SOCAP14: Q&A with Impact Weaver Award Winner Mary Voelbel

Mary VoelbelThe 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?

Mary Voelbel: I’m a Minnesota native with a penchant for social justice issues and a passion for international experiences. I earned my BA in Psychology from The Colorado College before launching my career as the Center Director for SCORE! Educational Centers in the Bay Area. Following my passion for travel and culture, I spent a year teaching English in Chile through the Ingles Abre Puertas program designed in collaboration by the United Nations and the Chilean Ministry of Education. Before returning to the U.S., I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina to continue my work in teaching, community outreach, and customer relations roles. After two and a half years working abroad, I had a soft landing back into the States, when I earned my Master’s in Human Development & Psychology from Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Upwardly Global brought me back to the Bay Area! We are a national nonprofit that connects highly skilled immigrant and refugee professionals with U.S. employers looking for global talent. There are 1.8 million skilled immigrants with the legal right to work, who are unemployed or severely underemployed — engineers that are driving cabs, accountants working as security guards and doctors working as nannies. Upwardly Global provides the training needed to navigate the U.S. job search and partners with employers to access this often hidden talent pool. We currently have offices in the Bay Area, Chicago, New York and Detroit and are serving job seekers through our online program in 40 different states.

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

MV: An “Impact Weaver,” or the role of middle management, is often times like changing the wheels on a moving bus. To get it done right, you need a fantastic team, creativity and trust. As the Bay Area Program Director, I manage the team locally and work collaboratively with my counterparts across the four offices – essentially giving me access to all the inner-workings of our organization.

Last year, Upwardly Global decided to move our program online. We recognized that to more effectively serve our job seekers out of the local offices and to reach job seekers outside of the four metro areas, this programmatic change was imperative. Having the option to access training online allows job seekers with children, transportation issues and survival jobs to continue to access, review and complete Upwardly Global’s trainings without the mandatory in-person training session. Sounds like a simple plan, but it was that “moving bus” in regard to national implementation requiring upgrading/adaptation of current systems and processes and creating staff buy-in across all levels of the organization.

The relationships an impact weaver holds and their ability to understand the organization from the top down is instrumental to addressing any given challenge. In the case of the online training implementation, “weaving” is what enabled us to address this business challenge — input was gathered from staff, job seekers were enlisted for feedback, buy-in was earned and all the relevant program pieces were woven together into a comprehensive plan.

With the support of the online training program, in the last 12 months alone, we have placed over 500 job seekers into professional positions and increased the annual income of struggling immigrant and refugee families by more than $20 million.

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

MV: Simply said — a social entrepreneur finds innovative ways to solve the world’s most intractable problems. What that means for me, is a life dedicated to creativity, social justice, and work with like-minded, amazingly talented and driven people. It’s clearly the place to be!

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

MV: I’m hugely excited to network with the other conference attendees. There are so many interesting and innovative initiatives going on and I can’t wait to learn about them. I hope to leave the conference with new personal and professional contacts as well as a revived sense of confidence that together we can find and implement solutions to our world’s toughest challenges.

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

There are so many challenges to overcome and a year is a very short period of time, but I’m going to go big picture with this question. There are 1.8 million immigrants that have the legal right to work but are unemployed or severely underemployed. At the same time, there are 3 million open positions in the U.S. and the vast majority of the positions are requiring skills that employers are having a hard time finding. This is a problem with at least one simple solution – we need to recognize skilled immigrants and refugees as a valued source of talent.

Weaving, on a national loom with government, employers, and community members, will make a difference. It’s time to lift this pool of talent from barely surviving to thriving for the good of all. If we do this, together, we will have thousands of families with strong providers, reduce the need for government benefits, and ensure the U.S. will continue to attract the brightest and the most ambitious. A year from now, my hope is that Upwardly Global will be in all 50 states and immigrant professionals will be rebuilding their careers in exponential numbers. Find out if UpGlo is in your state! To get involved or learn more go to

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

You will find me biking through the Presidio, hiking near Tomales Bay, or with friends at my favorite brunch locale in the city.

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.

Leave a Reply