The Boy Who Was My Cause Made YourCause

Matthew Combs March 15, 2016 About YourCause

I’ll spare you the rehash of the entire story that led to the creation of YourCause and, instead, give you the Cliff Notes version. In 2007, I came home slightly early from work (so I could sneak in a bike ride before dark) and on the television was a Dateline MSNBC segment focusing on Joseph Koney, child soldiers, and how torn apart Uganda had become. In the 20-minute segment, a little boy named Patrick, with his broken English and fatigued expression, broke my heart.   I remember like it was yesterday, the emotion that came into me while watching. I looked down at Sophia (now 11 years old) and Annabella (who was just born) and I thought to myself, “How are these events happening within the same world where I am actually leaving my job early to come home and RIDE MY BIKE?” That day, my life changed. And just this past week, after more than 9 years, I was connected with the producer of the program I had watched, with Patrick himself, and consequently, a flood of emotions I hadn’t realized I had been storing for all these years. Let me explain.

I have never minced words with my investors, my employees, my friends, and my children – I love what I do. I’m utilizing technology to make a genuine impact on the rest of the world. I have surrounded myself with smart, caring, and wonderful people who also share the same desire to make our world a better place–one pixel at a time.

And I arrived at this place as a result of being inspired by a random segment on MSNBC whereby “little Patrick” shared the horrors and realities of his life. Being forced to kill his own mother in order to save his own life. Watching his sister become a sex slave to the militia leaders. And his determination and desire for the war/fighting to come to an end, as his young exhaustion had simply gotten the best of him.

For more than 9 years, and until recently when I got my hands on the actual video clip, I had replayed that video segment in my head to motivate me to pursue my own cause. His story has been posted on our website, built into my presentations, and re-told hundreds of times as a part of our new hire orientation.   In so many ways, Patrick was the single greatest source of inspiration in recognizing that so many people had a cause, yet lacked a method by which they could take action. It was Patrick who allowed my own cause to become YourCause… yet I never even told him a simple “thank you.”

A few weeks back, one of my team members here at YourCause sent me a note asking if I would consider a trip to Zambia and Zimbabwe to speak with local entrepreneurs about my experience as an entrepreneur at YourCause–for a program sponsored by the US Embassy and some local nonprofits.   As soon as she asked, I could not help but think about how close I would actually be to Uganda, to Patrick, and to where this all (YourCause) began. A wave of emotions came over me as I explored the idea of extending my trip to Uganda, whereby I could at least make an attempt to find him.   I brainstormed about what I could do to determine his whereabouts and what could best be done to actually give me a chance to meet little Patrick.

The exploration of this scenario in my mind made me realize that I truly had some unfinished business in my personal life. I had built a company of more than 100 employees. I had figured out how to use technology to make a positive difference in our world. I had built my way into MY dream job whereby I could confidently say EVERY DAY that I “love what I do.” Yet, I never actually achieved MY cause.   I never truly did help Patrick. I had never practiced the very concepts that I’ve been preaching for years. And it took my upcoming trip with the US Embassy to bring about this realization.

It wasn’t too late to complete my story and walk the walk, and it hit me shortly after dropping my children off at school and during my short commute to the office. I would, at our weekly all-hands meeting, challenge anybody in the company to set up a meeting for me and Patrick – and as a reward, I would commit to purchasing a plane ticket to anywhere in the world, upon success. Even while posing the challenge, I could feel this crazy sense of relief set in, as if I were finally “following through” with my original mission and I too was taking a definitive step towards achieving MY cause.

No more than an hour later, a member of our sales team came hustling into my office – a bit winded – and requested that I come downstairs (to where the sales team is), saying that our head of lead generation had gotten in touch with the producers of the MSNBC segment and they wanted to talk to me! I dropped what I was doing and began my own hustle to the sales department; I couldn’t help but think how fitting it was that the very person in our company who is responsible for finding the right people for us to speak with was able to connect (in very short order) with one of the persons I wanted to chat with. (Apparently we DO hire well!).

The cell phone was handed to me, and I appropriately delivered my “This is Matthew,” not fully knowing who I was about to speak with; and that was to be the last audible sentence I would be able to get out for the next few minutes. Tim Sandler, the original journalist and producer from MSNBC, felt the same emotion – at the same time; he too was unable to get his initial sentence out without his emotions getting the best of him.

So what was it?   For 9 years, Patrick was for me a symbol of motivation and inspiration – and I all of a sudden found myself crying with another man whom I had never met or spoken with before. Even a week later, I’m still not exactly certain what caused that outpouring of emotion – and it’s still very much present with me. When I think about what Patrick has meant in my life, and the change that Tim’s reporting of him has had on millions of others, I realize how profound the last 9 years have really been for me. All the smiles, sense of worth, pride, and tears that have come over the years, although they apparently were subdued, have been very real within me – and as it turns out, have been waiting until I connected with someone else who was equally moved by this very young boy out of Uganda. Tim was that guy, and I am forever grateful to him.

A few years back at one of our client conferences, I remember speaking about how much we all truly have to learn from today’s youth. How, so often, their innocence and unfractured outlook on our world can be inspiring and can remind us how short life really is. So it’s not surprising (to me) that Patrick – despite having already lived more tragedy within his first 9 years than all those who read this blog will most likely endure in their lifetime – was able to overcome, and as a result, inspire so many others we may never even know about to do the same.

I feel an emotional outpouring even as I recount this story, and I feel lucky to have had a chance to see that influential program on MSNBC many years ago. I feel proud that I took that inspiration and actually did something with it. I feel inspired knowing that a meeting with Patrick is very likely in my future. I feel understood, even if by just one man (Tim), who gladly allowed my life to be dramatically influenced by this one little boy. I feel a sense of relief that I am actually getting out there and pursuing MY cause. And although I remain deeply saddened by the ongoing events of the Lords Resistance Army and what they have done to more than 66,000 children, I am hopeful that what I am doing today may influence just one other person out there to pursue their dream, their passion, and their cause.

Originally published on the Charities@Work blog.