Every self-made CEO who's found success has passion in spades. But is passion all that’s required to build a business? Alma Stewart, the President and founder of Louisiana Center for Health Equity, says no; passion alone does not build a business. In the interview below Ms. Stewart details the qualities and actions necessary for an idea to flourish into a startup, and eventually become a successful company.
But even more importantly, Ms. Stewart discusses a quality that surpasses passion. She explains how her compassion for people led to a life-changing decision that brought her into the nonprofit sector. Now, her work touches the community in a lasting way. As a visionary and servant leader, she advocates for equitable opportunities for everyone and helps young people to see their own value by equipping them with tools to pursue their dreams.
ALMA: I think it comes from my passion about life coupled and my compassion for people and humanity.
I grew up during the 1950’s and 1960’s, during segregation, and the civil rights era in a military family. And that inspired my desire to see people have more opportunities and be treated fairly. I lived in Germany and went to school on an Army base during my elementary school years and returned home in middle school. It was quite a contrast.
Most of my work was in state government. I worked in the Louisiana Department of Health for many years and retired from there in the 2000’s. I worked there in different capacities- in both nursing and management positions. When I retired from State Government as a Deputy Assistant Secretary, I believe I was at the highest level of career Civil Service employment that there was then.
You have to have a strong team that can support you in the areas that are necessary for a successful business and I’m talking about things like financial management. You have to have someone who’s skilled in that arena that can help you keep track of all the financial requirements marketing and public relations. Tt also depends on what your goals are. Mine were not to have a large business, I wanted a small consulting business. So, it depends on what your goals are when it comes to what kind of team you’ll require and what kind of infrastructure you need to develop. But the point I’m making is to not forget to make sure you have the right team, infrastructure, and support for the kind of business you’d like to have.
One other point in this regard, the consulting work really was a transition to working in the nonprofit sector. It was a transition from public service to what I’m doing now because I was doing consulting work that allowed me to explore many of the issues we’re working on now in greater depth. Most of my consulting was with state and federal government agencies. I worked with clients to help them figure out how to implement changes within their bureaucracies as well as how to engage the communities they served. Doing this helped me to see the greater need in the community and what could be done about it. With this insight into what could be done to facilitate progress, the vision of Louisiana Center for Health Equity began.
Also, I like the fact that the focus is on lifting the voices of people who are often silenced or marginalized in pursuit of opportunities that are equitable for everyone.
And on the health care side, I think some of my greatest work was in helping people with disabilities who wanted to remain in their own homes or live with their families- to be able to do that- to have a choice other than placement in a facility setting. More recently, my work on Medicaid expansion in Louisiana that’s affording hundreds of thousands of adults to have healthcare coverage gives me great joy.
I think that’s one of the biggest barriers for many who want to pursue entrepreneurship especially minorities because we often lack the access to capital to support our business while trying to get the business up and running, or profitable. You have to be able to sustain yourself during the time that you don’t have the income coming in to sustain you. I was fortunate that my overhead was very low, I created a structure that was very minimal in terms of overhead.
The point of that is that it takes money to make money. That even includes your time. Factor in the cost of time it takes to develop and market the business, to do work until it can generate income and become profitable.
But along with her warmth and enthusiasm, is a pragmatic outlook that is absolutely essential to the running of a nonprofit and to a business venture of any sort. Her advice on running a start-up, is invaluable. And even more importantly, her example in helping others is inspiring. Heard would like to extend a huge thank you to Ms. Stewart for taking the time for this interview, and for all of her efforts in the community! And any readers who would like to volunteer with Ms. Stewart's work in the community are welcomed to get in touch with her via her website- http://lahealthequity.org