Discovering What They Really Need

By Jennifer Johnson

Several years ago, before moving from Orange County to Nashville, I managed to get tickets to a taping of The Ellen DeGeneres Show in Los Angeles. After leaving home at 5 a.m., standing in line for two hours, and then killing another six hours before the show started, I scored a third-row seat for one of the most interesting and fun experiences of my five years in California.

The theme of the day was “As Seen on TV,” and the show included Richard Simmons hawking his food steamer (and wearing those short, short shorts, which are even more disturbing in person), giveaways of Ronco Rotisserie ovens, and an interview with Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop and Huggable Hangers and the subject of the recent movie Joy.

Although the interview with Mangano was brief, I was fascinated by the idea that she had built an empire by identifying small “needs”—a mop that keeps your hands dry, more space in our overstuffed closets—and designing products to meet them. I spent the long drive back to my apartment that night, my new rotisserie and food steamer and hangers riding shotgun, trying to devise my own invention that could make millions.

Needless to say, that hasn’t happened. Truth is, I am a subpar entrepreneur. Over the years I’ve had ideas for various nonprofits, websites, and programs that never got off the ground. My pitches and proposals for an online ministry training initiative were met with polite lack of interest, as was my idea for a new approach to charitable giving. Either my ideas aren’t great or my sales job isn’t effective—either way, in a movement that celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit, I have so far been unable to create anything new.

Kendall Kemerly with one of the girls who now has a sustainable living because of the poultry program.
Kendall Kemerly with one of the girls who now has a sustainable living because of the poultry program.

So I am as fascinated by Kendall Kemerly as I once was by Joy Mangano. This little girl, at only 8 years old, launched a program that’s now sustaining and even saving families across several continents. When I talked to Kendi, she said that in her young mind, it was simple: “People need cows.” So she figured out a way to get them cows. When another missions agency suggested people could also use chickens and goats, she raised money for that. Now she’s exploring other needs with other organizations to build shelters that will protect the precious animals, reduce sex trafficking by giving families other sources of income, and even replenish some of the chickens lost to Haiti’s bird flu.

I have no desire for my own Home Shopping Network channel, and I’ve given up the idea of making millions from a brilliant invention. But I haven’t given up hope of changing some corner of the world. Perhaps it really is as simple as finding out what people need and finding a way to make it happen. If Kendi (and Joy) can do it, maybe I can, too.

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