After seven amazing years at Portland State University, I’m leaving my role as executive director of Impact Entrepreneurs.
As with many startup stories, the birth of Impact Entrepreneurs was an answer to a calling with the faith that a vision would come. I started working at Portland State University’s School of Business in 2009 when Scott Marshall hired me to create social innovation programs. He introduced me to Carolyn McKnight, a leadership development expert who had previously held positions as a corporate executive. Carolyn McKnight and I joined forces to launch Impact Entrepreneurs in 2010 when we discovered a shared purpose to create more joy and less suffering through social entrepreneurship and found a mutual respect and desire for collaboration in each other.
Since then, we’ve had the honor of working with hundreds of students, social entrepreneurs and changemakers as we have explored social entrepreneurship together and worked to strengthen each other and the field itself.
Working with many of you directly, I’ve gained more than I could possibly ever offer in return. You’ve shared your greatest dreams and vulnerabilities as you’ve navigated the discomfort and thrill of creating something from nothing. It has been humbling, exciting, and even heartbreaking. Social entrepreneurship can be addictive and temperamental like that.
In partnership with you and a coalition of colleagues and organizations, our small but mighty team at Impact Entrepreneurs has built an internationally recognized program that has directly educated thousands who have, in turn, touched millions of lives. Two of the many highlights for me were the realization of our Business of Social Innovation Certificate, funded by the reTHINK: PSU Provost’s Challenge, and our selection to the Ashoka U Changemaker Campus consortium.
Our core team members Jacen Greene and Abby Chroman have dedicated their innumerable talents and resilient attitudes toward making our programs shine and thrive. Carolyn and I are pleased that Jacen will continue leading Impact Entrepreneurs’ core programs in the School of Business Administration as Program Director. In addition, Abby will continue providing project management across our suite of programs.
It’s been a gift to expose people to social entrepreneurship over the years and see their eyes and minds light up. It’s been almost 20 years since I first heard about social entrepreneurship. Only one person I knew had heard of it, and she taught me! My life was calling me to align my work with my purpose, and I was all in.
I believe now more than ever that business can and MUST be a force for positive change. From what I can gather, there are now millions of people who share this belief. It’s powerful to be in such great company. While sometimes I pine for those “Wild West” days of social entrepreneurship when it felt like we were just making it all up, I am heartened that we now know so much more about what it takes to build high-impact social ventures.
Businesses matter because they are uniquely able to build velocity and scale. A single company can get products and services to millions and even billions of people. It can inform and educate. It can make life-saving choices readily available. That’s why I want to see “do-better” businesses succeed and grow, and it is why I want to help in any way I can.
As I reflect on where it all began for me and where I’ve been, I find myself with the opportunity to leap back into the business sector. I’ll be joining the talented team at Koopman Ostbo Marketing Communications as their first Chief Marketing and Impact Officer. I’ll be dedicated to increasing impact internally and strengthening our ties with impact-driven organizations. And I’m delighted I will still be a resource to our community of changemakers. Please feel free to drop me a line any time.
Feelings can be boisterous when change is big, and I can tell you that right now joy and gratitude are loud and clear. When life called me to social entrepreneurship nearly 20 years ago, I replied “Yes!” and it has been an awesome adventure. Still, here we are today with much work left to do. Let’s support one another to keep up the good work. I would love to hear from you. What is calling you to take action? What’s new in your life?
Impact Entrepreneurs would not have happened if Carolyn McKnight and I had not combined our efforts with optimism and commitment to reaching a future state unknown to us at the time. Just as we could not imagine where we would end up now, I know that Impact Entrepreneurs is poised to achieve bigger things that we can’t even foresee right now. I can’t wait.
Here’s to remaining hand-in-hand in the pursuit of making choices that reflect our deepest hopes and dreams for the world, including those in our own lives. Thank you for believing that it’s up to us to make that difference.
Co-founder & Executive Director, PSU Impact Entrepreneurs
Thanks to Portland State’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions, we recently had the honor of co-hosting Van Jones for a student seminar, dinner and keynote at Portland State University. With experience as a serial social entrepreneur, social justice leader, NY Times best-selling author, CNN commentator and former Green Jobs advisor to President Obama, he has positively impacted millions of lives and changed social and political systems through his work.
In his student seminar, Van Jones addressed the intimate group as a friend. “You all seem kind of weird,” he said. “I feel right at home.” Jones responded to questions and quandaries that ranged from fundraising advice to pedagogical theory, the whole time speaking from the heart. It was an inspiring afternoon with a lot of laughs and even a few tears.Here are the top 5 social entrepreneurship tips we got from his talk:
- Do Something: Making a difference is harder than you think, but not as complicated as it seems. The way to make a difference is to do something. If you want to do something big, start small. If you start too big you will get paralyzed by it. For example: If you want to revolutionize education, start by teaching five kids something you know how to do.
- Salute Setbacks: Once you start doing something, if you do it long enough you will make a lot of mistakes. Everyone does, but you only ever hear about the successes. You will learn the most from the stuff that doesn’t work. Successes are important, but setbacks build character. Keep doing it over and over and you start to get results, staff and money. The next time around it will be easier.
- Get Out of the PC Thing: You can never be politically correct (PC) enough. No matter how much you are doing, people will attack you for what you don’t do. Focus on doing. If you try to do everything and help everybody, you will get paralyzed.
- Don’t Impress Yourself out of a Mentor. Competition is not the biggest motivator for people. Our strongest impulse is to nurture. Sometimes when seeking help, social entrepreneurs impress themselves out of a mentor. If you make yourself sound too successful or prepared, your potential mentor may not think you need their help. Share your successes, but also be willing to share your struggles. When someone helps you, they will want to keep helping you…for life.
- Know What Funders Want: You will need money. Other people have it. You need to know what they are looking for so they will give it to you. Funders are trying to identify three things: 1. That the problem is worth their time; 2. That your solution is plausible; 3. That you are the best person/team/organization to solve it.
Final thought: Our education system has taught us to be deconstructionists. We have become experts at breaking things apart and criticizing everything and everyone. We have forgotten how to bring people together to create and initiate solutions. We have to change this. Social entrepreneurship done correctly is about reconstructing, but we have to be willing to let all kinds of people in, find common ground and build together.
Do some of these ideas sound familiar? Helpful? What are your top 5 social entrepreneurship tips?
Check out more photos from our visit with Van Jones on our Facebook page: http://www.Facebook.com/PSUImpactEntrepreneurs
Check out Van Jones’ keynote from later that evening.
The Portland State University chapter of Net Impact, in conjunction with PSU’s Impact Entrepreneurs, is offering free consulting services for Oregon companies engaged in the B Corp certification or recertification process. This program will give graduate students valuable, hands-on experience working with mission-driven businesses, while providing companies with affordable assistance in improving their social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency, or achieving recognition for their current efforts.
The program will select teams of two to three PSU graduate students to work with the client over the course of a 10-week school term, providing up to 25 total hours of work (an estimated value of $3000) free of charge. The work can focus on the assessment portion of the process (assistance with answering the assessment questions, compiling or analyzing results, providing recommendations for next steps), or on tasks aimed at increasing the client’s assessment score, whether they are certifying for the first time or going through the recertification process. Students will be trained in B Corp Assessment methodology, and all work will be supervised by faculty.
Interested PSU graduate students should fill out this form to indicate their interest, or email Emma Ingebretsen (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Rich Schwartz (email@example.com) for more information. An informational meeting will be scheduled for the 2nd week of the fall term.
Interested companies should contact the PSU Net Impact project coordinators, Rich Schwartz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Emma Ingebretsen (email@example.com). The project coordinators will work to match the company with a student consulting team.
Want to learn more about B Corp Certification and Oregon B Corps? Attend B Inspired on October 15, 2015, to see B Corp leaders speak, join a street fair of local B Corps, and enjoy a concert and celebration.
About B Corps (from the B Corps website)
“B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk. B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Today, there is a growing community of more than 1,000 Certified B Corps from 33 countries and over 60 industries working together toward 1 unifying goal: to redefine success in business.”
About Net Impact – Portland State University Chapter
Net Impact is a global community of more than 60,000 students and professionals creating positive social and environmental change through their careers. Individual chapters are volunteer-led and self-directed. PSU’s Net Impact Chapter works to create opportunities for PSU graduate students to gain experience with mission-driven businesses and interact with sustainability-minded professionals. For more information on PSU’s Net Impact Chapter, or to get involved, follow us on Facebook or contact Emma Ingebretsen (firstname.lastname@example.org).
About Impact Entrepreneurs
Founded in 2010 in Portland State University’s School of Business Administration, Impact Entrepreneurs is unleashing the promise of business for social impact. We are a network of individuals and organizations committed to fostering economic, social, and ecological prosperity through entrepreneurial action.
Working with partners locally and globally, we deliver initiatives that strengthen organizations, build entrepreneurial impact-focused leaders, and catalyze social innovation. PSU’s School of Business was selected as the best small MBA program in the world by the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes rankings for integrating sustainability in business. PSU is also a member of the prestigious Ashoka U Changemaker Campus consortium.
“Follow your curiosity.” — Qiddist Hammerly
At PSU’s Impact Entrepreneurs, we’ve learned that there’s no best age for someone to become a changemaker. From early childhood to encore careers, changemaking and social entrepreneurship can be taught—and realized—at any age. As we expand our university and professional programs to younger members of the community, partnering with Catlin Gabel’s remarkable PLACE program was a natural fit. This year, we worked with PLACE to provide a series of workshops on developing key skills and mindsets for changemaking, including resilience, empathy, optimism, and curiosity.
These skills, linked to successful social entrepreneurs, are also highly desired by employers around the world. We worked with PLACE students using tools including the Business Model You framework and activities from the Transformative Action Curriculum. The students were also treated to a panel of youth changemakers, including the inspiring founders of menstrual hygiene nonprofit Camions of Care, rural clinic Orchid Health, youth prison book provider Liberation Library, and low-cost prosthetic device firm GO Prosthetics.
Students were asked to explore and outline their goals in life. By tying those to the social and environmental problems they care about, as well as the skills they need to create positive change, we hoped guide them to a better understanding of their purpose and how to follow that passion. The results were truly inspiring, from plans to run a community education session on sex trafficking at the new PLACE Center, to help immigrants pass the citizenship test, or simply to explore a newfound passion for changemaking.
When Qiddist Hammerly, a Catlin Gabel alumna and university student involved in Liberation Library, was asked where to start in making positive change, she suggested that students simply “follow their curiosity.” We’ve done the same as we work to teach social entrepreneurship to a younger audience than that of our typical adult workshops and university courses. Along the way, we’ve learned what to adapt (shorter lectures!), but more importantly, we’ve learned how much of what we teach is applicable for changemakers of any age.