Corporate Giving Turns into Inspired Living
Justin Ahrens '94 visiting in Nairobi, Kenya.
March 7, 2011
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – While watching American Idol with his 5-year old daughter, alumnus
Justin Ahrens ’94 decided that his life of “suburban dad and entrepreneur,” was not
enough. "How can we help in Africa," asked Ahrens' daughter. Inspired by “Idol
Gives Back”, celebrity Bono’s charitable work in Africa and his daughters words, Ahrens
embarked on a new adventure, one that would take him across the globe, into the depths
of his soul and would materialize into a lifelong mission.
Shortly after graduating from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1994, Ahrens opened
the doors to Rule29, a creative design firm located in Geneva, Ill. “Our desire was
to create a firm that would make creativity matter to our clients and to our community,”
said Ahrens. Although Ahrens loved his job, he felt something was missing. The firm
had previously worked with rock legend and director of Solid Rock Foundation, Alice
Cooper. Continuing their work with not-for-profits, Rule29 connected with Life in
Abundance (LIA), a Christian-community development organization founded in Africa.
Established in 1993, Life in Abundance is present in seven African countries, including
Ethiopia and Kenya. Since its inception, LIA has provided health education and clinical
care to over 600,000 Africans, as well as offered care and rehabilitation to more
than 1,200 orphans in Ethiopia alone. Ahrens believes that “LIA has proven that Africa’s
poorest people are capable of owning the improvement of their own quality of life.”
Some members of Rule29, including Ahrens, chose to travel to Africa in 2008 to witness
firsthand how their involvement with LIA is benefiting those in need.
“I was halfway across the world, could not speak the local language and was working
in the slums, I could not be further from my comfortable life in the suburbs of Chicago,”
said Ahrens. He had traveled thousands of miles to some of the poorest areas in Africa
and witnessed “children playing in sewage, mothers with HIV trying to support their
kids, and whole communities decimated by poverty, sickness, malnourishment and completely
By 2010, along with working with a variety of clients, the Rule29 staff donated 800
hours of professional work to LIA. The company, comprised of nine members, provided
charitable work through brand management to LIA and oversaw their communication and
support initiatives. Ahrens is proud of his colleagues, “everyone has contributed
to the pro-bono work, whether it be actually doing hands on work, helping with strategy
or helping design it.”
Currently, Rule29 staff are assisting with LIA’s micro-financing efforts. “We are
helping develop products for this program to help generate a sustainable business
model,” said Ahrens. In April, Rule29 will debut their second documentary depicting
the slums of Africa. A third film, which will be shot in the Sudan in 2012, is in
Ahrens is grateful to have had the opportunity to work with LIA and believes that
“we have been changed by the work and the response of the people.” He plans to return
to Africa next year and hopes that in the future his will family will join him, he
said, "my kids really want to go."
The words of a fellow colleague, “I need Africa more than it needs me,” resonate with
Ahrens. “Being there really helps simplify life and helps one realize that the ‘rat
race,’ well, is really just that,” said Ahrens.
Contact: Sylvia Zukowski ’11, (309) 556-3181