How I became a social entrepreneur

MS DuskBuster

My 80-year old mother is very brave and never complains, despite living with multiple sclerosis since her early 20’s. In fact, she never wanted anyone to know of her disease, not even her own children. MS is an autoimmune disorder affecting the central nervous system; it is a disease where nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged, impacting the ability to communicate and causing physical and mental problems. The cause is unclear and there is no cure, but medications can help provide for a better life. While MS has certainly taken its toll on her, my mother is happy and is surrounded by a large family and circle of friends.

In 2002, my brother Brad and I were both living in San Francisco, not far from our parents’ home, which is about 30 minutes south of the City. We were working hard to establish our careers but at the same time, as with anyone, we were trying to balance our careers with family and other interests including exercise, various hobbies and certainly philanthropy. At the time, we both knew that we wanted to “give back” but we were not clear on the right method, meaning in a form that was meaningful to both the giver and the receiver. We did however have a cause that was close to us, so that was a start. Our father had been on the Board of the Northern California Chapter of the National MS Society for many years. We knew some of the employees and Brad and I considered offering our time as volunteers. We thought about raising money or helping with various local MS events. We also took into account that we each had spent many years in the Bay Area and had relatively large networks of friends, not to mention business relationships. And, we both enjoyed the idea of being entrepreneurs, creating something ourselves, be it business, books (I have a hobby of writing children’s books) or music.

We discussed the idea of a “fun run”. However, it did not take much research to learn that a 5k or 10k run was organized by a charity or cause on almost every weekend either in San Francisco or in a nearby community. So, how would our event gain traction? How could it stand out from the rest? How could we raise money from runners and corporations when they had so many other options?Yes, we were going to raise money for a great cause, fighting MS, but there are a lot of great causes. Brad noted that during his tenure as a resident of Dallas years earlier, he had participated in a successful midweek fun run. We quickly found that the number of annual midweek charity run/walks in San Francisco was less than a handful. There is a reason of course; attendance is more difficult to generate during a weeknight than on a weekend morning. Still, San Franciscans love to exercise and to give back, and our event was scheduled fora Wednesday evening, June 6, 2002.We came up with the name “MS DuskBuster”, signifying a race held at dusk and a goal of “busting” MS, with the words also a play on the popular Dustbuster vacuum; meaning we were also striving to “clean up” MS. We now had an event date and a brand (at least in name) but no one knew about us.

The 1st Annual MS DuskBuster was to be held at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, a 5k run and a 2 mile walk in a beautiful setting. In anticipation of the June event, we began planning in January 2002 by putting together a committee of about a dozen people.Functions included marketing, soliciting corporate sponsors, coordinating volunteers, collecting prizes for winners, registration, water & food donations, etc. We found a local bar that would help us host our post-race party. We did our best to make it not just a fun run, but also a party. This was important for our largely single crowd. After all, attracting young married couples with children to a midweek evening run would be a challenge (although our prize for the top stroller push helped the cause).We also held a few “pre-parties” in advance of the run,fostering attendance through email alerts and yes, actual flyers sent by regular email. At these events we generated registrations and promoted the event itself. Our committee spread the word as well as we could. There was no Facebook or related forms of communication at the time; social media would have been of significant help, no doubt. We did gain momentum; there was a good deal of chatter around San Francisco ahead of the event.

In the early evening on June 6, 2002, about 300 runners/walkers began gathering at the Polo Fields in advance of the 7:00 pm start. I don’t recall the weather, but I am guessing it was a foggy evening, as it was during about 7 of the first 10 DuskBusters. It is certainly considered luck if you have a fogless 70+ degree evening in San Francisco at this time of year. The race went off without a hitch, a lap around the Polo Fields and then a course through picturesque, tree-lined Golden Gate Park. By 8:00, there was a solid gathering around the finish line and our awards ceremony had commenced. Winners received Dustbusters for theirapproximately 15 minute 5k efforts, and other prizes including wine and sporting goods store gift certificates were awarded to the top 3 men and women, as well as the fastest stroller pusher. Participants then headed off to a nearby bar for free pizza and beer. The mood throughout the evening was quite festive. We believe that we achieved our goals with the first DuskBuster, in terms of the attention it gave to the cause and the $25,000 raised for the Northern California Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

In 2003, the 2nd Annual MS DuskBuster was held, and we organized the event for exactly 10 years in total, raising approximately $500,000 to fight multiple sclerosis. The MS Society uses half of the proceeds for research and the other half for programs for local MS patients. Today, the DuskBuster lives on, now successfully in the hands of the MS Society; in June 2017, the 16th Annual MS DuskBuster will be held. From time to time we discuss the idea of spreading the DuskBuster to other U.S. cities. We are all busy but it just may happen, particularly if I keep reminding myself of what it felt like to help create the DuskBuster in the first place, the true joy of being a social entrepreneur!