The Importance of Incorporating Purpose and Impact Into Organizations
I recently interviewed Melissa Jun Rowley for the Ellevate Podcast. During our conversation, Melissa shared her journey from almost having to file for bankruptcy to working with Peter Gabriel, her experiences with groundbreaking entrepreneurs from across the globe, and how technology can be used for positive social impact. She also shared how organizations can incorporate purpose and impact without it becoming a distraction, flipping the script on social impact, as well as her experiences with diversity in tech.
Melissa Jun Rowley is someone whom I really admire. Through her work, she is providing a lens into a world that we don't usually look at, and certainly don't often connect the dots between — entrepreneurship, tech for good, how the work that we create serves a higher purpose.
Something that Melissa talked about that truly stood out to me is that technology is an ecosystem. You've got funders, customers, entrepreneurs, partners and as we expand to a global landscape, all of the awareness-building, trust-building, and relationship-building must be centered around moving the ecosystem forward towards creating a more significant societal impact.
Melissa was born in South Korea, adopted when she was five months old, and grew up in Michigan. She always knew she wanted to be a journalist and after some fun career twists and turns, she moved to San Francisco and started covering tech. As Melissa says,
I started meeting really interesting entrepreneurs who were harnessing technology for social impact. This is when social enterprise, started to become more of a buzz word back in 2009.
Melissa started pitching ideas to Mashable and other publications to write about tech for good and then started creating a community around that intersection of technology for social impact.
Melissa became a consultant and worked with Peter Gabriel on the Toolbox, a platform that curated mobile apps that addressed humanitarian issues, and human rights. This inspired Melissa to started visiting different countries to learn about their entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Melissa defines tech for good as,
technology that is harnessed to have a positive impact in a group of people's community, whether that be a marginalized community in the US or halfway around the world. Tech that's used to alleviate poverty, that's used to level the playing field, that's used to create opportunities for people that don't normally have them. Anything around financial inclusion, anything around education, health.
Melissa is tapping into different entrepreneurial ecosystems in developing countries and working with entrepreneurs there to help them build their companies and also incorporate more purpose and impact into their operations. As Melissa states,
I think that companies when they hear social impact or they hear corporate social responsibility or they hear social enterprise, they think,‘Oh,well, this means that, that... That's a bit too flowery. That's a bit too granola or kumbaya for me.’ But I think companies can have a positive impact, not just in their product or service, but in their operations.
Melissa shared a story of how she joined a group of colleagues in Beirut to do a pilot program in which they created a curriculum based on the lean startup method — getting to your minimal viable product out as quickly and efficiently as you can. People weren't allowed to move to the next step until they had determined how they're going to have a positive impact or be more sustainable in each part of their process, each part of building the company. Melissa wanted to flip the way we're looking at Positive Impact.“It doesn't just need to be a water sanitation device, it doesn't need to be an Ed-tech service or platform, it can simply be that you're hiring certain people in a community that don't normally have access to jobs, it can be, you're only using clean energy to run your company. There are so many other ways that you can do something positive and put the energy back into your community that you're in.”
Personally, I'm an investor and an advisor for start-ups, and I often see the execution of social impact within startups can be a distraction in the sense that instead of layering social impact into everything that a company does, it's oftentimes and afterthought. For example, companies that may donate money to a cause in order to check a box (which isn’t terrible but…) instead of layering that ethos into every aspect of the business.
Melissa knows that companies that do have strong business models can incorporate positive impact in their operations or in their hiring practices or in the energy they use. She shares,
“So whether it's like we said, the using clean energy or hiring people in different communities, making diversity an integral part of their DNA, diversity inclusion are buzz words right now, but they're not gonna go anywhere because it's becoming more and more important. Especially with new technologies, proliferating the landscape. Tech for good is becoming bigger, and when it comes to large corporations, their diversity inclusion is more at the forefront of what people are at least thinking about.”
Listen to my full podcast interview with Melissa.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Kristy Wallace is the CEO of Ellevate Network, and is responsible for executing Ellevate Network’s mission to close the gender achievement gap in business by providing professional women with a global community to lean on and learn from. She directs the Network’s staff, is responsible for business growth and strategy, and works closely with Ellevate's Chapter Leaders, Business Partners, and Champions to further Ellevate's impact. Kristy is host of the Ellevate Podcast: Conversations with Women Changing... Continue Reading
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