An old friend of mine named Rose Greene passed away from cancer last week. It’s a great loss to the domain of possibility.
I originally developed the concept of the AIDSRide — an epic, multi-day, 4-figure pledge journey — for Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, but they didn’t feel it was for them at the time. It sat on the shelf for a year or so until Torie Osborn hired me to help with the fundraising for the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center. In January of 1993 I saw the movie, “Alive” and it changed my life. It reminded me of the power of doing the impossible. Of the human hunger to go after the unreasonable result. I decided immediately that it was time to make the AIDSRide happen and the next Monday my team and I began researching how to move, feed, house, shower and otherwise care for hundreds or thousands of people in the outdoors over the course of a week. And how to get them to agree to do it in the first place.
We had a deck for the concept, the cover of which read, “The road from San Francisco to Los Angeles is paved with $600,000,” which was what we thought it could net the first time around. When the idea was ready, I asked myself, “Who will have the vision to really get this?” That’s where Rose Greene came in — a woman diminutive in inches and enormous in spirit — an investment manager who sat on the board of the Center and with whom I had become friends while we were raising money for the Center’s capital campaign together. I took her out for lunch in Hollywood and explained the idea to her. She got it, and she and Ed Gould, the board chair at the time, helped to shepherd it through board approval to get the $50,000 in risk capital we needed to launch it.
At the critical board meeting, one board member made a big case for studying it first, before leaping into any commitment. You know the type. Makes covering your ass sound like absolute saintly virtue and integrity. But Rose had a strong entrepreneurial business sense about her. And she knew that the way you study something that has never been done before is singular and simple: you do it.
If Walt Disney had been asked to study the prospects for Disneyland before building it, Anaheim would still be a sea of orange trees. There was no way of knowing whether people would fly from around the world and pay big money to go to something called a “theme park” unless you actually built it. No way to know if people would buy Teslas until they could actually sit in and test drive one. No way to see if people would buy an iPhone until they were actually for sale. And there was no way to know if hundreds, and eventually hundreds of thousands of people would ride their bicycles and walk arduous distances, sleep in tents, and raise hundreds of millions of dollars from their friends for the causes that had most broken their hearts unless you actually did it.
As of today the multi-day pledge event concept that I showed to Rose that day in the late winter of 1993 has raised in excess of $2 billion for causes from AIDS to breast cancer to pediatric cancer, suicide prevention and more.
If Rose Green had not been there, I’m not sure it ever would have happened, at least not at that moment or for that organization. She understood the importance of taking a risk, and the rest of the board took comfort in her confidence.
For all of the thought leadership that has been proffered about social change and risk since 1993, not too much has changed. Peoples’ attitudes toward risk is mostly still, “Sure, I’ll take a risk, so long as I know it’s all going to work out.”
But that is not the nature of risk. Rose Greene understood that, before the term “social enterprise” ever even really existed. She was a mensch. A kindred spirit. Authentic. Full of real integrity and a sense of possibility. She loved life and living.
And damned if she didn’t actually ride the whole 575 miles with us in that very first AIDSRide.
By the way, it didn’t net the $600,000 we had projected.
It netted $1,013,000.
The world needs more Rose Greenes.