By Christopher Cudworth
Justin Ahrens is the Principal and Creative Director for his own marketing agency, Rule29 in Geneva, Illinois. The company’s objectives are simple and upfront as stated on Justin’s LinkedIn profile:
“Justin Ahrens’ passion for life is rooted in his creative firm’s commitment to “making creative matter®”. For over 10 years now, Justin has led Rule29 in their commitment to both great design and helping others think differently about the world around them. Through a collaborative approach in both strategy and design, Rule29’s culture is just as important as the work. This is particularly evident by Rule29’s involvement in numerous social causes, including their substantial work in Africa. Justin has also been a consistent voice for the design and business community as it relates to balancing life and career (For more on this check out his book – Life Kerning™: Creative Ways to Fine Tune Your Perspective on Career and Life).”
Recently that philosophy on pushing your life and work in a different direction to make a difference brought Justin to a point that is both a reconciliation and a challenge. Over the past few years his work with a project called Life In Abundance changed his life in significant ways. Justin traveled to Africa and learned some filthy, gut-wrenching truths about poverty, and what you can and cannot do about it on the spot.
But rather than producing despair, those experiences encouraged Ahrens to invest further in the process of innovating ways to make the world a better place.
That is how he came up with the idea of working much deeper with his non-profit client Lifewater, an NGO dedicated to bringing drinkable water to people around the world.
As his company worked collaboratively to generate an all new brand presentation for Lifewater, it occurred to Justin that his call to act on behalf of the cause might involve something more than building a website and thinking through the brand.
As his mind percolated on that, there came about an opportunity to speak at a conference in Boston, Massachusetts. That’s when Justin began to literally “connect the dots” in terms of what he wanted to do to raise awareness and money for Lifewater.
The Riding Life
Justin Ahrens is an avid cyclist whose riding career began a few years back when he wanted to lose weight. Earlier in life he’d been an athlete with a goal of playing football in college. But a torn-up knee on the second day of practice at Division III Illinois Wesleyan ended that vision. Yet it opened up time to study design and be guided into the career he now lives and loves. There’s a bit of spiritual recognition looking back, that his goals may have been altered but his mission was defined.
Yet he’s human, and immersion in business can easily put a few pounds on your frame without looking. So Justin rode 80 lbs. off his body despite what could be a bum knee and now he’s looking to do more with his cycling.
An Idea Come Alive
This spring he and a fellow creative, Brian McDonald of Wonderkind Studios will ride from Boston, Massachusetts back to Chicago to raise awareness for Lifewater and specifically, to raise money to provide water in an impoverished region in Uganda.
But first, some theatrics. “I was hoping to peel off my speaking clothes and reveal my cycling gear underneath,” he laughs. “But the schedule did not quite work out that way.”
Effectively he will still do that. He and McDonald will be trekking a still-to-be-determined path between Boston and Chicago, a ride of perhaps 1100 miles. “We’ll do about 80-100 miles a day, but we hope that schedule also gives us time to do a couple lighter days and meet with people.”
The trip will be called Wheels4Water. Here are links to all the ways you can help.
Wheels site: http://wheels4water.org/
Give miles: http://wheels4water.org/donate/give-miles-2/
Corporate sponsor: http://wheels4water.org/donate/be-a-sponsor-2/
There’s also a video about the trip. http://vimeo.com/86114192
Participating partner agency: Wonderkind: http://www.wonderkindstudios.com/
The Lifewater Way
Along the way, the riders will be filtering their own water from natural sources to illustrate the availability of water if you can treat it properly. “It costs Lifewater $40 to provide water for life for one person,” Justin explains. “It’s a question of eliminating water-borne disease from the water source.”
The Lifewater website stated “Investing in rural water development is the most effective way to alleviate poverty.”
In so many ways the convergence of thought in such statements is anchored in truths deeper than any well. The Christian mission behind Lifewater is brought to life in “living water,” which serves as both a practical and spiritual resolution to help others.
That is why Justin Ahrens is riding 1000 miles for water this summer. It’s an opportunity for education and an expression of commitment that has become his life’s philosophy. That is also what he hopes will come true in the lives of others, that people will be moved to commit to their own causes, and in their own way.
It’s a little understood fact in this world that creative people are some of the deepest thinkers on the planet. They care, and sometimes they smolder in that concern for the world and don’t know exactly how to act on it. But for Justin Ahrens, bringing the power of creativity to the fore and inspiring those who were or are stuck in cubicles is a great example that the world is out there waiting for one more creative turn, and the commitment to make it happen.
So get out there and run or ride (or swim!) your way to doing some good this year.