Reviewed by Leo Cecchini (Ethiopia 1962–64)
READING What Do I Do Now? is akin to watching one of those 4 am TV shows with a self-made millionaire pitching his plan for how to make a fortune. The pitch always starts by promising that you will make lots of money, and ends with selling you a program or system for selling a product or service.
The author tells the story through a character, Luke. based on his personal life starting as a Peace Corps Volunteer through becoming a successful “social entrepreneur” selling “wellness” products. Luke in turn tells the story in the form of reflections on his life as he prepares to go to the Peace Corps’s 50Th Anniversary Celebration in Washington DC this past September. Luke recalls returning from his life transforming experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala to his beloved Portland, Oregon where he marries the girl of his dreams and lands a good job with a lumber company. All goes well until Luke loses his job when his company is sold to new owners. He engages in a frantic campaign to find new employment while depending on his wife’s modest income and his dwindling savings to make ends meet.
At a low point in his job search Luke meets Daniel who befriends him and guides him to a better understanding of who he is and what he wants to do with his life. He encourages Luke to set a goal to make lots of money — a goal with which Luke is somewhat uncomfortable. Gradually Daniel brings Luke into his business. The most revealing statement made in the book is when Daniel assures Luke that he is not talking about a “pyramid scheme.” But he then goes on to introduce Luke to a “multilevel” sales business which many view as closely associated with, and often nothing more than, a “pyramid scheme.”
While the book does not describe the exact nature of the enterprise Luke is about to enter I am very familiar with “multilevel” sales schemes since my mother was quite successful selling products through “multilevel” schemes. The way it works is for you to first sell a product or service. As you progress you recruit others for your sales “team” who you train and help get started. In return you take a percentage of your team member’s sales commissions. Then your team members recruit their own teams of sales people, whom they train, and from whom they take a percentage of their commissions. You also take a percentage of the percentage your team members take from their team members. The ultimate goal is to reach a position where you derive an income from the “pyramid” of sales people under your leadership sufficient to allow you to “retire” from selling and simply collect on your “pyramid.”
Luke squares his concerns about making a profit by viewing his new endeavor as being a “social entrepreneur.” ” Social entrepreneurship” derives from the basic idea of conducting a business, you provide a need for, or answer a desire, for consumers for a profit. The “social entrepreneur” focuses on providing the need while the traditional entrepreneur supposedly focuses on the profit. Of course all entrepreneurs are a blend of both approaches, since one who does not answer the needs and desires of consumers, or one who does not make a profit, will soon be out of business.
Luke also improves his “social entrepreneur” credentials by using some of his profits to build orphanages in his Peace Corps country of service, Guatemala. The idea is to give back to those who helped you on your way to fame and fortune.
The book is useful as an insight into, and guide to, being an entrepreneur. The buzzwords “wellness” and “social entrepreneur” will appeal to those who are somewhat uneasy with simply making money, e.g. RPCVs. As for myself, I will confine my interest in the world of “multilevel” sales schemes to watching 4 am TV shows with pitchmen telling me how to make a million as a cure for my insomnia.
Leo Cecchini was an Ethiopia I Volunteer and taught geography at the secondary school level in Asmara, Ethiopia. From the Peace Corps he joined the foreign service and served around the world for 25 years, and after his retirement worked successfully in business, beginning with the public relations firm of Hill and Knowlton in Turkey. This initial venture was followed by a consultant assignment to American companies doing business in Southern Africa from a base in Windhoek, Namibia. He returned to the USA to manage a South African venture in Orlando, Florida, then worked for a Wall Street brokerage and trading foreign currency in New York City. Next he was the manager of a small fashion industry business in London, and then built a wine importing business in Washington D.C. before moving to Florida where he sold real estate until the housing market collapsed. He is a contributor to peacecorpsworldwide.org where he writes on the “new” economy, the environment and wines. He spends his summers in Mallorca, Spain and his winters in Ft Myers Beach, Florida.