By: Traci Picard
November 4, 2016
I’m sitting in the Rhode Island Foundation’s beautiful space, sky outside going from late afternoon to dusk to night. I’m surrounded by elegant people, leaders with presence who speak eloquently about their cause. And I realize, it’s not just those of us in attendance, physically, who are “here”. Each of these speakers represents many more.
From their founders to their boards, from their employees to their funders. Most importantly, each represents the people they serve.
They are standing up there, holding the mic, with the silent backing of all who have set foot in a clean Narragansett Bay or signed on to an ethical micro-loan.
And that is what leadership means. Standing up there, sharing, speaking not just on your own behalf, not just about your own cause, but for others too. Leaders carry every story forward, absorb it into their mission.
And these leaders are also sharing the personal challenges they’ve faced along the way. The theme of the night was capacity, which appeared again and again via the word “infrastructure”. I had a sense of their vulnerability when they talked about asking for help.
These stories they are telling were hard-earned, and they are sharing not just with the audience but with each other, the other leaders speaking today. There is power in being honest about our challenges and failures in front of those who have power–power to fund us and promote our organization, to those who may volunteer or seek our help as well as the media.
I was left feeling how much we are connected, mutually dependent on each other. Organizations need people to serve. Funders need organizations. We all need the money, the skillsets and the processes.
I was excited to hear from two speakers with a connection to the Social Enterprise Greenhouse. Keith Cooper of Beautiful Day is a member of the SEG HUB, our co-working space. His life has taken him all over the world, but he calls Providence home, and he came to his current work by way of a job at The International Institute.
He talked about his product, handcrafted granola and granola bars. The Providence Granola Project is an entry point to their social mission to provide on the job training to recently arrived refugees. “The great thing about a product is, it gave people a simple way to get involved.” The program moves the learning process out of an official “classroom” and into a workspace, which shows his understanding of what wasn’t working in refugee education programs.
Beautiful day doesn’t just educate refugees, though. Keith’s work is also educating the community about the refugee experience. “The great thing about a product is, it gave people a simple way to get involved.” He says about outreach, “If [customers] like it and they see that this is made by someone [who is a refugee] that they may feel a little threatened by, it opens a door.”
Andrew Posner is the founder and CEO of Capital Good Fund, a past Impact Accelerator participant and recipient of SEG’s Loan Fund. His mission is providing access to financial services and financial education in order to address cycles of poverty. He described how a great idea alone isn’t enough to create the level of change many of us dream of–it requires infrastructure. “A lot of us in the non-profit world, we put out a product that is really great, at least in our minds, and we think people should just go out and get it.” Throughout the audience, knowing nods followed.
The Capital Good Fund has also built its capacity with the help of the Rhode Island Foundation, and Posner was very clear on the improvements that followed. What I heard from him is that we need to do the work to know who we are serving, and what they actually need.
We also heard from The Center for Dynamic Learning, Day One, RI Latino Arts, Providence After School Alliance and Save the Bay. As the talks continued, one theme that emerged over and over was mission. This theme was summed up well by Rhode Island Foundation’s Senior Vice President of Strategy and Community Investments Jessica David, “It start and ends with mission. You all really just brim over with mission.”
And she’s right. In order to build capacity and strengthen our organizations through the growth and upheaval that this brings, mission remains vital to keeping us grounded. And that’s the key to moving forward with non-profit and social enterprise projects–remember why we are doing the work, return to what brought us to the table in the first place.
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Venture Development Assistant
Traci Picard is a VISTA serving as Venture Development assistant here at SEG. She comes from the world of alternative health, running a small herbal business and teaching classes like Critical Thinking for Herbalists and Asking Better Questions. Traci is also a writer pursuing a Journalism degree, a mother of 3 and a passionate fan of books and the Public Library. Born in Providence, she has lived all over but continues to return home.