Larry Shaw

Trade School

Larry Shaw is helping do-gooders advance their missions through the lost art of bartering.

By Jessica Bizik
Photography by Chris Crews

For a few months after leaving the corporate world to become a social entrepreneur, Larry Shaw ended up sleeping in his car.

“I told my Mom I’d be homeless or dead before I ever worked for somebody else again,” says the University of Pikeville grad, who now works as a motivational speaker, author, and consultant to organizations that want to engage meaningfully with disenfranchised youth. “So one of those predictions actually came true.”

While every do-gooder is different, most folks who do community work say it comes at some cost—financial, physical, mental or emotional. People who go “all in” to help others sometimes forget to take care of themselves. They may experience vicarious trauma or just high-stress levels. And they often end up using their own resources, no matter how scarce, to advance their missions.

“It’s like the concept of the poor, righteous teacher. People expect you to work for free, but that’s impossible when it’s all you are doing,” Larry explains. “Sometimes in a capitalistic society like ours, we neglect to compensate individuals who are making the biggest impact on our kids, neighborhoods and cities—often at great sacrifice to themselves.”

That’s what inspired him to develop bARTer & build, a platform where entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and volunteers can connect for the purpose of exchanging products, services, and resources to help keep themselves (and their missions) afloat.

For example, a web developer might barter with a yoga instructor—offering to build a website in exchange for taking free classes at her studio. A barber could trade haircuts for a promo video. Or a pastry chef could provide dessert for a fundraising gala in exchange for putting coupons in all the goody bags. (And all of them can become ambassadors for each other’s businesses and causes.)

While it would be tempting to make all this magic happen in cyberspace—by, say, developing an online platform like Fiverr—Larry is committed to making bARTer & build a real-world community, where members get together for monthly meetings, special events, and face-to-face dialogue.

“Many innovators struggle due to lack of human capital. If you don’t have a team, there’s nobody else to offer new ideas and perspectives, or to challenge your assumptions,” he says. “bARTer & build will be a true community of change agents, who support each other and make each other better.”

Plus, the meetings will give Larry a chance to do three things he does exceedingly well: active listening, problem solving, and matchmaking (in a platonic, social entrepreneurial kind of way).

“You can pick the two most random, seemingly disconnected people in a room—and, if you give me a few minutes, I can figure out a way for them to help each other and help the community,” he says. “I’m lucky, I can just see it.”