When he was a BCom student at Sauder School of Business, Nolan Watson considered dropping. “I decided to be a humanitarian,” Nolan Watson remembers, “but my father and others convinced me to stay in school and do humanitarian work after. That I would be much smarter at it after becoming a business person.”
Twelve years later he is the founder and CEO of two companies with a combined market cap of over $1.1 billion. But while his business has been enormously successful, Watson’s heart lies in philanthropy. In 2006, he, along with his wife, friends and business associates founded Nations Cry, a small charitable organization aimed at doing two things many mainstream charities do not: ensure every dollar donated goes to actual humanitarian work, not administration, and to ensure its efforts help beneficiaries become self-sufficient.
Nations Cry’s first project is in Waterloo, Sierra Leone, where the organization runs a small orphanage and is building a secondary school. They have also provided full university scholarships to eight students, the first of whom graduated in January 2013. For Watson, the desire to set up Nations Cry was born partly of a belief that many charities are inefficient and may even promote a cycle of dependency. “I do not believe it makes sense for a charity to try to make a difference in someone’s life if you do it in a way that does not lead them to eventually become independent of that charity,” says Watson. “So we focus on trying to get them independent and we believe education is the way to do it.”
Though he find his spiritual reward in his philanthropy, Watson is perfectly content to let business and charity go hand in hand in his life. “Fundamentally, what has always driven me is wanting to make a difference in the world. And to that extent, I would say the philanthropy side is key to who I am as a person.”
But business is also a passion for Watson. “I don’t just do business as a means to an end. I really have fun and I really enjoy what I do. I could live without the business side if I had to. But business helps me make money that can be used to help others, it helps me make contact with people who are willing to step up alongside of me in philanthropy, and it gives me the financial and organizational skills to make a difference in philanthropy.”
Watson urges young people not to wait to start making a difference. “You only live life once. Don’t make the mistake of saying ‘Well I am going to go establish myself in my career, make some money and then one day I will be in a position to give back.’ Life doesn’t work that way. If you want to make a difference with your life, start today. Not later. Start at day one. With whatever you’ve got. With extra time, with whatever small amount of money you have, just go do it.”