SOCAP14: Q&A with Impact Weaver Award Winner Lindsey Engh

Lindsey EnghThe first annual Impact Weaver Award recognizes the internal leaders that work behind the scenes to build the team and operational infrastructure that make up a successful organization.

Friday Consulting, in partnership with Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) launched this award to recognize the unsung heroes of social entrepreneurship. Friday Consulting’s Founder, Shivani Ganguly, notes, “We frequently praise the founders of social enterprises for their vision and willingness to take on the challenges and great risks that come along with building a successful venture. However, we tend to forget about the internal leaders that build the team and make the hundreds of strategic and tactical decisions needed to bring the vision to fruition.”

Triple Pundit: Congratulations on winning this year’s Impact Weaver Award! Can you tell us a little bit about you and your company?

Lindsey Engh: Hi! I’m Lindsey, and I’m lucky enough to work with an incredible team to make Impact Hub Seattle a reality. Our revenue model is based on coworking, events, and educational workshops, but at our core we are a community of individuals working at the intersection of technology and social good. We believe that strong human relationships underline everything we do, and we also recognize that everyone has a unique set of skills and passions that, when recognized and activated, can change their sense of self-worth, which in turn, changes the world one person at a time. Our mission is to equip every individual who walks through our doors with the tools they need to make their most impact possible.

As for myself, most of my time is spent at Impact Hub — I’m a co-founder and manage most day-to-day operations. I’m pretty easily excited by a delicious Jasmine Pearl tea, T-shirt cycling weather, excellent non-fiction, my bike, going to bed early and waking up even earlier (4 a.m.!), dancing, and a cozy grey Seattle day spent curled up reading.

3p: How has weaving has helped you solve business challenges? Can you share an example?

LE: The biggest lesson I’ve learned in entrepreneurship is that you can’t do everything. As an internal leader, the most important thing I can do to make Impact Hub Seattle into a success is hire for my weaknesses, and then make sure that I wake up every day asking myself two questions: 1) What can I do to clear a path for my people? 2) How can I further work myself out of a job?

One quick example: Working in the social sector can be tough, because you have long hours and big demands coupled with mediocre monetary compensation. Many times, the people who choose to work in the social sector do so because they truly care about the mission — but as a leader, it’s important to remember that no one is 100 percent altruistic, and if you don’t remember that your team members are people with personal ambitions and goals, you may run the risk of burning them out. At our annual team retreat, we ask everyone to come prepared to share their selfish motivations for working at Impact Hub with the rest of the team — their selfish motivations are the completely non-altruistic, 100 percent selfish reasons why they wake up every morning to do the work they do. We write them down and then post them in our office. Whether those motivations are increased speaking opportunities to expanding their current community to the ability to use Impact Hub to launch their own ventures or interests, both as a team and as internal leaders, we make sure to put each other in positions where our selfish motivations are realized on a consistent basis.

3p: What does it mean to you to be a social entrepreneur?

LE: We actually tend to shy away from the term social entrepreneur, as we find that the description is a bit exclusive because people need to self-identify as such. When we were first starting Impact Hub Seattle, we met so many incredible people whom we thought were social entrepreneurs, but they didn’t think of themselves that way! That being said, sometimes a buzzword does help to refine a new way of thinking; I think the buzzwords around social enterprise have helped give rise to a new way of thinking about business.

Consider this: Fifty years ago, increased profitability was the only growth pattern a company should have. Fast forward twenty years, and the term social enterprise was coined by Bill Drayton. Of course, social enterprises existed before that term was coined, but the creation of that buzzword helped give rise to a public conversation, and then to a new trend in business that hadn’t been there before. In the last ten years, we’ve seen huge growth in self-identified social enterprises all around the world, and those buzzwords like ‘social entrepreneur’ and ‘social enterprise’ have became part of the public psyche, making it easier for traditionally corporate companies to shift their thinking about profit and what that means in different ways.

To me, social enterprise refers to business as it should be – human-centric, problem-based instead of solution-based (meaning that a business idea grows organically because the problem exists first), the mission is long-term growth instead of a short-term acquisition, the company considers their impact on people from all ends of the supply chain (from their employees to their customers), and a company where ‘profit’ is a multi-faceted equation that includes both real dollars earned and individual impact as two metrics to measuring overall profit. To me, being a social entrepreneur means being a pragmatic optimist – understanding and working within the current realities and confines of the systems around you, but keeping that ideal version of the world as you believe it should be in front of you at all times.

3p: So, you’ve won a pass to this year’s SOCAP conference! What do you hope to gain by attending?

LE: Quality time spent with other Impact Hub founders and doers and shakers in the impact realm! The value of a network inherently lies in the people who are in that network, so I’m looking forward to conversations with the people apart of this network that will help me reflect, learn and grow.

3p: What challenge (business, environmental, social) do you hope to have solved by this time next year?

Disclaimer: This challenge will probably not be solved by this time next year, but we’re definitely having fun thinking through it!

So much of our work in the social sector is a long-term investment with little to no short-term returns, and I want to change that. Creating human-centric products and services that are focused on growing human capital instead of purely profit is the most sustainable way to create a business, because we humans are the ones making decisions with our time and cash — but in today’s current systems, it’s hard to create sustainable companies that focus on providing those types of products because they just don’t make money! I’d like to create more opportunities in this sector that provide real short-term return (i.e. CASH $$$), but that still focus and build on long-term vehicles for utilizing human capital (i.e. empowering each individual to make their biggest impact possible). How are we going to do this? You’ll just have to keep up with us, and wait and see!

3p: What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday?

LE: Up and at ’em early – usually yoga first with a smoothie to finish, then finding a cozy window at my favorite cafe to do some quiet, no interruption work, and finishing the day with some good food, friends, and dance.

More information about the Impact Weaver Award is available in the press release.

Image courtesy of Friday Consulting 

Jen Boynton

Jen Boynton is editor in chief of TriplePundit and editorial director at 3BL Media. With over 6 million annual readers, TriplePundit is the leading publication on sustainable business and the Triple Bottom Line. Prior to TriplePundit, Jen received an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. In her work with TriplePundit she's helped clients from SAP to PwC to Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

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