When I first started working in business, I had a boss, Merrill Phelan, that was different from anyone I’ve worked with since. An intense man—whip-smart, driven to success, and refusing to tolerate anything less than perfection—Merrill pushed all of us beyond what we thought was possible. With each of us carrying the workload of 2-3, Merrill never settled for “good enough given the circumstance” and instead worked us and inspired us. Of course Merrill and I didn’t always agree on things and had our differences, but I believe we had mutual respect for each other. And that, ultimately, he pushed me toward becoming a better business leader than I could have otherwise.

I say all this for a reason: As I was leaving the job, I visited him to share my gratitude. “Merrill,” I said, “Despite our differences, I must say that I’ve learned a lot from you. Is there anything I can do for you?” And Merrill, not missing a beat, replied, “Manoj, there is no paying it back. It’s your responsibility to pay it forward to future entrepreneurs.”

I took that to heart, and, in the years since, whenever entrepreneurs ask me for help—help fundraising, help creating businesses, whatever they need—I do it. But I’ve always been looking for a way to have a bigger impact, to make a bigger contribution to the future of entrepreneurship. And now, with the launch of the CircleBack app, I’ve found it.

CircleBack: A Tool Committed to Paying It Forward

In many ways, the CircleBack app itself operates on a pay-it-forward model. While the app is powered by an Artificial Intelligence engine, the intelligence itself—the billions of data signals used to train and refine the app’s intelligence—all comes from real, users. Real users pay it forward for the benefit of the entire business community.

This seemed a perfect opportunity to join cause and business, and soon my colleagues and I had developed a plan. Not only did we want CircleBack to disrupt the contact management industry; we wanted to use that disruption to enact change across the country.

What we’d come up with was simple: we’d leverage our professional relationships to collect donations in order to give copies of the influential book Pay It Forward to 30,000 middle schools across the US. By targeting middle school children, we thought, we’re catching kids—the future of everything—during a critical time in their character development. If we can help them integrate acts of kindness into their daily lives now, each of their small, selfless deeds will, together, create a much more generous future.

Unfortunately, this all proved a very difficult thing to do in the midst of an app launch, and I feared we might not have the bandwidth to successfully execute this campaign on our own.

Enter: Our Dear Friends from the Pay It Forward Foundation

After a single conversation with Charley Johnson, the president of the Pay It Forward Foundation, I knew we’d found a partner that could help us bring our vision to life. Founded by Catharine Ryan Hyde (author of the book Pay It Forward), the Pay It Forward Foundation is committed to the same change-based educational agendas we are and was happy to join us in realizing this plan.

With them on board, we had the support we needed to launch our #CBForward initiative, and our kickoff gala was a celebration of that. With this event (and a number of others in different cities like it), our #CBForward social campaign, and the support of our peers and app users, CircleBack is making the difference I set out to make so long ago: to offer real, tangible help to the future leaders and decision makers of America.

At this moment, I couldn’t be prouder: of my team at CircleBack and their hard work of our efforts in putting Catharine’s words into the hands of children, and of our getting to play some small part in helping kids learn to pay it forward. It’s a real privilege, and I look forward to every minute of it.

If you want to get involved, the best place to start is the CircleBack app for iOS or Android. In addition to keeping all your professional contacts accurate and updated, CircleBack allows you to make direct donation to the Pay It Forward Foundation and easily connect with the people you need to make a difference.

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