On a December evening in 1992, Tom Bagamane, MBA ’95, left his office in Washington, D.C., drove past the White House and Treasury Building, and saw groups of homeless people huddled over steam grates outside the federal buildings. The scene would change his life and the lives of thousands.
“I got angry and frustrated,” he says. “Here were these symbols of our great civilization surrounding people we couldn’t help. It broke my heart.”
Foregoing Christmas gifts that year, Bagamane and his sister made up 10 survival bags instead, and took them into the city after midnight. When they found people sleeping on the streets, they covered them with blankets, left provisions at their feet, and disappeared.
“We didn’t want it to be about us,” Bagamane says. “We wanted them to realize the world hadn’t forgotten about them.”
After completing his MBA in 1995, he moved to Los Angeles and was struck by the enormity of homelessness there. He decided to combine his new business skills and his compassion for the homeless to impact his new city by similarly affecting more lives—many more.
Bagamane founded what’s now the largest all-volunteer organization in L.A., and one of the largest in the country. The Giving Spirit (TGS) has directly served more than 40,000 homeless clients with the help of more than 13,000 volunteers since 1999. Twice a year, volunteers assemble and distribute survival kits filled with life-sustaining essentials―food, hygiene products, clothing, and hydration items—that allow someone to “survive where they stand,” Bagamane says.
Over the last 17 years, he’s also built three successful for-profit consumer products companies. His fourth, Profitable Good Group, works with CEOs to design and execute a shared values strategy that aligns their profit goals with their desire to make a positive impact on their communities.
Bagamane says the skills and knowledge he gained at Mason helped him polish the business sense he already had and taught him priorities and balance, to use an effective working language, play to his strengths—and effect change.
“TGS is about two things: seeking out those that are suffering, and allowing their fellow citizens to step up and be a part of the solution,” Bagamane says. “And it’s about educating our volunteers to make the right choices when extending themselves to our poor—to leave judgment at home and understand people for who they are. I owe it to Mason, which gave me skills and confidence that have translated to success both in the boardroom and in our streets.”
For more information about The Giving Spirit, or to learn how you can help, visit www.thegivingspirit.org.