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Mother Of Invention: Debbie Zinman Creates Birthday Parties That Give Back

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Who she is: Co-founder, ECHOage, with business partner Alison Smith (pictured on right). Mom to Judah, 9, and Sage, 6.

Why we love her: Her charity-driven, eco-friendly, online birthday party service teaches kids about giving and receiving while celebrating their birthdays. It also makes planning your child’s party a piece of cake. Parents log on to ECHOage.com to choose an invitation, select a cause and invite guests, who are then able to contribute online. Half the money goes to charity, half towards a single dream gift for the birthday boy or girl.

In her own words…

How did you come up with the concept for ECHOage?
My partner and I are mothers and we’ve had a lot of opportunities to observe our children at birthday parties. We noticed that children were much more interested in each other than they were in the presents. The parents were going through this ritual of purchasing gifts and passing them off to each other upon arriving at the party, but the children weren’t focusing on the gifts heaped on the table. So we searched online for a birthday party solution — we didn’t want children to sacrifice their gifts but we wanted to reduce the amount of waste produced and still keep all the best parts of the party experience. We couldn’t find anything like that out there, so we decided to create our own solution.

Was there an “a-ha” moment when you knew you had to do this?

After Alison’s son’s birthday party, we were packing up the presents and couldn’t fit them all into her trunk. We were on the verge of taking the gifts to Goodwill! That’s when realized we wanted to do this.

How do you choose the charities that are on the website?
There are 23 charities on the site for North America. We choose charities that improve the lives of children directly. So far we’ve donated $600,000 to charity, including sending meals to feed hungry children and families, supporting sick kids in hospitals and making life a little easier for children in Haiti.

What’s the best thing about hosting an ECHOage party?
Putting your child in the driver’s seat. Your child gets to become a philanthropist and have an effect on the world at a very young age. Plus, no paper invitations to fill out, no RSVPs to keep track of and no trash to clean up after the party.

What is the most surprising thing about your business?

That mothers share common values no matter where they live – we have clients in every U.S. state and every province in Canada. All mothers want their children to grow up compassionate, caring and conscious of the world around them.

What is the most satisfying part of what you do?
Working with my partner every day. I also love the freedom and control and rewards of running my own business.

What is the biggest challenge?
Not having a crystal ball.

How do you balance it all?
I wanted a career that I felt passionate about that would allow me to work around my kids’ schedules – to be able to pick them up at school, go on their field trips, stay home if they’re ill. When working from home, you have to be able to shift gears so quickly between your work and your children. But it’s hard to switch gears on a dime. I wake up every morning at 5 a.m. and meditate for an hour, read the newspaper and have coffee, then I climb into bed with my kids and wake them up. I feel that a very calm approach to both my business and motherhood goes a long way. I’ve learned to not get frazzled and to take things as they come. Reading good fiction at the end of the day is my payoff.

What’s your favourite eco-friendly loot bag?
Giving each child a small plant to grow at home. They can plant it in their garden or keep it in a pot and have this wonderful experience seeing how quickly it will respond to a little sunshine and water.