Back in 2000, the Kevin Space movie Pay it Forward popularized the idea that giving can be viral. In the film, young Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osmont) receives a school assignment to somehow “change the world”. In response, Trevor comes up with an innovative plan: to encourage people to pay a favor forward…not just once, but three times. The rules of his scheme are:

#1 It (the good deed) has to be something that really helps people.

#2 It must be something they can’t do by themselves.

#3 I (the giver) will do it for them, then they will do a similar deed for three other people.

Although I found the movie at times a bit too saccharine for my taste, I certainly appreciated the sentiment: Giving not only feels good, but it can jump start a contagion of philanthropic behavior.

The movie came to mind for me today as I was watching this inspiring YouTube video:

The video tells the story of Mason Wartman, a former office worker on Wall Street who left his desk job to open a pizza shop in Philadelphia. At Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, one of the first things you notice is a wall of colored post-it notes. Each note represents a pre-purchased, $1 slice of pizza that someone has offered up for people in need. In short, if you’re homeless and hungry, you can come into Rosa’s and receive a free slice. And it’s NOT charity from Wartman and his staff; the pizza has been paid for… by a good-hearted patron who paid a buck to help a stranger, then captured his intentions as a post-it note on the wall.

It’s a simple concept and rather elegant, kind of like when you’re crossing a bridge and discover at the gate that someone has paid your bridge toll for you. You think, “Wow, that’s kind.” And maybe, just maybe, you consider doing the same for the person behind you!

By all accounts, Wartman’s pre-purchased pizza policy has had a remarkable impact on the community in the City of Brotherly Love. One homeless person in the video even remarks that the slices have helped reduce hunger-related thefts. And interestingly, above and beyond the positive PR, the concept has been great for Rosa’s profits. Pre-purchased slices represent 10% of Rosa’s business!

So, what can you do “pay it forward” at your workplace? Where can you help someone publicly yet anonymously, inspiring others to join you in the giving? The ideas are endless! Imagine the change in your corporate culture, as people look for ways to help rather than to horde. That really would be a slice of progress.

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