Like so many Americans we recognized the major issues facing this country but didn’t really see anyone trying to find solutions. We saw parents facing decisions no one should ever have to make – buy food for a month or take a sick child to the doctor? We saw gas prices nearly outpace hourly wages, and the quality of education in our public schools continuing a downward spiral compared to the rest of the world. Despite great strides in environmental protection, we saw a need for even greater effort. And then, the economy turned south, only compounding these issues.
It was time to take action, to search for viable solutions to major social issues that affect every man, woman and child in this country: affordable health care, a quality and competitive education, preserving the environment, energizing the economy and finding alternative energy sources.
He learned that despite the tremendous success by TED and the Milken Institute, both in California, and the Aspen Institute in Colorado, the East Coast was vastly underserved, with no resource that offered these thought leaders and their insights on issues and ideas, to an engaged audience who can – and wants to – make a difference. Discussions with friends, many of them current and former CEOs who winter in Southwest Florida, propelled the concept from “we should” to “we will.”
One of those CEOs was Tom Everist, president of a South Dakota manufacturing company and seasonal Naples resident. His vision and passion quickly became a mission.
“There’s only so much golf you can play and so much wine you can drink before you begin searching for ways to give back,” says Everist. “We all came from different places but arrived at the same interest of tapping into the country’s proven problem solvers to find solutions to these five major issues.”
“It’s an opportunity to literally impact millions of lives,” adds Antik.
They were also in the right place. Southwest Florida has long attracted a brain trust of seasoned and innovative leaders and boasts more retired CEOs–many from Fortune 500 companies–than any other region in the country.
“We saw an incredible group of talented people right here who wanted to be involved but didn’t know how,” says Antik.
“This has become a lot more than two people,” says Everist. “We’ve reached across Southwest Florida and support has been universal. This is a community-wide endeavor endorsed by the community.”
What started as a good idea led to the creation in 2008 of the Searching for Solutions Institute (SFSI), a non-profit, non-partisan Southwest Florida-based foundation dedicated to uniting the world’s top thought leaders with local untapped proven problem solvers–entrepreneurs and retired CEOs with the resources, connections and desire to make the world a better place.
The mission will become a national initiative in 2010, when SFSI presents “Imagine Solutions,” an annual conference in Naples that will unite a 600-member audience of thinkers and doers with the world’s top 40 thought leaders, including nationally known academicians, successful entrepreneurs and noted scientists. Unlike the format of other thought-leader conferences where ideas are exchanged– without a focus on outcomes – SFSI will provide the mechanisms and structure to link leadership and learning to leverage involvement in year-round initiatives to solve social issues.
“We have the demographics here in Southwest Florida,” says Everist. “At other conferences, participants tend to fly in and fly out. The leaders who will participate in Imagine Solutions are here four to five months each winter.
“This isn’t just about talking; this is about making things happen,” he continues. “These people are connected and involved in their communities. They sit on numerous non-profit and for-profit boards; they know senators and congressmen; are well-suited to solving problems and they are used to getting things done. We believe we can think big and solve big problems in America. It’s not going to happen overnight but it will happen. These issues have taken decades to develop and the answers are complicated.”
“Give us three years,” adds Antik.
“Our message is that you can be a part of the solution,” says Everist. “This is something that gives your life significance.”