Accomplished Under 40, Tara Russell

Tara Varga Russell36, Boise Founder and CEO of Create Common Good Inspirational woman: Amelia Earhart

By Dani Grigg – Special to Idaho Business Review

When Amelia Earhart climbed out of her plane in an Irish pasture in 1932, a farmhand greeted her with the question: “Have you flown far?”

She had, of course, flown far. That record-setting transatlantic flight and other brave acts have inspired generations of dreamers, including Tara Varga Russell, founder and CEO of Create Common Good.

“She really believed it was important to show the world what was possible,” Russell says.

Russell is doing her part to show not just the world, but also struggling individuals and families what is possible as she builds Create Common Good, a Boise-based nonprofit social enterprise.

The organization, founded in 2008, takes in those who have barriers to employment, including one-third of Idaho’s adult refugees, and teaches them food industry skills that will enable them to provide for their families. CCG places more than 95 percent of those trainees – several hundred over the last four years – in jobs.

Russell’s work pushes families from desperation to security. It’s work she’s become addicted to over the last 15 years, work that inspired her to leave her career in product development just more than 10 years ago.

“I loved my work in the Fortune 500 world,” she says, “but I learned quickly that I cared more about the people involved than about the actual product I was responsible for.”

She took her corporate experience to Thailand, where she offered pro bono small business development training to Thai nongovernmental organizations. There she also co-founded NightLight International, a group dedicated to providing pathways out of prostitution.

Through those experiences, she developed the approaches to changing lives and communities that have made Create Common Good stand out.

“We don’t want our ability to train or not train people to rely on whether people have the means and choose to give,” she says. “We’re a nonprofit social enterprise: Our goal is not to be solely dependent on charitable funding, but rather to earn revenues from the products and services that we offer so we can continues to sustain our impact.”

That attitude led CCG to settle on a food-based model: People always need food. Now, restaurants, schools, and cafeterias of all kinds purchase the food prepared in the organization’s kitchens, and every new business opportunity secures CCG’s ability to train more job seekers in the future.

Create Common Good has already helped groups in Twin Falls, Seattle, and Ketchum develop similar programs in their communities, and Russell has become a nationally recognized leader on social enterprise development.

It’s been a long and winding road, but Russell says she’s found her sweet spot.

“Fundamentally, I believe we are all gifted with a wide variety of talents and skill sets,” she says, “and I believe the greatest challenge of our lives is determining how to best utilize our talents to most effectively and positively impact the lives of others and improve our communities.”