Queen's University

Socially conscious consulting

John Paul de Silva and his team of Commerce and MBA students are helping non-profits raise funds and social awareness.

“How do you get people to give money away?” asks John Paul de Silva, QMBA’10. “I’ve always found that question interesting.” Fittingly then, he has combined this interest with his passion for ­social causes to start Social Focus Consulting (SFC), a company that employs 27 business students and one engineering student.

As a U of T graduate with a degree in toxicology, John Paul realized he wanted to make a social impact through business rather than medical science, and so studied at Queen’s School of Business (QSB). He lauds the School’s MBA program as ­being “transformational.”

After graduating, he entered a case competition involving a non-profit. “I’ve always enjoyed using my creative skills to solve problems,” he says. “That competition required lots of creativity and led me to realize that I was interested in working with non-profits as a career.”

John Paul grew up in Malvern, a “rough part of Toronto,” which he describes as being a “priority neighbourhood”. And so his roots tie him to the work he’s now doing.

John Paul and SFC’s “Queen’s team”. That’s John Paul, seated in the middle of the photo, wearing the red tie. John Paul and SFC’s “Queen’s team”. That’s John Paul, seated in the middle of the photo, wearing the red tie. (Photo by Robert Tan)

His efforts to create a common banner around his pro-bono consulting for non-profits led him to start SFC. He spent four months on his business plan and building the brand, while seeking partners such as the QSB’s Centre for Responsible Leadership. “It champions the idea of being a ­responsible leader, and doing social good, whether you’re in the private sector or not-for-profit,” says John Paul.

He now hires Queen’s business students during the school year and business ­students from Queen’s, U of T, Western, and York in the summer.

SFC achieved notable success in January, delivering a branding and pricing strategy to Youth Diversion, a charitable organization in Kingston, whose mission is to ­“Allow youth to take responsibility for their ­behaviour, to reduce the number of youth involved in the young offender system, to reduce the number of people victimized by youth, and to involve the community in youth corrections.”

Says John Paul, “We gave the organization time to implement our ideas, and its June 2013 boat cruise fundraising event earned 40 per cent more profit than last year.”

Daren Dougall, Artsci’85, MEd’97, Executive Director of Youth Diversion, sees a bright future for John Paul’s company. “SFC brought together a group of bright young leaders with the knowledge, energy, professionalism, and insight to ensure our program will continue to be a leader in services to promising youth,” he says. “The results of their work have been demonstrated by the successes we have enjoyed and the increased awareness through ­social media of the great work we do.”

John Paul’s energy and commitment is boundless, and he’s forging mutually ­beneficial bonds across a wide network. In March, he was the youngest moderator of the QSB Innovation Summit’s Social ­Innovation Panel, and the only participant who’s was not a professor or administrator.

He’s also become a sought-after ­lecturer, having guest lectured for a Queen’s Commerce course, Strategies of Social Enterprise. He’s been invited this winter to guest lecture on social media for a ­Marketing and Communications course centred on social media.

Discovering new directions and finding out what’s going to work for his company continues to be a challenge. “I’ve often been told that most new companies fail, that people lose interest in their original idea,” he says.
But this doesn’t dent his confidence, not in the least. “We have momentum building. It’s clear we’re going to have financial success, it’s just a matter of when.”

Although John Paul appears independent and relies strongly on his own judgment, he’s an industry team player, supporting his competitors along the way. “I’ve helped out similar companies and given them advice. I understand what they are going through, and I want to help out. I know we’ll succeed even if other people know our secrets. We’re doing things differently enough that we’ll succeed anyway.”

John Paul de Silva is finding out how to “get people to give money away,” and the rewards promise to be considerable. And not just for him.

Queen's Alumni Review, 2013 Issue #4Queen's Alumni Review
2013 Issue #4
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