• Nicole Vasquez

This Chicago App Aims to Turn Philanthropy Into a Social Norm

Updated: Nov 4, 2018


After a life-changing trip to Haiti, Jacques Achille became “obsessively curious” with the idea of how to make all of humanity feel like a community. He started off with a simple volunteering concept that over the course of four years has evolved into norm, inc.: A tracker that allows you to understand your individual positive impact by connecting you with the nonprofits and companies that you care about.


Along the way, whenever things didn’t go as planned, he rolled up his sleeves and did it himself.


His unwavering determination and love for learning allowed him to turn his initial concept into a robust 3-tier strategy that empowers everyone to have a positive impact in their own way.


PART 1: THE EVERYDAY INNOVATOR:


WHAT IT IS:


norm tracks how your individual actions with your employer, your favorite brands, and charities are having a positive impact in the world.


WHY IT’S INNOVATIVE:


Its way more than a tracking app. The data collected by norm creates a comprehensive view of humanity’s positive impact as a whole and illustrates how each person’s actions contribute to the bigger picture: turning the world one large, connected community.


HOW IT WORKS:


There are three components to norm:


normConnect is focused on turning philanthropy into a social norm. A person is able to subscribe to their positive impact by making a small, monthly, contribution to the nonprofit of their choice, and their employer can increase their positive impact by matching their support. Also, people can connect with their favorite brands to track how their purchases translate into helping others. To convey the community’s collective impact, each person, company, and nonprofit are represented as a unique data point. Based on the actions everyone takes, norm will use data visualizations to connect the dots to show how the entire user base is connected.


The sustainability component which shows how people’s actions are improving the planet. For example, if norm integrates with energy providers, anyone can then track how energy efficient their home is. If a user decides to track their recycling, they can understand how their efforts contribute to the effectiveness of their building as a whole and thus opportunities for improvement, and the same would happen for entire neighborhoods, cities, and so on.


The goal of normWorld is to help people understand how the impact of the services they use (or do not use), which in turn will make it easier and more appealing for people to make sustainable choices.


After helping others with normConnect and helping helping the planet with normWorld, normJournal is the self exploration component that aims to encourage people to help themselves by pursuing their passion. This component is still in development but norm hopes to integrate with a user’s existing apps such as meditation apps or online learning platforms, and then track the success of users positive change on themselves.


THE INSPIRATION FOR INNOVATION:


In 2012 Jacques went on a volunteer trip to Haiti to build homes after the country was ravaged by earthquakes. After Jacques and a group of neighbors spent a whole week building one home for a single family, his entire perspective on life was changed: he understood what a real community was and saw the impact they could have when they all came together.


This experience sparked his obsessive curiosity to see if it was possible for all of humanity to feel like one community.


When Jacques saw how his individual choice to participate in the program allowed him to directly improve the lives of a whole family, which in turn allowed them to be part of the larger rebuilt community, he recognized that the ability to clearly see his impact increased his desire to want to do more.


It was then that he discovered his “norm;” his desire to help others find their own inspiration which drives them to do more.


norm aims to have each person discover their own answer to: “what’s your norm?” Jacques believes that if each person can answer “My norm is” and know how they can make a positive impact in their own way, it can have a profound impact on their output.


TOOLS AND RESOURCES:


Recognizing that he struggled to translate the ideas in his head to designers and developers, Jacques decided to teach himself how to do the work himself. Over four years he self-taught app design and how to code.


For design, he subscribed to the-webdesigner.co’s newsletter.


For coding, railstutorial.org helped him build the beta version of the application and resources like Stack Overflow and online courses from Treehouse helped to refine his skills.


For sales, he took countless calls and meetings with people, to practice communicating his ideas more effectively.


OBSTACLES ALONG THE WAY:


Jacques quit his job in 2013, thinking he’d easily find a developer to build out his vision. But without the ability to communicate his idea clearly, he couldn’t get an actual price quoted, so he did the initial product development and wireframing himself. After outlining his plan, reality hit when he learned how much his vision was actually going to cost.


He attempted to raise the money through grassroots efforts like hosting events and selling bracelets. Recognizing the futility of these efforts, a friend told him that he should just learn to do it himself, so he did.


Designing the application, bringing it to life through code, and then trying to pitch it to potential customers allowed Jacques to have a strong understanding of everything that was actually necessary for norm to work from start to finish. It also gave him an appreciation for every single aspect of starting a company that he wouldn’t have had if he had outsourced everything that he didn’t initially understand from the beginning.


PART 2: IN HIS OWN WORDS:


HOW HAVE OTHER PEOPLE INFLUENCED YOUR INNOVATION?


I think innovation happens whenever a person pursues something that inspires them. I’m inspired by something every single day, and the instant something inspires me, I go after it with everything I’ve got. I think it can make me seem distractible or overly impulsive to some people, but I really feel it’s just me being honest with myself. This has been the case since I was a kid, and rather than my parents forcing me to focus on one thing, they always just provided me with a runway to explore what I wanted.


Even more important than allowing me to explore my interests, they supported me when I wanted to quit.


My parents have always encouraged me to jump from one source of inspiration to the next, which means new ideas that I dream up are based off of the numerous/diverse experiences that I’ve been fortunate enough to have throughout my life.


IN YOUR OPINION, HOW CAN SOMEONE BE INNOVATIVE? WHAT DO THEY NEED TO START?


I think every single person is a genius. We’re all extremely innovative, but I think life forces people to think they have to find the one thing they’re really good at because it’s what they’re meant to be. I think the best part about being human is the fact that we have the ability to dream up whatever we want for ourselves and see if it can happen. I think innovation comes when people simply allow themselves to pursue whatever interests them. It’s hard for a person to be innovative when they only stick with one thing. Just because you’re an accountant doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to google how to write children’s books. Just because you didn’t go to college doesn’t mean you can’t watch documentaries/read books about physics.


Ultimately, I think innovation comes when people learn something for the sake of learning…rather than for the sake of furthering their career or making more money.


DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN A FEW SENTENCES:


I have an obsessive curiosity.


I’ve never been concerned about being the best at anything. I’ve always been overwhelmed with how cool life is, so I’m obsessed with experiencing as much as I can and seeing if I’m capable of achieving an idea once it’s planted in my head.


HOW CAN PEOPLE CONNECT WITH YOU?


“I’m interested in talking to people and companies who don’t necessarily know how they want to do to have a positive impact for themselves/others, but are open to throwing ideas around so we can come up with something completely new and unique for them.


Facebook is where I share “myNorm” with articles that get me excited: facebook.com/jacquesachille


Instagram is where I share my personal life and try to be creative: instagram.com/jacquesachille


Anyone can email me at jacques@thenormapp.com

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