Mick Lautt’s obsession with building teams to help people in his community
Growing up in Winnipeg, Mick Lautt saw a problem. Young people, in large numbers, were dropping out of high school. It wasn’t that he was worried they would go through the rest of their lives not knowing trigonometry, he knew it was a sign of a much bigger problem.
“It’s really about life skills because for kids in that situation, academics are secondary,” he says.
The kids he is talking about are ones already on a bad path. Mick and a team of other high-profile people in the city recognized that school attendance and failing grades were just symptoms, so they went looking for a solution to the root problem. They found it in Southern California, in the form of a gang intervention program.
“We took the word gang out of it and called it the Choices Youth Program. And basically, it was about empowering kids to make right choices,” said Mick.
“We identified six schools in the heart of the city. Every year, each school chooses 20 kids that are high risk. These are young people who are on the cusp of joining gangs. Often they are already involved in some way. We pair those students with 120 volunteers from the universities.”
It was a good program, but initially it didn’t work. It was supposed to be one hour of academic tutoring and one hour of other activities. But that didn’t fit the situation they were facing.
“Kids in this profile don’t bring their homework, and then when they do bring their homework, they don’t know where to start,” said Mick. “How do you get a tutor to come in and fix that in an hour? So, we sat back and asked ‘What are we actually trying to achieve here?’”
The answer was much broader than getting a better grade on a geography test. So Mick adapted the program to focus on what was needed most urgently.
“I created a curriculum built around playing cards. They had to learn a new card game collectively as groups along with their mentors. And then they would play cards. It’s a bit of a trick because you are actually teaching them math, sequencing, concept development, and problem-solving, but it’s also a lot of social skill development.”
Learning a new card game might seem like a miniscule intervention, but that’s exactly what was needed because the scale of the social challenges these kids were facing was shocking.
“They were coming from backgrounds that I couldn’t even imagine,” recalls Mick. “They would come late to a class or they would miss a class, and when they did show up for the program, I’d say, ‘Hey, you got to be on time. Our volunteers are here,’ and they would answer ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ll be here next weekend.’”
“It took another kid in the program to tell me ‘You know why he was late? He was hiding behind his couch, hoping not to get shot. His apartment was broken into by a rival gang. There were people in his living room with shotguns looking for his uncle. But as soon as they left, he came here.”
For young people facing that reality at home, having somewhere to go, even if it’s just to learn a new card game, can be a lifesaver.
After ten years, and after helping more than 1,000 young people, Mick handed the program to others to continue adapting it and moving it forward.
Today Mick is focused on a different problem.
Type 2 diabetes is an insidious disease. There are millions of people around the world struggling with its effects, but there is no known cure.
Mick became very familiar with the epidemic because of the work of Dr. Wayne Lautt, his father. Dr. Lautt discovered an important link in the development of type 2 diabetes: a hormone called hepatalin. Through experiments he proved that not only was hepatalin integral to someone developing type 2 diabetes, it was also the key to reversing it.
Armed with that, he’s taken the same approach he used to address troubled youths: he’s started a company, built an organization, and is leading a team down the road to a solution.
Ending type 2 diabetes around the world is going to take many years and right now his company Scimar is proving out the science of a pill that can trigger hepatalin production and reverse the disease. It works in the lab, but clinical trials with humans are expensive. That’s why most of his efforts today are focused on growing the company, attracting investors, and building capacity for large scale trials.
“It’s a problem that has a lot of different root causes, but we’ve got a plan to address those. It’s ambitious but it’s actionable. As long as we stay focused on the question ‘What are we actually trying to achieve here?’ I know we’ll get there.”