Enjoy the journey: focusing on the end result is one thing, but you don’t want to get there and look back on your journey as a blur.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Irad Eichler.
Irad Eichler, is the CEO and founder of Israeli startup Circles, that aims at solving the loneliness pandemic by helping people struggling with mental health. Eichler won the United Nations Project Zero Prize for impactful social enterprises in 2017 and named Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the World Economic Forum.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was 25 I traveled in India and met a woman who was working with at-risk youth at the time. I was deeply inspired by her work and when I got back home I started working with at-risk youth in my own backyard. Following this I spent a few years working and assisting people with disabilities but decided I needed to make sure I was on the right career path. So, I applied and started managing a Pizza Hut branch! After three months I asked myself, “is this really what I am meant to do?” I quickly realized I was not where I belonged. I wanted to be in a position that makes a difference and makes life better for other people, especially for those who are struggling with life challenges.
I became a serial social entrepreneur: that wasn’t the original plan, but I keep coming up with ideas and visions on how to change the world and make it a better place, and I have a strong urge to implement my ideas.
I founded SHEKULO TOV, which translates to “All Is Good” in Hebrew, to help people with mental and physical disabilities find jobs and be part of society.
I was honored to be the winner of the 2017 United Nations Project Zero Prize for impactful social enterprises and named “Social Entrepreneur of the Year” by the World Economic Forum.
Circles is part of my vision of creating social businesses: businesses that make a profit but also impact the world in a positive way. We are using technology in order to match people from all over the world that are going through the same challenge. I truly believe that this will impact the world for the better.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Circles is intended to help people going through life challenges. As the holiday season approached in 2020, we knew this holiday season would be very difficult due to the global pandemic. The holidays are a time when family comes together — but this past holiday season a lot of people were expected to feel lonely.
We decided that when all of the world takes time off for the holidays, we will work over-time and hold special Circles and call them Holiday Circles that took place on December 22–23–24 for people facing grief. The circles were free of charge and open to everyone. Hundreds of participants joined and some expressed the support group was their lifeline to getting them through the stressful season. I remember specifically a participant, who recently lost her husband. She was faced with spending the holidays on her own for the first time in a long time, with no one to wish her Merry Christmas. We were able to be there for her and give her emotional support to get through the holidays.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We raised our round of 2.7M dollars last April, right at the time COVID-19 was becoming a global risk. We were all under lockdown and all of the meetings transitioned from in-person to online. Children were running around in the background of meetings and it felt like total chaos. One day, I had a follow-up meeting with one of our leading investors, before the deal closed. He is an icon in the investment world and he invited his whole team to meet me. I asked my spouse to keep an eye on the children as this was an important meeting. I wore a nice shirt, but considering I would be seated behind a camera and assuming they would only see my face they would have no clue I decided to wear my purple fisherman trousers. I was sitting on a low chair and took the meeting inside a playroom. You can only guess what happened next… Children burst in running around and shouting, I stand up, the whole screen turns purple, leading to a bit of embarrassment… Yet, the world goes on and the investment still took place. My personal takeaway, don’t wear purple fisherman trousers to a meeting. 🙂
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Circles was created due to a pressing need — and value, of connecting with others in a meaningful, supportive environment. Especially if someone is going through a difficult time in life. Circles’ methodology provides online support groups offering emotional support by connecting individuals with people going through similar situations, which is proven to be more effective than other methods. Through small (max 10 people), secure online groups led by a professional therapist, the participants find mutual relief and encouragement, develop coping skills, and build personal resilience.
Especially now, as the global pandemic has crippled the ability of people to connect with others, Circles is surrounding users with care and the opportunity to find mutual relief and encouragement. 70% of participants feel supported at the end of a session. 77% feel satisfaction from the weekly meetings and 86% say their group interaction makes them feel better.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
The first person that comes to mind is Circles’ participant Liz. Liz came to us for support when she was struggling with the loss of her child. Although she was hesitant and skeptical of the platform at first, through her group she was able to form strong personal connections which allowed her to come out of the experience stronger than ever. She began to trust the process with the help of her facilitator, Marshawn, who thoughtfully listened and facilitated the group. She told us: “I believe I got everything I needed out of the sessions. I have been in the program since September and I am so grateful for the experience. My facilitator has always been so polite, caring, and an amazing listener. My group has been amazing at making me feel a strong personal connection with them all. I came into this very skeptical but I can’t picture life without the tools Circles has provided me. Thank you so much for helping me heal.”
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I believe that the future of mental health lies in innovation. The next innovation will be mental health as a consumer-driven product, tailored to meet people’s needs, defined with clear boundaries, expectations, and time limits, and consumed alongside others so they are not alone (peer support). I believe that mental health support should be accessible to all — available like a product, with specific answers to specific problems.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is about setting an example, practicing what you preach, understanding that the cause is always bigger than you, and that there is always someone else that can do what you are doing. Strive for excellence and help your colleagues meet their potential.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Five things I wish someone told me when I first started were to
1. Expand your focus: there are always more things you can focus on.
2. Ask a lot of questions, people are always willing to share.
3. Things have a tendency to work out, I don’t need to worry about the worst-case-scenario all the time.
4. Things take time so I need to give it time: things will start to happen and change in their own rhythm.
5. Enjoy the journey: focusing on the end result is one thing, but you don’t want to get there and look back on your journey as a blur.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d love to help people understand the concept of mental health as a product. To make sure that no matter what happens in life, people will always have a product to turn to. I have a friend who recently lost her spouse to cancer. She now has to raise her three kids on her own. Her partner was an engineer, 46 years old, at the peak of his career. He fought cancer for two and half years, and now it’s over. One can only imagine what she’s going through. Another friend of mine is struggling through a difficult divorce. He’s trying to balance setting up a new home, being an active dad, and creating a new type of relationship with his ex-wife, all while dealing with serious financial stress. He’s doing his best, but he feels very lonely and that he has nowhere to turn for help. When I envision how Circles is helping people, I want it to be a product that people going through struggles, like my friends, can go to. There, they will create meaningful connections with similar people that understand them. The journey you take with these people will bring them to a better place.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be the change you want to see in the world” — Mahatma Gandhi. Earlier I shared the journey on how I founded Circles. This quote gave me a purpose to do the things I do and start the initiatives I have started.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to meet with Mark Zuckerburg. Facebook is somewhat an inspiration for Circles, because Facebook Groups also function as a support group with people going through the same struggles. But, Facebook Groups lack the professional guidance and the security and intimacy we created at Circles. But that isn’t the reason I want to meet him! I want to have a long talk with him about his employees. As any other CEO in the US, he should be worried about them during this time. Many of them have been working from home for almost a year, many of them have children studying from home, many of them survived COVID, many of them are anxious about getting COVID, many of them have become caregivers to their elderly parents recently. The leadership of companies need to be aware of the processes and struggles their employees are going through and give them an outlet that allows them to talk about their struggles, with like-minded people that aren’t their colleagues and with the professional guidance of a therapist.
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This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!