In Praise of the Difference Makers

BusinessWest launched a new recognition program late last year. It’s called Difference Makers, and as we said in our initial announcement, while that name says it all in some ways, in other ways it really doesn’t.

That’s because the phrase ‘making a difference’ is somewhat overused and has lost some of its meaning and its punch. With this new program, BusinessWest wants to bring some attention and acclaim to those who really are making an impact in the community we call Western Mass., and are inspiring others to do the same.

When we unveil the first round of winners in early February, you’ll see what we mean.

But let’s back up a minute.

BusinessWest already had a few recognition programs with its name on them. One is the Top Entrepreneur award, given since 1996 to individuals who exemplify the proud tradition of entrepreneurship in this region, a tradition shaped by people like Milton Bradley, George Davis, Everett Barney, and Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, and carried on by recent winners such as Jeb Balise, the Falcone family (founders and operators of Rocky’s Hardware), and the recipients for 2008, Arlene Kelly and Kim Sanborn, who have created two businesses that have changed the face of health care business operations.

We also created 40 Under Forty. Well, actually, we started our own version of what has become a national trend among business publications — to recognize up-and-coming talent in a given market.

Both programs have become huge successes, and play key roles in helping this publication relate the accomplishments of some very talented people. But something was missing.

Not all people are true entrepreneurs (although most in business are at least entrepreneurial), and, alas, certainly not everyone doing important things and making lasting contributions is under 40. So we created another program that can, and will in many cases, recognize those who don’t fall into one or either category.

These can be individuals who are making great strides in business and thus perhaps changing the fortunes of a company, a business sector, a community, or a region. They can be individuals who are making an impact in the community through donations of money, time, energy, and inspiration to nonprofits and those served by them. They can be leaders who are at the forefront of change and improvement in the quality of life for people who live, work, and play in this region.

The timing of this program is important. While we didn’t exactly plan it this way, Difference Makers becomes a counterbalance to the successive waves of negative news about the economy, the stock market, job losses, and the incredible toll all this is taking on individuals and communities. There are still good things happening in the region, and some of that news is being buried in the avalanche of negative press.

But BusinessWest is not a ‘good-news journal.’ That’s not our purpose, and it never will be. Instead, our mission is to simply hold up a mirror to the region and especially its business community and effectively reflect that image — good, bad, ugly, or promising.

Difference Makers is part of all this mirror-holding work that we do.

It was created to reflect the work of people (some of which goes largely unnoticed or underappreciated) that contributes to progress in this region and makes Western Mass. special.

The stories vary, of course, but they all start with unique people who, well, want to make a difference — and are doing so.

So who are the first Difference Makers? For that, you’ll have to wait two weeks. We need to build up some suspense.-

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