By Lynne Strang, Late Blooming Entrepreneurs
As an economist, Bob Hamrin used to spend his days developing policies and analyzing data. One day, he came across a number that knocked his socks off.
“Thirty-six million American children under the age of 18 suffer from father absenteeism that’s physical, emotional or spiritual,” says Hamrin. “It’s a huge problem.”
That disturbing revelation played a big part in the father-of-three’s decision to change course at age 50 and found Great Dads, a Clifton, Virginia-based nonprofit that provides fatherhood training worldwide. The organization’s mission is “to encourage fathers to turn their hearts to their children.”
Over 53,000 men in 45 states and ten countries have taken Great Dads’ training seminar — “The 6 Basics of Being a Great Dad” — which is often held at churches, military bases and prisons. The four-hour training session attracts fathers of all stripes, from 16-year-olds who have yet to finish high school to 66-year-olds who hold executive positions.
Hamrin’s second act as a social entrepreneur is a big change from where he used to be. After earning a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he served as an advisor to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency, among other places. Later, he consulted for such organizations as the World Bank and the National Association of Manufacturers and wrote several books.
“Go after what you feel deeply about. And be willing to take a risk. If you feel strongly about something, just follow your heart and do it.” — Bob Hamrin, Great Dads
He encountered the startling statistic about absentee fathers while researching a book on fatherhood. Around that time, he and his wife, Carol, heard about several friends experiencing personal difficulties, prompting the couple to become involved with family counseling through their church.
In addition, he had grown weary of working on economic policies that had little effect on people’s everyday lives. It was a perfect storm that compelled him to act.
“I had had a number of entrepreneurial ideas that were intriguing but didn’t tug at my heart,” said Hamrin. “I thought, ‘Either I do this now or I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.”
In December 1996, Hamrin shuttered his consulting practice on a Friday and started Great Dads the following Monday. “I went cold turkey and never looked back,” he laughs.
The nascent group had challenges at the beginning. Bob’s salary was just $6,000 the first year – an especially stressful situation since he and Carol had one child in college and twins who were about to start.
Undaunted, Bob Hamrin pushed forward, making the rounds among churches and submitting applications for financial support. It wasn’t long before he received buy-in from several pastors and won a few small grants. Over time, Great Dads picked up steam, forming partnerships with such groups as Prison Fellowship and Forgiven Ministry.
Great Dads, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, now gets its funding primarily from individual and church donations as well as training fees (proceeds go back into the organization). Hamrin has a team of seminar instructors who have been fathers for a while (associates must have at least one child who is age 16 or older).
Hamrin attributes his success to his faith, optimism and entrepreneurial mindset. His future goals include a stronger social media presence for Great Dads and new, creative ways to communicate its message. At age 70, he’d also like to find a successor to take over for him one day.
Meanwhile, he still gets gratification from working on a cause that truly matters. For those considering a life change, he offers this advice:
“Go after what you feel deeply about. And be willing to take a risk. If you feel strongly about something, just follow your heart and do it.”