Taking on HIV: b condoms Managing Director Jason Panda Changes Career and Saves Lives
Editor’s Note: In June, New Leaders Council named their “40 Under 40” — a group exemplifying “the spirit of political entrepreneurship.” Below is a guest post from Jason Panda, one of those recently selected who were kind enough to share some of their wisdom with Care2. You can meet Jason in New York July 12th. More posts will be shared over the coming days — so stay tuned!
BY JASON PANDA, Managing Director of b condoms
It is an honor to write on behalf of our company, B Holding Group, LLC and the many individuals and organizations that we represent. The B Holding Group is the distributor of b condoms, the only minority-owned, socially responsible condom company in the world. b condoms was born out of a conversation with my mother where I expressed my frustration with my career. I had achieved individual successes, but felt as though I hadn’t done enough to better the community.
My mother ran a detox and transitional care facility, which helped people addicted to alcohol, cocaine and heroin get clean. I was speaking to her about how I wanted more from my life. I wanted a career that would connect me with the community and allow me to do something larger than myself.
At the time, I had done many things that would make me “successful” in the traditional sense. I was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Morehouse College; lived in Salvador, Brazil and Tokyo, Japan; traveled to nearly 40 countries; graduated from Georgetown University Law Center; and worked as an attorney in a top New York City law firm, making well over six figures. However, this was not enough.
As someone who had worked on community health issues, my mom recommended starting a condom company because of the disproportionate effect HIV and AIDS was having on communities of color across the globe. She realized that to counteract the effect of HIV and AIDS among at-risk communities, a new approach was needed. This approach involves a fully-engaged condom partner/distributor working hand-in-hand with grassroots organizations on changing the trajectory of HIV/AIDS. This was an extremely powerful idea and the start of b condoms.
b condoms is more than just a condom company. We are a movement that seeks to change the effect of HIV and AIDS in the most at-risk communities. We selected the name “b” to fully express that anything is possible. You can “b” anything. Our motto is “b cool. b safe. b yourself.” However, churches can “b spiritual,” married couples can “b committed,” kids can “b whatever their hearts desire” and we can “b the change.”
Since our beginning, b condoms has grown rapidly, as we have focused on three core principles:
- Our Mission – we seek to change the trajectory of HIV and AIDS in the most at-risk communities;
- Our Community Partnerships – we partner with organizations that work to create change on the ground; and
- Our Reinvestment Platform – we reinvest a substantial portion of our profits into organizations that combat HIV and AIDS rates in the most at-risk communities.
Though we are a for-profit company, our mission is social and we measure our success on whether we have been able to play a role in decreasing the toll of HIV in the communities we serve, as opposed to solely tracking profit margins.
Further, we will never compromise on our reinvestment principle. This is how we give back to the community and support the individuals that are fighting the battle in the streets. It is the stories of these people, whose names go unmentioned in television or on the radio, but whose lives make the most powerful impact in our communities. This is also where future progressive leaders must focus their attention because this is where change happens.
For progressive entrepreneurs who choose to follow a road similar to mine, let me end this post by telling you three things that I wish someone had told me:
- Social entrepreneurship is an all-or-none enterprise. There is no hedging and you may not win.
When you accept this as your path, you must recognize that you will fail a number of times. My outlook is that with all decisions, you begin with a 50/50 chance. It is either going to work out, or it is not. If you do the necessary preparation, you will increase your odds of success to 70 percent. At that point, you have to recognize that there is still a significant amount of risk and that you may not always have control over whether you win or fail. You must be willing to accept failures and continue moving forward.
- You must lead by thinking outside of the box. Do not follow the obvious. If everyone is investing in homes, provide the faucets.
My senior year of college my father gave me a piece of paper. The paper said “listen to everyone, follow no one.” The essence of his message is that if you want to be different, you must trust your own judgment. There are billions of people in this world and most ideas are not new. However, you should always look for ways to distinguish yourself and your vision from the masses. It does not always have to be sexy. For us, condoms made sense. The idea originated with my mother and it made sense that there should be a socially responsible and culturally relevant condom company.
- You must build your business with an eye on moving the community forward.
There are certain consistencies among game-changing businessmen. Look at people like Oprah Winfrey, George Soros and Magic Johnson. They were able to combine community involvement, making significant amounts of money and job creation. This is a model that works. This is the same model that b condoms employs. We promote awareness, save lives, partner with community organizations and create jobs.
These are building blocks I’ve had to learn. However we can all use these in taking on challenges in our communities.