DeAnne Wingate hasn’t had a paycheck since 2010. Instead, she’s been living off the savings she put away from her days in internet advertising. It’s difficult and she knows the money won’t last forever, or even much longer, but at this moment she believes she is doing exactly what she was put on this earth to do.
Her career began in the late nineties, when much about the internet, and internet advertising in particular, was still new. Her early career was exciting, and it’s not without some fondness that Wingate looks back. “It was like the New Frontier; we were setting the rules as we went along. It was a great challenge, and great fun.” She worked first in Boston, then Chicago, and finally in New York City. “Having a corporate position in New York City was kind of the apex, the ultimate dream,” she says.
But at the same time, something didn’t feel quite right. “I knew that there was a bigger purpose for my life. I knew there was something beyond doing what I was doing. I felt heart palpitations every time I got on a plane, and I think my heart was telling me that this was not the path I was supposed to be on. This was not the way that I was supposed to be living my life.”
On April 1, 2010, Wingate quit her job. “My boss was hoping it was an April Fools’ joke,” she laughs. At this point she still wasn’t sure what it was she wanted to do. She moved to Mexico for a year to take some time off. “I needed to completely disconnect.”
It was a trip to India that changed the course of Wingate’s life; a trip that she almost didn’t take. Through a friend she met the founders of an organization working with victims of sex trafficking in India; they wanted Wingate to grow their efforts in Bangalore. Though Wingate had traveled all over the world, she was wary of going to India because of the grinding poverty and gender inequity she would find. “I knew it would be heartbreaking and dangerous, so I said no. At that point I was thinking I would probably go back to the advertising world and start making money again.” But ultimately a close friend convinced her to make the trip.
Even though Wingate thought she knew what to expect, seeing the sex trade up close – the young ages of the girls involved, the children left to fend for themselves while their mothers went off to work as prostitutes – was still a shock. “I don’t think a normal person can even take it all in; it’s just too much. It was horrific.”
While still in India, Wingate met a Brazilian women who had opened a school for impoverished children but wanted to double the number of students she could enroll as well as improve the facilities. Using her business skills, Wingate immediately began to strategize with her new friend about ways to raise the money for the school.
When she returned to the US, Wingate considered holding charity events or soliciting individual donations to raise money for the school but realized that she wanted to do more than fund just one school; she wanted to be able to fund as many education projects as she could. So in 2012 Wingate established Rippled Purpose, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization devoted to bringing education to marginalized children.
Knowing that she would need an income stream to achieve her goals, she began importing tunics from India to sell in the United States, and established Blessed Lotus to be the for-profit engine that would fund Rippled Purpose. “I wanted to come up with a creative way to fund the mission. I knew it would be just me running Rippled Purpose, and it’s exhausting holding charity events.” Through trunk shows and person-to-person sales, she met many women who loved the tunics and also wanted to help support the work she was doing. After a time, though, Wingate began to believe that the tunics weren’t the best fit for an American audience. That was when she decided to design her own clothing line.
To date, she has designed a collection of her own tunics which will be ready to ship in August 2015, though orders are being taken now. “I didn’t go to design school so I had to learn everything – how to design and create clothing, finding and dealing with the factories. It’s been a learning curve and it’s taken some time.” Initially she thought she would manufacture the tunics in India but ultimately selected a manufacturer in the US. Corporate profits from the tunic sales directly fund Rippled Purpose, which is currently supporting three education projects in India. Through social media, more people are starting to reach out to Wingate asking for help; her goal is to be able to start schools around the world. “If I’m able to do that,” she says, “I can’t imagine a more incredible life.”
But financially it hasn’t been easy. “I’ve been living off my retirement savings. I don’t take any portion of the donations; I’m not getting paid to be the executive director. I haven’t had a paycheck since 2010, and I’m down to the last few coins.”
Still, Wingate remains committed to her mission. “When I look back at everything I’ve been through, it’s unbelievable. I’ve grown so much and I’ve changed so much. I wouldn’t go back and change anything that’s happened because every experience has helped me grow. I’ve learned from every obstacle.”
She reflects, “The world tells you that success is power and achievement and financial gain. But what I’ve learned is that true success is internal. In order to have a meaningful life it has to be one where you are completely connected with your heart; where your heart is your guide. My friends and family do worry about me, but I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I have peace in that.”
- It influences purchase intent: A Cone Research Study from 2013 found Americans’ enthusiasm to shop with a conscience has sky-rocketed, up 20% in the last 20 years while the number of consumers purchasing social impact goods has increased 170% in the last 10 years.
- It drives employee loyalty and hiring: The employee marketplace is being driven by those who want to work for companies dedicated to social good. Two-thirds of millennials say they want to work for a company that makes a difference in the world (Global Tolerance).
- It has an incredible impact on YOU: When you add purpose to your company, it changes your priorities and your life. I saved a photo of our children in India on my desktop. When I look at the students every morning as I boot up my computer, I am reminded that the success of Blessed Lotus is not about me. I am a part of something so much greater.