering eggs, weeding the garden, putting up hay and helping with upkeep and repairs around the farm. I got use to early morning starts, being busy and managing my time efficiently, but it always was satisfying to know my contribution mattered and my family depended on me.

2. Embracing opportunities to solve problems. Farm life is a series of continuous obstacles — a cow escapes the pasture, animals get sick, bugs infest crops, a tractor breaks down, a snake slithers into the chicken coop, it rains too much or too little. I was always getting my hands dirty and tackling problems with whatever resources were available. This taught me to look at big, complex problems and break them down into smaller, simpler tasks for completion.

3. The importance of building community and being neighborly. When there was a problem or work to be done, family and neighbors showed up to help. If a neighbor was experiencing a tough time, everyone knew about it. Each family chipped in to help and show support without expecting anything in return. It was this community of caring that helped everyone achieve more, even when outsiders would look at our worldly possessions and think we had less than others.

The search for more

Although now I cherish what was a unique childhood, at the time I remember always wanting to leave the farm and discover something different. I didn’t know what that thing was, so I started looking. I became the first person in my family to graduate from college. I got my first corporate job as a second-shift data-entry supervisor, put my work ethic to good use and moved up the corporate ladder. Along the way, I had two wonderful daughters, lived in five cities across three states, earned an MBA, worked on large-scale acquisitions, traveled the world and led global teams. Yet with all this experience, I still felt like I wasn’t really making a difference. I had an emptiness and craved a sense of purpose.

To fill that void, I volunteered for various organizations. I joined the board of a nonprofit that does great things in the community. I attended events and donated money to important causes. But you know what? I still had the feeling that I could do more and in a different way.

seedership begins to take root

In spring 2017, my wife, Jennifer, and I began a journey we now call “seedership.” The goal was to help make the world a better place. We didn’t know how to accomplish that. So we started asking questions. We quickly learned there were many people doing great things. The problem was that bad, negative news overshadowed the good, and this made us feel anxious, hopeless and stressed. We also realized there was real change taking place in local communities led by people who lived and worked there. This became the purpose of seedership: Bring greater visibility to the good already happening in communities.

seedership is centered around taking a leadership role in planting seeds of change to make the world a better place. Those seeds of change can be pursuing a purpose, sharing kindness or showing appreciation. These concepts led to the creation of our name:

planting seeds of change (purpose/kindness/appreciation) + taking leadership=seedership

Buds sprouting: Listening, testing and market feedback

With a concept in hand, we started working nights and weekends to bring our vision to life. By December 2017, we had our first mini market test. We brought together a beauty salon, a brewery and a nonprofit to make care packages for military personnel deployed overseas. The hope was that doing good together would be easier, create a benefit for each organization and achieve greater impact. The salon collected the supplies, the brewery hosted the packing event and the nonprofit took care of shipping. The salon had fun celebrating the donations received from their clients over social media. The brewery gained exposure to new people in the community. The nonprofit received nearly 100 boxes that were decorated by children and stuffed with snacks, games and toiletries. They all received positive media coverage with a local front-page feature about their collaboration.

From there, we kept talking to anyone who would listen. Those conversations led to Jennifer leaving her corporate career in June 2018 to start working with a developer to build our platform. In the fall of 2018, on World Kindness Day, we initiated a soft launch of the seedership platform to the public. Soon after, a handful of community-driven local businesses agreed to be part of our pilot program These businesses gave us lots of feedback and kept us honest!

As we continued to expand the platform, I knew to truly give seedership a chance to blossom, I had to make a tough decision. In April 2019, I left my 20-year corporate career to turn what had been an on-the-side hobby into my full-time purpose. I have always enjoyed helping transform and grow businesses. Now, I can focus on helping businesses grow through the good that they do in their communities.

Our logo: More than just a picture

We get many questions about our logo. It took us several iterations to find something that encapsulated why we started seedership. Here are a few “secrets.” We spell seedership with a small “s” for a reason. We believe that even the smallest act (of purpose/kindness/appreciation) matters. The “s” reminds us that small acts over time add up to something big and can create a ripple effect of more good. Each of the three leaves represent a core principle of seedership: PLANT, GROW, SHARE. Stay tuned for more on why these principles guide us as we build the organization and help others achieve more from the good they do. One of the hidden features of the logo is an open hand on the bottom. The open hand is recognized in many cultures as a sign of giving and purpose. It is also meant to represent that every individual has something to offer and can drive positive change.

We also get many questions about the platform. What does the seedership platform do? seedership is a social impact dashboard and community storytelling platform. We help you track and measure what you give, tell and share your story of what you do with the community and collaborate with your employees on the causes that matter most to them.

The beginning of a new journey

This is only the beginning. We have some big plans, and they all center around how we can help you get more out of the good you do. On a personal note, this job change hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be. Being a middle-aged entrepreneur after a long career in corporate America is a big transition. On some days, I doubt if I am doing this right; however, I have never looked back and regretted the decision to pursue my passion. I will continue to listen, adjust and look forward to the journey. Most of all, I hope you will join us and help make the world a better place!

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Written by
Ray Smithberger
As seedership's kindness evangelist, Ray enjoys studying and sharing the behavioral and biological benefits of kindness and how they can strengthen connections for business growth. Having grown up on a farm means he is a morning person who likes to roll up his sleeves, and he better since as a co-founder he is part team builder, part product developer, part finance lead with a mix of big ideas and strategy. ‍

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About the Team

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We started with one goal – to make the world a better place.  Our careers in the corporate world were satisfying, but we felt a need to contribute to a greater purpose. We began serving on nonprofit boards and volunteering for various charitable organizations. This left us wanting to see the impact of donating our time or resources and wondering if there was a different way to contribute.

We explored a lot of questions. Who are the stewards of change in the local community?  What could we do to make kindness more visible? Was it possible to transform doing good into a routine activity versus one done once in a while?

We didn’t have to look far for inspiration. Within our families, there are entrepreneurs owning more than a dozen businesses ranging from a hair salon and hardware store to a specialty paper goods company and construction development firm.  They shared two traits: a passion for their customers and a desire to strengthen their communities.

So we set out to create a platform to showcase good, inspire more good, recognize those who give back, and start a sustainable movement to make the world a better place.

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