Power to the Pacha People!

PachamamaLogoFullColor06022d2 Yesterday I had the amazing opportunity to attend the annual Pachamama Alliance fundraiser at Fort Mason in San Francisco (along with 1,500 of my closest friends!). If you're not familiar with the Pachamama Alliance, you have to check them out.

The Pachamama Alliance is an incredible organization with a two-fold mission:

  • To empower indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest to preserve their lands and culture, and
  • To educate and inspire individuals everywhere to bring forth a thriving, just and sustainable world.

I first learned about the Pachamama Alliance and its work with the Achuar tribe, an indigenous community located in the Ecuadorian rainforest, through my mom Janice. She’s been involved with Pachamama (and their maternal health off-shoot the Jungle Mamas) for the last couple of years, and she invited me to attend this year’s Luncheon.

And I am so glad I did! All I can say is it was an inspiring day of learning that literally left me with goose bumps.

The Pachamama Alliance has done so much important work creating a partnership between the modern world and the indigenous cultures whose land is being threatened by deforestation, natural resource depletion and modern development. And, from their call to action at the end of the event, there’s clearly a lot of work still to be done.

I encourage you to read through their Luncheon website www.pachapeople.org. They’ve posted a terrific overview of their work and their goals that will get you up to speed really quickly.

In order to make their message of sustainability accessible to everyone, the Pachamama Alliance has posted a live stream of their entire Luncheon online. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! (fyi: it actually starts around the 3:15 minute mark...)

Watch live streaming video from pachamama at livestream.com

And, just to put in a quick plug - at the end of the Luncheon you'll see amazingly dynamic Co-Founder Lynne Twist make an appeal for your financial support. I was certainly inspired enough at the end of the Luncheon to open my checkbook, and perhaps you will too?

Summit Recap: Women's Network for a Sustainable Future

WNSF LogoThis past week I was fortunate to attend a West Coast Sustainability Summit hosted by the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future. WNSF is a national association of women professionals who are passionate about integrating sustainability principles into their organizations and businesses.

This year’s second annual West Coast Businesswomen’s Sustainability Summit, hosted by IBM at the company’s Almaden Research Center, attracted over 200 professional women from a variety of companies and fields to discuss opportunities, challenges and best practices in corporate sustainability.

Through a diverse set of presentations and panels, including a keynote delivered by Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, WNSF managed to pack a ton of learning and questioning into just a few hours! For those of you not able to attend, I thought I’d provide my take on key learnings and themes from the day.

The morning started off with a short welcome from Ann Goodman, co-founder and executive director of WNSF. WNSF’s goal, she said, is to inspire and educate women and provide opportunities for women with similar interests to network with each other and create change within their companies. She asked the crowd to think through how we can prepare the next generation of women to take the helm in sustainability in business, and she said she hoped that Summit attendees would identify “a seed of an idea” during the conference that would later grow into a tangible difference made in our organizations.

From there my fellow participants and I were treated to a variety of talks and panels from some terrific sustainability professionals, with representatives from IBM, IDEO, Johnson Controls, Schneider Electric, Siemens Corporation, and others speaking about innovating through sustainability as well as integrating sustainable values and behaviors into an organization.

Certainly a highlight of the day was Nancy Sutley’s discussion of sustainability in the Federal Government. As someone who (admittedly) often thinks of sustainability only in a business context, I thought it was fascinating to hear Sutley’s take on what a sustainability or green agenda looks like in the government sector. And trust me: as Obama’s right-hand woman on all things environmental, Sutley should know!

“Sustainability is destined to grow in scale and stature,” Sutley said, “and the Federal Government has an obligation to lead by example.”

Nancy Sutley, Chair of White House Council on Environmental Quality

Throughout her talk, Sutley cited examples of how the Obama White House is taking “green” seriously, including the President's GreenGov Challenge (essentially a crowd-sourcing initiative among federal employees to identify opportunities to reduce waste and increase efficiencies within the government) and the recent publishing of over 50 sustainability reports by various Federal Agencies.

But perhaps my favorite example was Sutley’s description of the Department of Defense and its role in pushing its own sustainability agenda, including setting a goal to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020. Certainly the DoD doesn't always automatically come to mind when I'm thinking of sustainability, and yet Sutley says the department’s commitment to sustainability is actually deeply linked to the successful execution of the agency's mission.

In fact, Sutley said the Department of Defense has actually been very forward-thinking about sustainability, a surprise at first even to Sutley. As an example, the Department of Defense sees the transport of fuel to troops around the world as an increasingly crucial, and dangerous, operation. According to Sutley, when the DoD strategizes about fuel sourcing, transportation and threats, it’s impossible not to think about climate change and other related sustainability issues. The tactical application of sustainability, then, becomes a crucial consideration for the Department.

While Sutley’s examination of greening the Federal Government was definitely a standout, a number of other key themes emerged throughout the Summit:

  • Human Behavior Matters: Dr. Sharon Nunes, VP Smart Cities Strategy and Solutions at IBM, talked a lot about creating and understanding “value networks” in sustainable innovation. Rather than just focusing on innovation itself, Nunes stressed the importance of looking at all of the players and people that stand to gain/lose through the type of innovation you’re developing. How will this new technology or system affect the people who will use it? An example she gave was charging tolls for commuters who use highway systems during peak hours. You can deter people from driving on roads, but if you don’t have adequate infrastructure or access to public transportation as an alternative option, your plan to reduce car emissions won’t work. As she wisely said, “Innovation for sustainability will fail miserably if you don’t think about the people who are adopting it.”
  • Innovation is Messy - and Necessary: While Sharon Nunes discussed innovation at IBM, by far the best analysis of the topic was provided by self-proclaimed “innovation evangelist” Judy Estrin, serial entrepreneur and author of Closing the Innovation Gap. Through interviews with over 100 business innovators, Estrin developed what she calls the 5 Core Values of Innovation: Questioning, Risk, Openness, Patience and Trust. The way she sees it, balanced innovation (that is, innovating using all 5 core values represented in equal parts) has been on the decline for decades in this country, with people instead choosing to simply take quick risks (aka: the Great Financial Crisis of 2008). She also noted that in order to innovate, people and organizations have to be willing to invest in outcomes that are unknown, messy and potentially even a little uncomfortable. Ultimately, though, the ability to innovate speaks to our capacity for change – and as sustainability professionals, our job is all about change.

  • Green Job Creation: Although this only came up a couple of times, I thought the issue of green jobs was worth highlighting, if only because there did appear to be some consensus on the topic. Panelist Kimberly Hosken, Program Director of Green Building at Johnson Controls, said it best: in her opinion, her responsibility is to “green the people who already have jobs, not create new green jobs.” She said people often come to her looking for work in sustainability, and her response to them is “But what can you do?” As she put it: “You need a ‘thing’ that you can do, and then you can go and green that.” Nancy Sutley from the White House also confirmed this idea, and I even heard Summit attendees discuss the same idea in passing at lunch. Seems to be interesting advice for anyone looking to find work in this field!

As you can tell, it was an action-packed day filled with interesting insights and eye-opening takeaways (and honestly, this post just scratches the surface!).

Perhaps most importantly, I was keenly aware throughout the day of just how smart, engaged and networked these professional women were. Each attendee brought such a unique and intelligent perspective to the table, an insight that was especially obvious when WNSF broke us up into small brainstorm groups to discuss sustainability challenges facing each of us in our companies. In my opinion, the women (and the handful of brave men!) who came together last week at the Summit represent some of the best leaders and thinkers in sustainability today, and WNSF did a terrific job bringing us all together for learning, sharing and networking!

Thanks to WNSF for including me in this great conference – I hope to see many more faces at next year’s Summit!

Meeting Our Future Women Leaders

85BroadsBU This weekend I was lucky enough to be featured as a panelist at the third annual Boston University 85 Broads conference. The theme of the event was “Rising to the Top,” and it brought together an incredible group of professional and undergraduate women to learn from each other and network.

If you aren’t familiar with 85 Broads, a quick check of their website tells an interesting story:

85 Broads is a global network of 20,000 trailblazing women who are inspired, empowered, and connected.

The "founding members" of 85 Broads were women who worked for Goldman Sachs at 85 Broad Street, the investment banking firm's NYC headquarters. Over the past decade, 85 Broads expanded its membership to include women who are alumnae and students of the world's leading colleges, universities, and graduate schools worldwide. Our members are located in 82 countries around the world and work for thousands of for-profit companies and not-for-profit organizations.

As a graduate of an all-girls high school and a big proponent of creating leadership opportunities for women in business, I’ve always been curious about 85 Broads – which is why it was so exciting to be invited to present at the BU chapter’s annual conference.

The panel I participated in was for undergraduate women interested in pursuing nonprofit careers, and I was joined by two other panelists doing some incredible work:

  • Amma Sefa-Dedeh, executive director of One Hen (a very cool microfinance nonprofit here in Boston) and a recent Babson MBA graduate
  • Jenny Jordon, associate consultant at The Bridgespan Group (an off-shoot of Bain & Company that works specifically with nonprofit clients).

Amma, Jenny and I were there to talk about our experiences working in nonprofit leadership roles, discuss the various advantages and challenges of working in the nonprofit sector, and to answer questions from the young women in attendance.

For my part, I got the chance to talk about my work in fundraising, my interest in corporate social responsibility, and my decision to pursue an MBA. Many attendees were also interested to hear how I was using The Changebase to not only share ideas and create conversation, but also as a personal branding tool during my job search.

One particular question seemed to strike a chord not just for the women in the audience but for me as well.

An attendee asked about switching from the nonprofit sector to the corporate world, and vice versa: “Is it hard to make the switch” she wondered, “or do I need to pick one sector and stick with it?”

Given that I am a sector-switcher myself, this is something I tackle regularly in my cover letters and job applications. My feeling is that there’s nothing wrong with “switching sides” but you do need to be prepared to do a little extra hand-holding with potential employers. The experience and background that resonates with recruiters in one sector might not be what resonates with recruiters in another, so job seekers need to be prepared for this.

As Amma so insightfully put it: “Career switchers need to put in 200% extra effort” – whether you’re moving from one sector to another, or simply switching functions like going from engineering to finance, you need to be ready to work that much harder to get people to take a chance on you and your skills.

Certainly valuable advice for everyone in the room – even me!

In all I was incredibly impressed by the roughly 25-30 young women in attendance (dressed in suits on a Saturday no less!). Between the thoughtfulness of their questions and their passion for learning about and doing this important work, it was clear to me that these women are motivated to not only make social change, but to forge ahead in their own professional careers.

In my opinion, if the women in attendance are any indication of the quality of our future women leaders, I think we’re in good hands!

Don't Be Late. Period.

Recently, at The Feast conference, I was introduced to an organization called Sustainable Health Enterprises (aka: SHE). Elizabeth Scharpf, founder of SHE, was on-hand at the event to share with us how her organization uses market-based approaches to solve a seriously pressing problem.

But first: take a minute to think about what your life would look like in a developing country. For my part, it’s amazing how much I take for granted – whether it’s reliable electricity, supermarkets filled with fresh produce, a stable political system, or even just a roof over my head. In fact, I go through every day taking advantage of many basic necessities that others in the developing world would consider luxuries.

And I know I’m not alone in this. How many times have you stopped to wonder what your life would look like without internet access, for instance? Or, if you’re a woman, when was the last time you thought to yourself, what would I do if I didn’t have a sanitary pad or tampon to use?

Ok, yes, the topic can make some people feel squeamish, but in actuality this basic biological process has huge consequences for women and girls in the developing world: every 28 days their lives are completely disrupted by their menstrual cycles. This isn’t just a minor inconvenience we’re talking about – rather, SHE estimates that on average women in developing nations lose a total of 5 years of productivity over their lifetimes because they have their periods. Without sanitary protection, young girls can’t go to school and women can’t go to work, which ultimately means the entire community suffers.

Interestingly, Elizabeth and her team at SHE have developed a unique solution in which everyone wins. Take a look:


SHE's initial model involves funding women-owned business in Rwanda with enough capital to purchase banana trees (a bio-waste that farmers normally pay to have removed from their property). These women manufacture pads out of the fiber from these trees, and then sell the finished pads at reduced cost to other women in their community. Here’s the kicker: this business not only provides a clever solution to a basic problem, but it provides much-needed employment to other women. Initial revenues are first paid back to SHE, with any remainder going to build equity in the company. Once SHE starts recouping its initial funding, it’s able to lend it out again to other women. And the virtuous cycle continues.


Elizabeth is a true social entrepreneur whose venture produces a win-win for everyone involved. Don’t you just love these kinds of stories? If you want to learn more about SHE and support their work with a donation of $28, visit their website. Or, you can check out their blog to follow their progress. But hurry: their goal is to raise an initial $28,000 to fund their first start-up in Rwanda. They only need $10,000 more and the deadline is October 28th! Can you help them? As the video says, “Don’t be late. Period.”

The World is a Mess

There's an incredible video making its way around the internet called "The Girl Effect," and it starts with this statement: The World is a Mess. I've watched this short clip a bunch of times, and it never fails to give me chills. Check it out here:

Pretty powerful, isn't it?

As the video closes, a sentence comes up on the screen: "Invest in a girl and she will do the rest". This got me thinking: who out there is really investing in girls?

The good news is that a lot of organizations are. The Girl Effect is, in fact, a collaborative effort between the Nike Foundation, the Novo Foundation, and a handful of other international organizations. Beyond just this project, there are many other well-known NGOs also working to promote education and economic empowerment for women and girls around the world, including Room to Read and Heifer International (both of which have terrific girls' education and gender equity projects). Of those with a U.S. focus, two of my favorites are Girls on the Run and Girls Inc (more along the lines of girl empowerment and confidence building). In the end, it seems that a whole host of domestic and international organizations understand the value of putting girls first.

But this good news is, in my opinion, also the bad news. A quick search on Guidestar for nonprofits with the word "girl" in their title produced a list of 20,177 results. Ok, so I recognize that this isn't the most scientific of all surveys, but it raises a crucial question: At what point are there just too many nonprofits out there doing the same thing? Yes, in theory lots of organizations should mean more resources, more innovation, more impact--but does it? Or does this huge contingent of girls' organizations (or any kind of cause for that matter) simply dilute everyone's collective efforts? The nonprofit community seems divided on this one. While some folks clearly think that this redundancy concern is a non-issue, the topic of nonprofit mergers is increasingly on the front burner. Interestingly, a February 2009 Bridgespan Report stated that mergers should not just be a tool for nonprofits in tough times:

...nonprofit mergers often come about through default—due to financial distress or leadership vacuums. At the same time, relatively few nonprofits are using M&A strategically, as a way to strengthen organizations' effectiveness, spread best practices, expand reach, and to do all of this more cost-effectively. Yet the potential for M&A to create real value in the nonprofit sector exists, particularly if more philanthropists take on the mantle of matchmaker and help nonprofits explore and evaluate M&A opportunities.

To me, the idea of nonprofit mergers seems obvious: given the increasingly competitive fight for fundraising dollars, it makes sense that we'd be entering our own form of nonprofit natural selection, truly a "survival of the fittest." But therein lies the rub, as they say: how can organizations--already strapped for financial and staff resources--ensure that they have the skills and strategy in place to guarantee that these mergers are not doomed to fail from the outset? Looking back five years or ten years from now, what will we say made the difference between mergers that worked and those that didn't? 

And here's where you come in: what do you think about the issue of "too many" nonprofits? Are mergers the way to go? Do you have other examples of two organizations becoming one--and it being a success? I'd love to hear what you think.

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