Help One, Help Many: Changing the World with Mick Ebeling

After two incredible days of evolution, ISPA Chairman Garrett Mersberger took the stage for the final General Session of the 2019 ISPA Conference & Expo. He circled back to something Susan Cain said on the first day: that each of us has a battery or tank that is filled or drained by what we do. After this week, said Mersberger, “my heart and tank are full.”

Although Conference was wrapping up, Mersberger reiterated that ISPA is a year-round resource, not just a Conference. Benefits like the member directory, ISPA Job Bank and the ISPA Academy can be used by ISPA members year-round. He also highlighted the brand-new ISPA Talent Symposium and Resource Partner Summit next April, offering an exclusive discount to those attending the final General Session.

Before leaving the stage, however, Mersberger participated in the presentation of the annual ISPA Innovate Awards, as well as the 2019 Overall Innovation of the Year Award. The twelve Innovate Award winners were honored onstage before the Overall winner, Noel Asmar Uniforms, was announced.

The Godmother of Spa

Next, spa pioneer Deborah Szekely took the stage for her annual remarks; this marks the 29th Conference at which she’s spoken. After a standing ovation, Szekely delivered a poignant, retrospective speech that celebrated the passage of time and the growing impact of wellness. “My life has been a mosaic of work, family and public service,” said Szekely, who emphasized that life grows and evolves organically. The trees planted by Szekely at Rancho La Puerta more than 30 years ago are now fully grown and have created new saplings of their own; Szekely reminded each ISPA member in attendance that “every guest you serve is a new tree. May each of you coming here see your forest grow.”

Not Impossible

Szekely then introduced the winner of this year’s ISPA Alex Szekely Humanitarian Award: Mick Ebeling. A problem-solving visionary and philanthropist,
Ebeling is the founder of Not Impossible Labs and delivered the final keynote of the 2019 ISPA Conference & Expo.

Ebeling’s keynote was equal parts humorous, moving and inspiring; it detailed who he is, how Not Impossible began and how it has
changed the world. Not Impossible, said Ebeling, started with an unplanned, half-foolish promise to help a paralyzed artist paint again. Despite
having no practical knowledge on how to accomplish this, Ebeling and a team of creators invented the EyeWriter, a low-cost and open-source pair of glasses that allowed the artist to move a cursor, and paint, using only eye movements. Now, the software that powers these glasses is available to all.

This was the genesis of Ebeling’s “help one, help many” approach to problem solving. “We tackle these problems for one person,” said Ebeling.
“Let’s not solve world hunger—let’s solve it for one person. Then, we scale up from there.”

He highlighted that the name of his company, Not Impossible, is a nod to what he was told about the EyeWriter: that it was an impossible problem to solve cheaply and effectively. Yet, “impossible is a fallacy,” according to Ebeling. he further added that “everything that’s impossible now is on the trajectory to being possible.”

In 2013, Ebeling turned his attention to South Sudan, where a long civil war had created untold numbers of amputees without financial resources to purchase prosthetics. Ebeling, working with a South African carpenter who 3D-printed prosthetic fingers for himself after a woodshop accident, eventually created 3D-printable prosthetic arms for the area’s refugees. To ebeling, though, a few prosthetics weren’t a suitable solution. Instead, he trained the local South Sudanese population to 3D-print prosthetic limbs on their own. This first-ever 3D-printing lab for prosthetics is still going nearly six years later.

Ebeling’s unquenchable thirst for helping others and solving problems is best summed up by something he said while discussing a pianist with
Parkinson's that Not Impossible helped: “I don’t know why He or She upstairs dropped this in our lap. No idea. But I believe there’s somebody upstairs who put this in our lap, and so we had to do something about it.”

There is no alternative to Ebeling: helping others is nothing short of a calling. He hopes this calling is shared by the emotional, mental and physical healers who comprise the ISPA membership. Circling back to his “help one, help many” ethos, Ebeling ended the week’s final General Session by asking the audience: “who is your one?”