When philanthropy works, it’s sort of like great-tasting health food: You’re doing the right thing, but you’re also enjoying it. Robert Rutherford of Native American Systems (#293 on the 2000 Inc. 500), who is part Choctaw Indian, was keenly aware of how the digital divide was affecting his fellow Native Americans. “Only about 40% of them have a phone,” he says, “so how can they set up a computer?” So Rutherford established a division called TOPs (for Tribal Outreach Programs), which consists of groups of “road warriors” who travel from tribe to tribe providing telephony and IT services and educating the tribal communities on the latest technology. The part that “tastes great”? Rutherford is also marketing his company to an emerging customer pool.
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