The Power of Projects

The Power of Projects

Particularly when starting a new initiative, or adding a function to your team, defining work as a discrete, time-limited project forces clarity around what you want done. It’s too easy to hire a ‘Sales Manager,’ or ‘Growth Analyst,’ or ’Social Enterprise Associate,’ without REALLY defining what that person will be working on. Which sets everyone involved up for frustration and failure. 

Are Pro Bono Volunteers "Worth It"?

Are Pro Bono Volunteers "Worth It"?

Without oversimplifying the situation to "you get what you pay for," there are compelling reasons to consider investing capital (yes, real, financial capital) in trained professionals. They should be paid for achieving projects that are either critical to the sustainability or growth of your organization or that are nuanced enough to require an expert opinion that may not necessarily align with the acumen of even your most helpful board member.

Reflections on "Remote" Work

When I found out that I would be working remotely this summer, my first thought was, “excellent, now I can work from home and wear pajamas every day.” My second thought was, “Why would I move 400 miles south to sit at my computer by myself?” I quickly realized I was wrong about both of these points.

Re-Inspired Reflections: Nancy

With diverse career experience across sector and industry, Nancy wanted to be sure that her transition from corporate to social purpose work was a deliberate and well-aligned next step. To do this, she needed support in learning about the array of options in this new sector, and determining the type of organization and role that would be the best fit. Finally, she needed more information to figure out how to package and communicate how the contributions she made in the corporate sector could benefit a purpose-driven organization.

Finding more than one way to create impact

Andres is a second year MBA candidate at Harvard Business School.

Andres is a second year MBA candidate at Harvard Business School.

There are lots of systems that help us get to the outcomes we want. In the social sector, it is common to hear the concept of “Theory of Change," a methodology to plan, develop, and evaluate the change an organization wants to make in society. First, the organization identifies the impact they want, decide on the “outcomes” and “output” of your activities, and choose the “inputs” you need to perform those activities.

Looking at it from a broader perspective, this approach isn't very different from the methods each of us use to make decisions about our personal and professional life. When we want to achieve a particular goal, we each identify the steps we'll need to reach to get from point A to point Z.  However, complexity and challenges appear as multiple "Zs" become priorities...so what happens when we want more than outcome at the same time?

For me, my new desired outcome has become finding impact in my professional life. With this in mind, this summer, I am testing a new approach.

For years, I have been interested in bringing development opportunities to those who are less fortunate in our society. I built that commitment growing up in Latin America, a region with massive income inequality and significant social problems; and where it’s impossible to ignore that there is much to be done. However, I had always seen this commitment as a longer-term goal, or as a side activity to a full-time job in a traditional industry.  Business school has shown me that this does not necessarily need to be the case. The topics of social enterprise and social impact are gaining significance in the business world as more students, entrepreneurs, and companies are interested in getting involved in the sector. Because of this, I decided that I would use my summer internship to test the waters to see if I could change my professional impact approach.

Choosing what to do within the social sector is not easy. Many of the organizations in this space do not have internship programs as companies do in more traditional industries. They often don’t have the resources to actively recruit on campus. However, the Inspiring Capital Fellowship program enters and aligns business school students and high-potential, purpose-driven organizations from the social sector. Not only can you work in one of these organizations for the summer, but you are also given time and space to interact and learn from professionals in a variety of roles and functions. Both elements give you the tools to develop new skills and consider your next step in the social sector.

This summer, I am working with Medtronic Labs, a young business unit within Medtronic, a global healthcare solutions company focused on biomedical engineering. Their goal is to launch businesses that transform healthcare for underserved patients in emerging geographies by bringing locally-appropriate services, solutions, and products to market. It has been a great experience to work in a place where, for example, their product development program requires new products not only to meet the expected financial outcomes, but that also must prove they are useful in closing a gap in healthcare provision for a specific market. This is even more interesting when you remember that it is happening within a multinational for-profit company with 80,000+ employees.

There is more than one way to create an impact. My experience this summer with Inspiring Capital and Medtronic Labs is proving that. I am still working on deciding how it’s going to be my theory of change, but I’ll get there.

Re-Inspired Reflections: Stephanie

When Stephanie's family relocated to the NY metro area, the first challenge she faced was trying to tap into a network that could offer her the chance to connect with organizations whose needs were a mutual fit for her skill set. The second challenge was finding the flexibility she required to develop relationships with multiple organizations before committing to a full time position. Stephanie came to Inspiring Capital's Re-Inspiration Program in search of a network and a job seeking platform, and after completing the training sessions, she took on a consulting project with one of IC's nonprofit clients, leveraging her previous work experience toward a 6-week market assessment for them.

IC Launches 2017 Summer Fellowship

The start of June marks the official kickoff of the fourth summer of our MBA fellowship program.

From June through August, our fellows will work with 17 of the nation's most innovative and inspiring social impact organizations to help accelerate their integration of profits and purpose. 

This year, we'll be running our first MBA fellowship cohort in North Carolina's Research Triangle, alongside the fourth NYC cohort, allowing us to serve 17 fabulous clients across both geographies and beyond. Learn more about each of our consulting partners, and come meet them at our summer events in both locations.


For more information about our summer fellowship or consulting work, please email alex@inspiringcapital.ly.

Savvy Cooperative wins 2017 Pitch for People

 
The 2017 Pitch for People entrepreneurs and judges

The 2017 Pitch for People entrepreneurs and judges

 

On May 23, we convened fifty impact investors, social entrepreneurs, and members of Inspiring Capital's network community at Lyrical Asset Management for our Second Annual Pitch for People competition. 

Six finalists competed for the opportunity to work with a fellow from Inspiring Capital's summer MBA fellowship on a strategy, finance, or operations to help accelerate their impact and growth.

Last year's winner, Marci Lobel-Esrig of SilverBills, shared the "catalytic" experience of working with her fellow, Niki, and described how much the consulting support had allowed her organization to develop over the past year.

This year's winner, Jen, last year's winner, Marci, and Inspiring Capital CEO, Nell

This year's winner, Jen, last year's winner, Marci, and Inspiring Capital CEO, Nell

Guests gathered in small groups for interactive question-and-answer sessions with the social entrepreneurs, allowing for direct feedback on the ventures, and for guests to hear the judging thought process in action.

Our judging panel brought diverse and deep experience working with startups and social enterprises, and included our gracious host, John Jonson, Managing Director of Lyrical Partners, Rafi Musher, CEO & Founder of STAX Inc., and Samira Salman, CEO & Founder of Salman Solutions. 

Congratulations to the 2017 winner, Savvy Cooperative, which was selected for its demonstrated need and capacity to absorb IC's consulting talent, as well as the viability and potential for its model to make lasting social impact and address a market gap.

 


See Savvy's pitch in a video from founder Jen Horonjeff here:

 
 

Check out the world-changing models of the 5 finalist ventures:

 

Localized connects people around the world with experts from top companies and diaspora professional associations who share language and cultural context. 


After weddings or special events, Repeat Roses repurposes leftover blooms for donation at nursing homes and hospitals to deliver joy. Then, the flowers are composted and the containers are recycled to reduce waste.


Kheyti implements low-cost farming solutions that help small farmers increase yield and predictability of produce. We combine these technologies with end-to-end support to give these farmers a seamless path towards income increase. We have developed a “Greenhouse-in-a-box” – an affordable, modular greenhouse bundled with full stack services that uses 90% less water, grows 7 times more food and gives farmers a steady dependable income.


Five One Labs is a start-up incubator that helps refugees and conflict-affected entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses in the Middle East. Launching first in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, we aim to empower individuals to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and to contribute to the economic growth of their communities.


Shea Yeleen empowers shea butter cooperatives owned by women in rural Ghana by providing a living wage, skills training, and financial literacy through the sale of high-quality unrefined shea butter products around the world.


Congratulations to all of our Pitch for People competitors! 

The Number One Secret to Job Hunting: Weak Connections

The Number One Secret to Job Hunting: Weak Connections

Thanks to technology like LinkedIn's new easy-application feature and the hundreds of job matching platforms, applying for a job is easier than ever. Once you've identified your interest and potential alignment, submission is only a few survey questions, a resume upload, and a click away. However, the abundance of tools making jobseeking easier are not necessarily making it more effective. In fact, it may be harder than ever before to differentiate yourself from the thousands of other online applicants, as seen in this article about a jobseeker who actually built a bot to troll postings and create customized applications to thousands of jobs at once. Spoiler alert: even his customized and thorough solution didn't work, because his materials still weren't being read.

Taking the Social Impact Plunge

On the first day of orientation at Columbia Business School, our Dean delivered a speech that I am sure is approximately the same speech rattled off at Business Schools around the country.  Step 1) Inflate the incoming students’ egos: “best and brightest” references abound. Step 2) Convince new students that [insert school] has the best resources and network in the world. Step 3) Pull the two together and end with a charge like “you are the future leaders of business,  now go change the world.”     

The Most Tragically Overlooked Recruitment Tool (at least for roles that require interaction with other humans)

The Most Tragically Overlooked Recruitment Tool (at least for roles that require interaction with other humans)

The vast majority of jobs require some version of interaction with other people. And yet, employers rarely bother to test how candidates work with other people during the hiring process. At least not in any reliable way. Group interviews require some extra leg work and coordination. And if you’re only hiring one person for a certain role, it can be awkward to have candidates in the same room, much less interacting. But the payoff - for both employer and candidate! - far outweighs the downsides.

North Carolina Kickoff Unites Purpose-Driven Community Leaders around Impact

As an organization built around catalyzing impact, one of the biggest wins for us is to see the incredible (and tangible) results that come from putting like-minded, purpose driven leaders in a room. Our 2017 Kickoff at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina was a fantastic evening spent with more than 65 professionals and students from over 50 different organizations and 4 local universities, all coming together to share ideas on social impact, learn from one another, and make new connections to accelerate their work.

During the event, 7 remarkable organizations* each led an hour of in-depth conversations in small breakout groups about their unique missions, impact models, and the questions that keep them up at night. One participant described the activity as “thoughtful, insightful, and effective." Crowdsourced solutions and suggestions to our organizations’ challenges have already led to:

  • One attendee's idea for attracting millennials as clients being presented to an organization’s board as a proposed new initiative for 2017.
  • A sales meeting for one of the presenting organizations with a corporate client that will help expand the impact of both organizations.
  • The creation of a more robust network for early stage entrepreneurs as they approach their first round of investment.

It's amazing to see how the power of conversation between diverse members of a community can have an immediate impact on the social sector. One description of the attendees from the evening describe a group that was “diverse, engaged, and ready to create positive change in their community”. Our IC team was inspired (pun intended!) and invigorated to see such collaborative and open discussion amongst the diverse set of attendees, and more excited than ever to continue the rollout of our programs in North Carolina in 2017!

* Thanks to our presenting impact organizations: Leadership Triangle, Bee Downtown, Blinded HR, Protopia, Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation, Carroll’s Kitchen, and HealthBeM.

Want to know more about our work in North Carolina? Email our Program Director, Pat, at pat@inspiringcapital.ly.

"Quick Wins" from our NYC 2017 Kickoff Event

One of the interactive activities at our 2017 Kickoff event was rapid brainstorming "quick wins" for the year for each attendee to find small ways to make an impact from their current roles. Here are some of the quick wins they came up with:

  • Leverage $10,000 to a new womens issue in 2017 through a new financial product
  • Increase my thought leadership -- don't be afraid to put out some new training
  • Reach out to people I don't know and learn more about what they do and how they got into it
  • Leverage relationship with a radio show I know to connect with social impact orgs 
  • Help victims of financial abuse
  • Help elder scientists to implement and make alive their ideas through tech and modern tools
  • Meditate 5x/week
  • Help teachers budget their lives
  • Volunteer with an environmental org
  • Network within my own organization and see the value in existing relationships
  • Find out who works in sustainability at my company
  • Make sure the charity I am on the board of chooses an investment advisor who cares a lot about climate change & other factors
  • Support the refugee community with unique skills, find roles for refugees through network

What's your "quick win" for 2017?

How a Professional Development Program Unites Millennials & Boomers Around Purpose

Our new Professionals Program has been over a year in development. As we launched our MBA, Undergrad, and Women's Re-Inspiration programs over the course of the last 4 years, our team constantly fielded inbound requests from professionals who didn't neatly fit into one of the demographics these programs represented. As we rethought our customer segmentation to expand our social impact training, we realized something important: purpose-seekers are a psychographic, not a demographic.

Political Engagement Tips from a Former Congressional Staffer

One of our former volunteers, Lily, had previously come from Washington as a legislative assistant and frequently helped us better understand the ins-and-outs of life on the Hill. Now, she shares a way to help increase political engagement:

Lily recently spent four years in the nation’s capitol as a congressional aide. 

Lily recently spent four years in the nation’s capitol as a congressional aide. 

Although the presidential election has come and gone, many of us want to continue being involved with the policies that shape our lives. One of the best ways to be involved is to contact your elected officials. It can be a little daunting, but as a former legislative aide, I have a few tips to make it go a little smoother. 

1) Find out who your federal elected officials are. You can find them online at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov by entering your address in these websites. You have two senators and one representative (often times referred to as "congressman" or "congresswoman"), so you will have three officials to contact. You should call all three, unless it's a matter that is only handled by one chamber. 

2) Once you have their names, visit their websites. From there, find their Washington, DC. phone numbers. This is where you call to leave comments for your federal elected officials. Also, take time to explore their website. Do they have statements on the issues you're calling about?  There is often an "Issues" or "Legislation tab" that provides this information. You may also go through their press releases on their website to get updated information. Another great resource is www.congress.gov, where you can find bill information including sponsors, movement in the legislative process, and related bills. 

3) Armed with the correct phone number and basic information, call your rep! You may also want to email them through the website, but know that it may take awhile to be read because of the incoming volume of emails they receive daily. A call is quickest way to be heard. However, if you have a long story that you'd like to communicate, you should send an email. That's usually done through their website. They often have a button that says "Contact Me" or "Email Me". 

4) On the phone, be polite. The staffer answering the phone is not the lawmaker! You may begin by asking where your representative stands on the issue, if you don't already know. If you do, you may begin by stating your name, city, and that you'd like to leave a comment about xyz issue. Explain how you feel about the issue and how it would impact your or your community. Ask that you hope your rep will keep your thoughts in mind and that she/he votes in line with your priorities. If you'd like a response, you may say that. However, keep in mind that staff is often backlogged with mailing out responses, so asking for a response is most effective when you disagree with your representative. 

5) Each office processes constituent comments differently. However, all Members of Congress get feedback on how constituents are calling in or writing about certain topics. So, keep emailing or calling.

That's it! You've taken action! All it takes is to do a bit research, finding the right phone numbers, and explaining your thoughts about an issue you're passionate about in an articulate, polite manner. Open communication with your representative is the hallmark of democracy, so I hope you start calling today!

Curious to know more about Lily or her work? Get in touch via the form below:

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My Journey Toward Re-Inspiration

Janet Hammond is IC's Raleigh Women's Program Associate.

Janet Hammond is IC's Raleigh Women's Program Associate.

365 days ago, I saw a post on LinkedIn through a new contact I had just made.  It was about Inspiring Capital’s Women’s Re-Inspiration program and it seemed to be the intersection of where I wanted to be. I had taken a significant career break and wanted to transition to more meaningful work, and I had no network of my own. I had financial skills but a passion for helping women and children. I was stuck. 

I had spent the previous 2 years trying to figure out what I wanted to be “when I grew up." It was a daunting task. I had always followed the playbook and done what was expected of me.   The thing was, I was at a point in my life where there was no playbook. I needed to figure this out for myself, and I was at a loss as to what steps to take and make sure I got it right.   So…I decided to just go ahead and take all of the steps in front of me.

I recently read an article from Ellevate's daily newsletter on Why Smart Women Get Stuck and how using the “Lighthouse Method” can help them get started in finding rewarding new careers. Without knowing it at the time, this articulates exactly what I did. I “lost the map," and I decided to “row with the flow” and just try everything that seemed appealing. I volunteered at a Women’s Empowerment Center. I took a part-time job in the field of sustainability. And, I went to a conference for women looking to re-enter the workforce even though I had some work and things were going pretty well.

That conference is where I made my connection who would later introduce me to Inspiring Capital. At the time I did not think much of it, but in the end it made all the difference. A simple decision just to sit down for lunch at the conference with my new friend made it so that I felt comfortable going back less than a month later and asking her for an introduction.  Again, I had no idea where that introduction would lead, but this is what happened next…

I started a conversation with Inspiring Capital about participating in the Women’s Re-Inspiration Program, not knowing how that could actually work.  They were in New York, as was their network, and I was in North Carolina. We sent emails and eventually talked in person at the Net Impact Conference we were both attending.  I kept the conversation going without a pre-determined end game because it felt right and I really believed in what they were doing. 

Things started to catalyze quickly. I flew up to NYC to experience part of their program for myself, and started to explore the possibility of a similar program in North Carolina. Somewhere between last October 26 and today, the decision was made to make North Carolina’s Research Triangle the site of Inspiring Capital’s first geographic expansion. A year later, I'm not just participating in the workshop-- I am facilitating the inaugural cohort! Our final day of cohort #1 will be tomorrow. If you had told me this would be the outcome of that one connection I had made one year ago today, I would never have believed you. 

There are so many of us who are trying to figure out what to do next whether we have taken a career break or have been doing a job we find unfulfilling for years. We look at our millennial children and are so proud of them for challenging the status quo and going after what feels right to them. Now – it’s our turn. 

If you find yourself in this situation, I hope you can switch your mindset and consider the Lighthouse Method. There are no rules for you right now. If it feels right, go with it. Things might work out, or they might not. Remember, if you don’t have expectations for a certain outcome, it is hard to end up disappointed. At worst, you'll learn more about yourself and your options, and at best, you'll start to follow new leads of programs and people that inspire and motivate you.

The one thing I know for sure is that if you are far from shore and it is dark out, you need to start rowing. The lighthouse might be far away and the light barely visible, but you won’t get anywhere if you don’t start. Make any and all connections that you can. You never know what that next conversation will lead to. Sign up for a class on whatever subject interests you. Don’t say no to yourself and don’t judge your ideas. Go with it.

The journey is not over for me, but 365 days later I am proud and excited to be a part of this innovative organization that was willing to let me climb into their boat and row with them. I hope you'll join us in re-drawing the map for women, as we bravely start to make those first strokes into uncharted waters together.

Is it really possible to do "well" while doing "good?"

The answer is a resounding “Yes!” for a growing percentage of professionals, young and old alike. In some circles, a potential new employer’s “social impact” is now just as important to consider as its compensation plans and broader reputation.

This search for a deeper sense of “purpose” at work certainly isn’t new. But in the last decade, we have seen a resurgence of interest in (and creation of) organizations that are committed to traditional profit-driven “success” and to having a positive impact on the world.

What’s at the root of this rising demand for socially-conscious business?

Whether it’s the influential “one-for-one” model of profit sharing used by Toms, the inspired “Open Hiring” policy of Greyston Bakery or the crowd-sourced problem solving of OpenIDEO, successful new models are emerging that prove that “doing business” and “doing good” can be synonymous.

Great. But where do I come in?

The global social impact sector is evolving so rapidly that it can be difficult for job (and fellowship!) seekers to understand their options.

Our first and flagship offering, the Inspiring Capital Summer MBA Fellowship, is a 10-week hybrid consulting and training program that immerses first-year business students in the social impact world through hands-on work experiences, structured learning and network building.

The fellowship (based in NYC, also now in Raleigh, NC!) is designed to open fellows’ eyes to the varied opportunities, approaches and attitudes that make up the “social sector.” Our fellows work directly with client organizations to solve real problems--think: Earned Income strategy, operational efficiency, financial analysis–while honing their skill sets and career goals through over 100 hour of training.

This summer, we’re also thrilled to be recruiting for the National Parks Business Plan Internship (BPI)--an 11-week program where interns live and work in some of America’s greatest cultural treasures. The BPI program is open to all interested graduate students--not just first-year MBAs.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to use your business acumen for good this summer, consider applying for one of these two fellowships today!

APPLICATION DEADLINE for both fellowships: December 12, 2016

Learn more about Inspiring Capital’s summer fellowship.
 

Learn more about the National Parks Business Plan Internship.
 

Rule #1 of (Financial) Modeling: Inform Your Assumptions

Janet is a 2nd year MBA at UTAustin McCombs School of Business, and worked this summer with Goodwill NYNJ.

Janet is a 2nd year MBA at UTAustin McCombs School of Business, and worked this summer with Goodwill NYNJ.

If I had to choose a single takeaway from a summer of numerous experiences and lessons, it would be this: Anyone pursuing a career in social impact better get comfortable with ambiguity. For the most part, that excites me. Uncertainty leaves room for creativity surrounding strategy and solutions, offers increased leadership opportunities, and creates space to make your impact. But, I have to admit, there are a couple of drawbacks. As someone who loves curling up with coffee and a good excel-sheet, ambiguity can sometimes slow my roll. (Luckily, Anjali Patel has a few tips to help me out with that.)

Yes, I am that colleague who is overenthusiastic about the magic of VLOOKUP (save the making-fun for later, contact form below). But more importantly, I value the power of financial modeling as a decision-making tool given a series of assumptions. I was fortunate enough to be able to use this tool to analyze a potential earned-income business line as a fellow at Goodwill NYNJ, a social enterprise that strives to empower individuals with disabilities and other barriers to entry through the dignity of work. However, given the ambiguity of the potential business model and many unanswered questions, the vast majority of my time was spent on gauging the appropriate parameters that went into my analysis. A model, no matter how beautifully designed, is useless if the assumptions that it is built upon are not accurate.

My colleague Maggie Nazer offered an insightful thought process on initiating an earned revenue stream. Below, I offer a few notes on navigating the uncertainty around the assumptions, specifically as they pertain to a financial model.

·       Understand all related costs: When forecasting for a new opportunity or a new business, it is important to flush out all inputs. For example, in a non-profit, this most likely includes deducting a certain percentage of revenues for potential administrative overhead.

·       Be honest about sales and revenue growth: Many non-profits and social enterprises do not put as much effort into sales and marketing as a purely for-profit business. It then follows that sales growth assumptions must be tempered.

·       Evaluate core competencies: Given that this opportunity is mission and value aligned, it is also possible that the organization already contains the necessary labor, equipment, relationships (especially important) and expertise. The more competencies utilized the better, and it is important to incorporate this possibility into your cost and growth assumptions.

Easy, right?

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No, definitely not. All of the researching, preparation, and excel rows cannot guarantee an outcome, especially when trying to engage with important problems and opportunities in our own communities. However, a thoughtful approach to the financial analysis of those opportunities can be invaluable in the decision-making process.

Further, I’ve learned that it’s important to take that understanding and apply it to my career goals as much as I applied it to my financial model. My time with Inspiring Capital provided the space and resources to learn as much as possible about the social impact space in a 10-week span. Ironically, the more I learned, the more wide-open and confusing my own potential path started to seem. Fortunately, the fellowship also allowed for time to hone in on my own personal “variables.” I’ve learned that I would thrive in a role that empowers me to thoughtfully analyze opportunities or investments and execute on that analysis in a small social enterprise organization or team. These assumptions are always subject to an edit given new information, but the intentional thought process that continues to inform them is imperative. Like the model I built this summer, the path I set for myself inaccurate without continued reflection around my own assumptions. 

Want to get in touch with Janet? Share your thoughts or reactions via the form below:

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