“It’s not personal, it’s just business.”
That cold, hard mantra used so often as a justification to omit any hint of humanity in a business decision is a commonly used one. Perhaps no sector is more associated with unforgiving calculation than the field of analytics, where calculation and compassion are often seen as mutually exclusive ideas.
But for one local analytics and corporate training firm, led by founder and “Chief Empathy Officer” Joe Lyons-Rising along with life and business partner and VP of Public Relations Carly Lyons-Rising, the mix is part of a winning formula, and Lyons-Rising thinks it can be for others.
With almost two decades of corporate analytics and training under his belt, specializing in consumer-packaged goods (CPG) and food service sectors, Lyons-Rising began to take stock of his life during COVID as many did and decided that there was more he could do to contribute to the success of his family, his communities and of other corporate leaders.
The answer was a Stouffville-based social enterprise that brought together his passions for business success and helping others; Data Gives Back (DGB), launched in 2021.
With a stated mission to drive employee success, increase awareness of mental health issues, support grieving children and families and “leaving the world a better place than we found it,” DGB is in every way a reflection of who Lyons-Rising is.
Joe Lyons-Rising lost both parents very young to suicide at 6 and 10 years of age and, as he explains, felt lost in the world as a 10-year-old, with limited support and silently dealing with the loss and the mental health issues that can come with living under that emotional weight.
“I think because of losing my parents as a child, I’d always felt that there was a greater purpose for me,” says Lyons-Rising. “But I couldn’t figure out what that meant. I thought one of the reasons I survived was to give back and help others”.
After becoming involved in various charitable endeavours throughout his corporate career, a moment of clarity arrived when Lyons-Rising was asked in 2019 to DJ an event, a hobby he has practised for years, for a Barrie-based charity fundraiser for Seasons Centre for Grieving Children.
Lyons-Rising grew up in Barrie, and connecting with that kind of a support base for kids in the same geographic and emotional place as he was in at a young age really hit home. They provided the kind of support he wished he had had, and he knew he had to be involved.
While Seasons offers in-person peer support programs without cost to the client, in a bright and cheerful environment, they have expanded their services during covid and continue to provide support for kids virtually and accept kids from as far north as Muskoka and south into York Region.
The personal connection to the organization inspired DGB to donate 25 per cent of gross revenues to them annually – a substantial percentage by any measure. To date, that has amounted to over $80,000 in under two years of business. That is the kind of money that can make a big difference in young lives and has for over 50 kids who have undertaken a year of programming at Seasons sponsored by DGB at the cost of approximately $1600 each per year.
In line with this social responsibility perspective, DGB has become a Certified B-Corporation – an internationally recognized designation that assures a for-profit company has high social and environmental standards, sound governance standards and a high degree of transparency in their initiatives. This hints at DGB’s efforts to build a like-minded network of local, socially minded businesses highlighted on DGB’s website.
But while the charitable component of DGB is certainly noteworthy and an important part of what sets DGB apart from others, the success of its core business offerings is also worthy of note.
Corporate training, including a unique program for CPG suppliers who have to jump through many hoops to get on retailer shelves, makes up about half of the business’s revenue. Market analytic research consultation makes up most of the rest. Lyons-Rising offers that while the charitable angle is nice, he still has to deliver the goods.
“Companies are inundated with data, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions on data, but it doesn’t have a ton of value unless you can put it into action and make (meaningful) decisions with it or influence others”.
“Data,” he reminds me, “is still about people,” neatly encapsulating his essential thesis that data and humanity are not mutually exclusive ideas.
In addition to running a start-up business, serving a charity and growing a young family of his own with Carly, Lyons-Rising is also diving into the final edits of a book that, in a nod to the important therapeutic benefit that music has in his life, will be called Pain Remixed: Mental Health Tips from a Suicide Loss Survivor. The book is part memoir and part self-help for others who need the support of the kind he wishes he’d had. It should be out in November, and all royalties will go directly to Seasons.
As odd as the founding principles of profit and social enterprise may seem together on the surface, Lyons-Rising appears to have hit a sweet spot with a growing roster of corporate clients, including Walmart, getting on board, suggesting a bright future.
“I feel like I’m living my true purpose,” he concludes. “Beyond being a husband and a father, this is it”.
Photo: Carly Lyons-Rising and Joe Lyons-Rising, partner and founder of Data Gives Back sit in the Family Room of the primary beneficiary of their social enterprise, Seasons Centre for Grieving Children.