In entrepreneurship courses around the world one of the first things that they teach you is to find a problem that your business can solve. We all have problems, so there should be plenty of inspiration. And no doubt, there are many successful businesses that start with this simple question in mind. But how often do they ask if the problems they are solving are big enough?
This weekend I read an article about a fascinating experiment in San Francisco to get panhandlers off the street. The city is offering a stipend to panhandlers in exchange for them adopting puppies/dogs and providing a home for them. Not only do the dogs get homes and get off the streets (and avoiding the kennel or worse fates) … but it also offers a unique chance for someone who is begging for money on the streets to reform their lives.
In the article, they feature a man who was formerly homeless and even after getting a home – was still struggling with isolation and depression. After getting a dog, he shared "I never go to bed by myself, and I never wake up by myself, it makes me walk with my head a little higher." He is a success story of the program.
Reading this, what problem do you think the program is solving? It's not panhandling. It's not homeless dogs in the city either. Instead, I think it is one of the world's most inventive ideas to reduce loneliness.
Some people end up living a certain way because they have lost hope in their lives. Their bigger problem is not financial, it is emotional. They are lonely. Having a dog for companionship can help those people. Giving them $75 can help provide the incentive to make that happen. I don't know if giving dogs to panhandlers will ultimately get them off the street. And I know it is an easy idea to dismiss. But it is also a reminder: don't underestimate the unexpected things you can think of when you try to find a bigger problem to solve.