Founder of the nonprofit organization “because I said I would” Alex Sheen spoke at MSU to a sold-out event in the SUB Ballrooms on Monday, Nov. 16. Sheen additionally led a master class with a small group of MSU students earlier in the day and a discussion with about 50 students following his talk. The event was sponsored by the MSU Leadership Institute and was free for MSU students and the public.
Sheen founded “because I said I would” in 2012 after his father died of lung cancer. Sheen had always been inspired by his father’s commitment to his promises, and at the funeral, handed out promise cards with the words “because I said I would” printed on them. These cards were intended to inspire people to write down and fulfill the promises they made to themselves and to others. He also created a Facebook group based on the idea, and the movement went viral. Sheen stated in a TED talk he gave in Utica, New York that in 2013, promise cards had already been distributed to 48 countries.
Founding a social movement and a non-profit organization was different path from what Sheen had originally planned for himself. Graduating from Ohio University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, Sheen focused mainly on market research and worked for a software company after graduation. In college Sheen was a member of the lacrosse team and a part of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization. “I had ambitions to be an entrepreneur in a far different respect,” Sheen said. “In fact, I didn’t actually even know how non-profits worked. I was so oblivious to the social sector. It was in no way a part of my vision for life, but the skillset of being in business and entrepreneurship helped me start the nonprofit, which is in so many ways the same.”
Sheen said he has grown as a person since “because I said I would” was launched, both in maintaining his image and in aiming to live like his father. “I was not a man of my word before. I’ve changed a lot fundamentally, trying to be the person people think I am. People expect you to show up on time, every time. There are no excuses.”
While Sheen was in college, social media was just taking off. Sheen said that 20 years ago, “because I said I would” probably would not have existed. “[Social media] definitely has a place in life. It brings awareness to really important issues that people were oblivious to prior to its existence.” He also stated that social media is especially important for nonprofits and something they should utilize even more to spread their message. He added that, “We should think of it as storytelling rather than social media.”
Sheen is currently aiming to create “because I said I would” chapters around the world to take the movement beyond an individual level and to make an even greater impact. “One person can make such a difference, one committed individual. But now imagine so many coming together to do the same thing. Chapters are going to be a huge part of how the movement spreads. We need people doing things, organized structure so you can be a part of the movement in a way that’s beyond independent action,” Sheen said.
In Sheen’s opinion, the consequences of breaking a promise are permanent and harsh and that the world as a whole needs to improve in following through with promises. “It’s really sad that we live in a society that when you say promises and politicians in the same sentence, people chuckle. They run the world, and when they’re not good at fulfilling their commitments, I think that says something about society as a whole.” According to Sheen, while second chances are important, “once trust is lost, all is lost.”