Yesterday was the most important day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah, the New Year holiday ten days before, is effectively a preparation for Yom Kippur. And the entire month before Rosh Hashanah, Elul, is baked full of traditions meant to ready us for Rosh Hashanah. In other words, Yom Kippur is so important we have to prepare to prepare and then to prepare! For over a month!
And what is the essence of all these preparations?
Reflection. Yom Kippur is often translated as the “day of atonement.” It’s a day of holding ourselves accountable, of taking a real good look at our actions over the past year, of doing what we can to right wrongs, of resolving to do better in the future. It is a process at once deeply personal and communal. But doing that emotional work with honesty can’t be done in a day. We gotta prepare to prepare.
Asking questions has been a big part of this year’s preparation for me. What does it really mean to hold myself accountable? How much responsibility do I place on my own shoulders when it comes to big systemic wrongs like climate change? Inequality? What does it mean to apologize for those things? What does resolving to do better actually look like? Is it ever enough?
I share all that not to now pose answers (sorry! don’t have them!), but to give you some sense of where my head has been, to share why the goal I’m sharing with you all for this CPA Incubator is all about reflection. I also want to apologize to all of you that I’m publishing this a day late! I’m so sorry! Thank you for reading this now.
And Here it is!
Identify: In the next 6 weeks, write a new draft of my personal theory of practice
I have been drafting different versions of what I learned in grad school to call my “personal theory of practice” (PTOP) for over a year. My last version dates back several months, and a ton has happened since – I graduated, I spent six weeks in a Jewish meditation program, I began work with CPA – to name a few. I’ve learned a ton, and my PTOP needs an update!
What is a PTOP, you ask? A PTOP is an articulation of my best thinking at this point about the values, intentions, methods, ongoing questions, and reflections that guide my work as a professional and as a human.
2. Benefits: The basic theory behind this is that we all have theories, sets of experiences, values, and methods that inform our actions. Many of these remain tacit and unexamined (think behavioral economics). Articulating a PTOP is a process of shedding light on my own personal theories, which allows me to check my assumptions and develop aspirations. The PTOP can then be used as a tool to help make decisions and to cross-check against actions, to better align intentions with the actual effects I have in the world. In the context of my CPA work now, I find that having all this articulated can really help communicate about my work with CPA in a way that builds trust. It also, as I do this work of building, gives me a tool to ensure my work and my values continue to align and that I’m more fully harnessing the lessons I’ve learned from past experiences.
3. Challenges: Time and prioritization! Reflection is often the first thing to go when time runs short because it is not as urgent as other priorities. I’ve definitely been feeling that this last month. A great example is me publishing this post after the deadline
4. Skills and knowledge required: I have all that I need for right now. I am enough! The PTOP is perpetually in draft form, as I’m always learning.
5. People to work with: All of you! As well as other colleagues, teachers, and friends. We exist in relation to one another, so personal reflection needs to have a social component.
6. Plan of action: I will set aside 1 hour each week to write, in addition to time spent on CPA prompts and in conversation.
I am choosing two micro-goals that will serve our partners whether or not we move forward with a CPA cooperative.
Goal One: Get to know 3-5 local print shops owned by people of color or women. Learn about their services, capacity and reputation.
Goal Two: Find a source of ethically grown and produced coffee, ideally available through a locally owned business, preferably owned by people of color or women.
BENEFITS 1. Printer Goal: Being able to respond to an anchor partner request for recommendations of local printers that embody community wealth building principles. In addition, we recently learned that printing services are a common expenditure that staff at one of our higher education anchors charge on their employer-issued credit card. The bulk of their business is currently going to corporate printers. The on-campus corporate print shop closed recently, so staff are receptive to recommendations right now.
In addition to meeting an anchor partner request, accomplishing this goal will allow us to address another low-hanging fruit when it comes to shifting the buying practices of our institutional partners, plus we will drive new business to locally-owned shops.
[Aside: Sadly, P&L Printing, Denver’s only worker-owned, union print shop went out of business a few years ago. It had been our number one choice of print shops for a number of years. If P&L were still in existence today, it is very likely that through the Center for Community Wealth Building and the Colorado Solidarity Fund, they could have accessed the support they needed to keep their business viable. Their closure was a big blow to the very nascent community wealth building movement in Denver, not to mention the young worker owners of the company.]
2. Coffee Goal: The Colorado Episcopal Church has started gathering data on common purchases across parishes and has been promoting the idea of aligning church purchases with their social and economic justice values. It turns out that most of their 104 parishes host regular Coffee Hours, consuming a considerable amount of coffee while enjoying time for fellowship. Starting with a well-established and fun Church tradition seems like an ideal way to connect a lot of parishioners to what this effort is about.
OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME 1. Competing demands on my time 2. My distaste for getting in my car and dealing with traffic 3. My lack of knowledge about either of these industries 4. Getting solid information on quality of printing companies’ services 5. Needing to get data from the Church on pounds of coffee required, price point, number of shipping locations, etc.
SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE REQUIRED 1. Research skills 2. Knowledge about the coffee industry 3. Knowledge about current coffee demand and requirements of parishes (identify # of parishes) 4. Cold calling skills
PEOPLE AND GROUPS TO WORK WITH 1. Metropolitan State University – get info on printing businesses frequented by staff. 2. Good Business Colorado, Small Business Majority, Colorado Minority Business Office, Black Chamber, Hispanic Chamber, Women’s Chamber, B Lab – identifying printers or coffee roasters 3. Episcopal Church of Colorado, Paul Alexander – specifics on current coffee purchasing practices 4. Center for Community Wealth Building interns or VISTA volunteer – maybe some help with the research 5. Colleagues in the nonprofit sector – printer recommendations
PLAN OF ACTION
Printers 1. During 10/10/19 Denver Anchor Network procurement check-in call, ask participants where they take their printing business 2. Develop matrix to collect information on printers 3. Follow-up on three leads that Yessica provided 4. Contact Chambers of Commerce and small business partner organizations for referrals 5. Investigate specific print shops (prioritizing based on community wealth building priorities) to learn about the services they provide; price points; and reputation. 6. Visit shops of interest and meet the owners 7. Develop list of “preferred” printers Note: If appropriate, we will continue to build a relationship with these printers to explore their engagement as a preferred co-op vendor.
See if Paul thinks it is a good idea to see if any parishioners are interested in joining this fun project to align the Church’s coffee supplier with Church values. If that seems like a good idea, get the word out over the next couple of months through Church communication channels. Plan to meet with interested individuals in mid-January. If this isn’t a good approach, then I will start working on my own in December. I like the idea of engaging volunteers to ignite their imaginations and to potentially build a core group that is interested in helping advance this agenda. 2. Learn about the different factors important to consider in terms of aligning coffee purchases with values of racial equity, social and economic justice, environmental sustainability 3. Learn about Church’s coffee consumption and current purchasing practices 4. Research local bulk coffee providers 5. Identify 1-4 to visit, based on community wealth building priorities 6. If there are good local options, discuss bulk purchasing options/requirements 7. If local options don’t exist, research Equal Exchange, Pachamama Coffee Cooperative, Just Coffee Co-op, etc.
DEADLINE FOR ACHIEVEMENT Printing business identification: end of January 2020 Coffee vendor identification: end of February 2020, if working alone. April 1, 2020 if working with a volunteer committee.
Goal#1: Create a business plan for an energy company
Before I get to goal #1, my goal #0.5 is to assess the feasibility of starting an energy company that could grow to scale. I need to have an informed idea of what it would take before I can decide whether I feel that I’m willing and/or able to go any further.
So then, based on the results of the initial assessment, I will determine whether my goal of developing a formal business plan for the venture is worth pursuing (i.e. whether it would be worth the investment additional time, research, and resources to prepare a formal business plan).
As I mentioned in my video, I have very mixed feelings about my day job. I’m not sure that this is the space to go into details about why and how the systems that frame the context of my work with nonprofit business support providers and CDFIs are fundamentally broken, but in short, I will say that our work does little to fundamentally challenge the reality that many of the women and minority-owned businesses that we serve are not profitable, cannot grow to scale, lack access to capital and real estate, do not set up their businesses in ways that promote community wealth building, etc.
Through my work, I am complicit in abetting and perpetuating the broken systems and status quo manifested in the outcomes that I just described. My motivation for wanting to start an energy company-and, as a first step, achieve this goal- is that I feel deeply that it’s not enough to say that I wish for an alternative; I have to build the alternative and/or support others who are building it.
To be honest, I would LOVE to ride someone else’s coattails on this. But where is that someone with a vision and commitment to trying this to be found?
In the absence of having identified him/her yet, I can only take it upon myself to satisfy 1) my curiosity about whether this is feasible and 2) my desire to create the reality which I wish to see.
Obstacles Me. I can easily be held back by “what ifs” or “I can’ts”. However, I feel that this 6-week incubator is the perfect opportunity to put my doubt, fear, analysis paralysis and all of the other junk that tends to hold me back aside to allow my values, imagination, curiosity, and intuition to lead me towards my goals.
Time. It takes time- sacrificing one of the most valuable and seemingly scarce goods that I have- to do the necessary research to draft the first informal assessment and even more to do the formal business plan. Am I committed enough to silence my fears and doubts and sacrifice time to do the work?
Skills and Knowledge Required
Knowledge of existing models for such ventures and of other possibilities that deviate from what’s been done before
An understanding of the technology and how one builds/manages an energy company. What is the required infrastructure? Knowledge? Technology? What is the potential profitability and sustainability of such a venture?
Long term: the ability to motivate others to join me as partners and investors
People & Groups
People and groups who could help me along the way towards this goal are:
My CPA cohort members
My friends Ale and Yannick
The network of local TA and resource providers that I manage through my day job
Plan of Action
Clearly outline the components that I need to cover in my feasibility assessment
Create a list of people that I need to talk to + reach out to them (Jonathan, Carrie, and Felipe are already on the list )
Create a list of books/articles that I need to read for research purposes
Identify which TA providers in my network would be most helpful to coach me along through the process, depending on the results of the feasibility analysis
Deadline for Achievement
The deadline for the initial feasibility assessment is in 5 weeks (the end of this program).
The deadline for the formal business plan, should it come to that is… maybe Spring 2020? It will depend on which TA provider I need to work with.
Goal#2: Plant Seeds of Interest about the CPA Model
My goal is to transform expectations around how and why businesses operate. For me, that looks like aiming to model a different way of doing business at scale by actually building a business (as in, goal #1). It also looks like talking with other socially-minded folks to consider how they can use business as a vehicle to advance their missions in ways that are more financially sustainable than grants and donations.
In practice, this goal looks like me having conversations with x number of community activists, people in my network through work, and/or influencers about CPA’s model and maybe other models.
I get to plant seeds of interest and inspire leaders to do something without actually having to take the lead on doing the something myself.
Skills & Knowledge Required
Charisma to motivate others
How to make my message compelling
Who are the right people to reach out to?
People & Groups
Folks from organizations in my network such as the Center for Community- Based Enterprise, Wayne State University’s Social Enterprise Certificate program, etc.
My co-worker Jamii
Plan of Action
Refine my list of 3-5 people with whom I’d like to share the information
Gather enough information to actually make a useful presentation/give substantive information and insights
Seek out speaking opportunities and/or invite the people on my list to coffee, etc.
Deadline for Achievement
Within the month following the end of the Incubator, I want to have scheduled my coffees and applied to speaking opportunities to share the information that I’ve gained.
One of the reasons I am so ready for this incubator is that I have been avoiding myself. I’ve been avoiding the hard questions, and certainly avoiding the necessary reflection required to answer them. I initiated my current trajectory at a time where I felt very sure of myself. I wrote my narrative and put my Self on autopilot. I didn’t account for personal change. I didn’t account for personal growth.
Despite the inevitability of key life events transpiring in the almost ten years since I first started formulating my outdated plan, I let my momentum from a decade ago carry me into the present. And the weight of accumulating beliefs that don’t serve me are slowing me down. That momentum is dwindling (or has dwindled). This incubator is my confrontation with my biggest fear: fear of conflict. In this case, an absurd conflict, which is a conflict with myself.
Over the next few weeks, I commit to let myself question and answer myself. My question will be – how might I let my intersecting identities guide me to fulfilling work, and not overwhelm me? I will start exploring this question by establishing two related goals that sprout from my identities as a business co-owner, a woman of color, entrepreneur, sustainability professional, and tired person. These identities do not exist in isolation of themselves, but I need a stake in the ground to start.
THE GOAL: My tangible goals will be:
To convert PizzaPlex to a worker-owned company (an already stated, public-facing goal, but repeating it reinforces its priority to the business)
To establish a network of women interested in investing in women- and POC-owned businesses, including those business leaders
This second goal has been a nebulous idea in my mind that I have yet to socialize publicly or fully formulate! “Establish” can be vague – in this case, I mean assemble, develop a value proposition, and proceed with activating the network only if tangible value to other women and communities of color can be confirmed.
THE BENEFITS: The benefits I perceive of worker ownership are to redistribute wealth to all the people who tirelessly strive to make a small business first exist and then thrive, and then to return wealth back into the community who serves as our gracious host. I have the privilege to start a business as an entrepreneur outside of my primary livelihood. I am convinced that democratic decision-making – involving not only the staff but the adjacent ecosystem of partners and neighbors – is at the heart of “good business.” For me, there’s a selfishness in proving this – because it benefits the people putting in the work and establishes a business model that can be transferred to other enterprises of which I am a part or will start myself. I would never call this business an experiment, because that word could trivialize its meaning. So I’ll say that I want this template to succeed, and I want to apply it to new networks I create – including one established for women who want to transform their local economies.
I develop programming for women-led organizations to some degree at my “day job.” I want to make my life’s work about investing in women, who invest in their families and communities, and who in turn can develop sustainable and equitable neighborhoods, organizations, businesses, and governments together. The goal for now isn’t about life’s work. It’s about establishing a small nurturing network first.
OBSTACLES: For PizzaPlex, the obstacle is succeeding as a conventional business to achieve our social enterprise goals. We will not convert to a worker-owned business when one of the primary things to “own” at the moment is liability from our day-to-day business operations. Hence, when we break even and start generating profit, we will share the profits, and formally re-write our articles of organization to reflect “ownership” by the full team driving our small but mighty engine. Acknowledging the fundamental challenges of growing a small business (let alone one trying to restructure itself!) as an obstacle expresses my sincere desire to operate a transparent business. A social enterprise needs to be a conventionally successful business to achieve its mission. I have nothing but gratitude for all the people and organizations who are taking this plunge with me.
For a network of women investors and investees, the obstacle is establishing feasibility and relevance. Is this desire to connect with and drive the good work of other women relevant to other women? Is this needed? Aren’t there an abundance of these organizations, initiatives, spaces? I need to affirm that there’s a desire for this concept first. Sometimes, my dual roles as a business co-owner and a person who simultaneously thinks about what social enterprises need to succeed, can conflate and contradict each other, and expand my examination lens to a point of dissolving purpose. (This is a fine example of intersecting identities overwhelming me.)
SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE REQUIRED: Our team at PizzaPlex is striving to figure out the business formula. And we are learning this through trial and error. But how long can our runway sustain trial and error? We consistently update projections and adapt our business plan to reveal what needs to change operationally to lead to growth. At the same time, we need to know the nuts and bolts of what a conversion looks and feels like. (The next part addresses that – who our local experts are to guide us through this!)
As for developing a network, the skills and knowledge required include ability to conduct real market research through transparent and open, vulnerable conversation: what’s the real need? Is this Ale waxing philosophical about something she wants in a vacuum? I also will be served by the ability to make meaningful connections that will accelerate the beginning of or growth of an enterprise, and the ability to raise funds or other necessary resources.
THE PEOPLE AND GROUPS WHO CAN HELP: For PizzaPlex, we have a couple of trusted key partners who already help. These are the Center for Community Based Enterprise (C2BE) and the Detroit Community Wealth Fund. These are local experts on cooperatives, social enterprises, and worker ownership. Another third party review that would benefit us at this stage is from a finance professional who also understands the dynamics of operating a business with an integrated social and environmental mission. We must holistically evaluate the impacts of our decisions.
For a network of women interested in seeing their business thrive or the businesses of other women thrive – the people and groups who can help are aspiring and existing business owners, investors, technical experts, women willing to serve as mentors, and these groups’ allies. The same groups supporting PizzaPlex are likely to be wonderful partners for a nurturing network.
PLANS OF ACTION:
Create systems and infrastructure that reduce extra labor on staff; find ways to maximize their effort at work so they enjoy work more and worry less. This looks like me, Ale, actually observing tasks, writing policies, and enabling behaviors that make staff happier
Continuously tweak our business model to identify areas of improvement, and then improve them – this may mean finding new businesses opportunities or paring down existing operations to optimize
Leverage our partners to develop the groundwork for our conversion more actively (i.e. ask for more help, and respond to their questions more quickly!)
For this so-called network (better word forthcoming, I promise):
Interview at least ten women entrepreneurs, investors, technical experts, and community leaders for feedback on this concept
Convene these women if there is an established need (and cook for them and feed them to thank them!)
Collectively identify roles of interest for these women, and plan next steps together in celebration
DEADLINES: PizzaPlex will be a worker-owned business by the end of 2020. I will establish this network (placeholder word) by May 2020.
RS – I am in awe at how your comments prompted me to dig deeper. And, in fact, that’s the biggest takeaway from reflecting on my two goals since publishing them – that I deserve to carve out time for more reflection, and communicate what my reflection yields in what I write. I am also grateful for the way your questions nudge me to break big goals into small steps, and to work backwards from there. Each small step corresponds to a digestible question, so I will blend my own reflection time with self-questioning. Sometimes, admittedly, I’m not clear what to ask. Seeing your questions (and suggestions!) in writing has been very fulfilling, and I can go back to them to reference.
I’ve started tackling my plans of action and have had some really energizing conversations this past week that are moving me in a very hopeful direction. I am extremely thankful to have so many incredible women in my life (the people with whom I’ve connected in association with my goals this week are all women) and I recover so much strength from spending time with them.
Goal: Create a “strategic” plan for IDEA 3.0 in the next six weeks that charts the pathway for our school to become a leader in the field of career and technical education. Ideally, this plan would also launch the Big IDEA Coop that serves as a hyper-local incubator for any idea. Coop projects would be vetted (and eventually funded) with this protocol.
Goals: My goal is two-fold–first, by January 31, 2020, I want to have 15-20 faith and/or nonprofit leaders on board with the CPA concept and second, by December 31, 2019, I want to have further refined our timeline and business plan for a CPA model.
Obstacles: The greatest obstacle to this plan is time. I (and by extension PRC, the organization I run) have the relationships necessary for these conversations. And many of these individuals know understand the need. They may even relate to us through the back office services we provide (bookkeeping, CPA-reviewed financial services, payroll, QuickBooks set-up, website design, and administrative services). But they’re all really busy and so am I.
Additionally, we have a timeline and business plan well underway. We have funders who are interested in helping to fund a pilot project. We have proof of concept because of the back office services we already offer. And we have community partners who are interested in participating. But we’re a small organization that does more than 100 events a year, runs a two-year training program, works with more than 85 churches in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Time goes quickly and balancing all of this work, and the opportunities that routinely come our way, is challenging.
Skills and Knowledge: We’re a pretty nimble and flexible organization with a great team. Breaking down big projects into manageable steps is what we do a lot. And we are an organization that relies on relationships for everything we do so we’re well versed in bringing people together. I am also very grateful for the excellent resources CPA offers as well and we will use those as we continue to work at this project as well.
People: As I’ve mentioned above, we work with over 85 member churches and connect to about 150 churches regularly. Lancaster is a small city so I also know most of the nonprofit leaders in the community and we have a good working relationship.
Identify 60 local nonprofits to research as potential founding members;
Perform 20 feasibility/relational interviews to determine the most impactful focus of a Lancaster co-op similar to CPA;
Recruit 6 leaders from Lancaster nonprofits to establish a co-op Steering Team;
Select and enroll 20 Lancaster County nonprofits as founding members of the co-op;
Continue to refine our pitch to funders; and
Continue to refine our business plan and rollout timeline.
RS: Thanks everyone your comments and thoughts. Apologies for the delay in responding. I had a sinus headache much of the weekend and looking at a screen was a bit overwhelming. After reading through your comments, I am wondering if I should have titled this post: “Is Kate Ready for a CPA?”
I am, but I also realize that I’m navigating an abundance of riches right now and it can be harder to navigate that than when, five years ago, I couldn’t get anyone to return my phone calls.
While I think we’re well on our way, I appreciate, Felipe, your comments about defining what sets our bookkeeping services apart. It’s a good question and one that we can articulate, but it’s helpful to remember that we should.
Paul, your comments were generous and kind and right on target. I shared them with the important people in my life and they were in full agreement. Thank you!I think a personal goal for me, after reading through your comments is to continue to build in time for Sabbath, to regroup and have the space to consider this all.
While there are many aspects of the work that require explicit goals, the underlying condition that prevents us from making even more significant progress is the lack of internal capacity. My colleague and I are working unsustainable hours. For this reason, I am focusing this professional goal on increasing the organization’s human capacity. Achieving this goal will be the foundation of achieving even more wins in the near future.
Increase the Center for Community Wealth Building’s capacity by hiring a Deputy Director by December 2, 2019.
Access to another thought-partner
Diversity of experience and skills that contribute to the work
More work/life balance
Manageable schedule without sacrificing outcomes
OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME:
Balancing urgent needs with the significant effort needed to do a search process well
Low unemployment rate makes it difficult to attract talent
Longer application window might be needed to attract talent
Specialized skills needed
Systems-change work is challenging
SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE REQUIRED:
Ability to do a search process
Ability to interview candidates
Ability to screen for qualifications
Knowledge and connections to strong networks
THE PEOPLE AND GROUPS TO WORK WITH:
People – Michelle Sturm and Carlos Valverde
Organization – CNDC as our fiscal sponsor
Partner organizations – Interfaith Alliance, Mi Casa Resource Center, RMMFI, Colorado Solidarity Fund, and Transformative Leadership for Change
Networks – Colorado Nonprofit Development Association, Rosemary and Cafecito’s Group, LatinasGive! Giving Circle, New Economy Coalition, Colorado Nonprofit Association, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Network, Rich Male’s Listserv
PLAN OF ACTION:
Write job description
Get approval from CNDC
Incorporate feedback from CNDC
Distribute job posting to identified networks
Michelle & Yessica
Share post on social media
Email job posting to partners
Create screening tool
Develop interview questions
Schedule 2nd interviews
Conduct 2nd interviews
Make a decision
Offer the job
Facilitate onboarding with CNDC
Prep for CCWB onboarding
Yessica & Michelle
Deputy Director starts at CCWB
My sister and her husband fell in love with the idea of co-housing. They are in a situation where the concept of family co-housing makes sense. They are in the process of selling their house and co-buying another one with another close family. Eventually, it will be a great situation for both families, but in the meantime, it has become very stressful. Most of the stress comes from the fact that they have to be out of their current house by October 23rd, but their new house will not be ready until December. I had helped them find other options, but everything was very expensive.
A couple of weeks ago, my tenants notified me that they could not complete their lease and would be out of the property by October 13th. In any other situation, this could have been very stressful for me. However, I believe that the Universe works in mysterious ways. I am grateful to be in a position to help my sister, but the next two weeks will be a wild ride. For this reason, I have set my personal goal to get the house ready.
Get the house ready by updating the carpet, kitchen floor, and painting by October 22, 2019 using local, People of Color vendors.
A sister who is less stressed
My sister and her family will have a place to go when they sell their house
Safe place for my nieces
Affordable housing option for my sister
Peace of mind for the family
THE OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME:
Quick turn-around time
Busy work schedule
Travel to DC
Limited availability of PoC vendors
Vendors that are slightly more expensive
My own need for perfection
THE SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE REQUIRED:
Knowledge of vendors who can meet the needs
Connections to trusted people who can assist with the process
PEOPLE AND GROUPS WITH WHOM TO WORK:
People – Eddie Holguin, Leticia Guzman, Omar Sotelo, Alex Hernandez, Carlos Valverde, Irma Holguin, and Gabriela Holguin
Entering this process, the “long-term” objective is pretty clear. I want to establish, what I see as, a key piece of the potential co-op and minority-business enterprise ecosystem here in Miami.
In my eyes, the ground is fertile (i.e. the businesses and potential worker-owner-entrepreneurs exist), but there has not been enough water and sunlight (economic access and relationships) to ensure that local, minority-owned firms and co-ops can grow and scale past a point that ensures their survival and resilience in the face of potentially upcoming economic and social upheaval.
After a year and half in the U.S and more than a year working with Future Partners, a social impact consulting firm started by former Obama White House officials that focuses on creating economic opportunity between minority-owned businesses (MBEs) and large corporate/institutional buyers, I’ve realized that it can be an extremely uphill battle to scale your business as a minority founder in the U.S.
Our work is centered often around using an organizing approach to inspire many levels of an incumbent organization to approach minority-contracting in a different way. We ultimately try and veer them away from the compliance side of it (if it exists in their particular industry/geography) and more towards an aspirational view. This then leads to initial traction and the ability to implement policy change that opens the floodgates for new opportunities.
This approach is very new to me as a former consultant at The Boston Consultant Group and an engineer by training. I have literally no organizing experience other than what you might see happen in a traditional consulting project. However, those situations are vastly different simply because you have a top-down mandate you can lean on and point to should anyone resist (people have and did get fired for resisting).
I realize then, that my assertion, or world view, for this work should be something like:
If we know there is persistent discrimination towards minority populations (racial, ethnic, gender identity, you name it), and we know that this discrimination affects their ability to create economic prosperity, and we know that this, in turn, also causes their health and quality of life to be inferior to what it could be, and we know that this is unfair and inhumane THEN we can help address these issues by creating a mission-driven vehicle that promotes and directs economic influx to these communities.
I can’t hold any illusions that this will be a silver bullet that solves all the problems for everyone everywhere. Or any of the problems for anyone anywhere. But I do believe that it is a step in the right direction. I believe that communities DO want to look out for each other in this way. What I see in the CPA approach is the means to have them do precisely that.
For this goal, of establishing a CPA in Miami, I’ll use Zig Ziglar’s 7 steps, but then I’ll break this down into SMARTER goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound, Evaluated and Readjusted) for 6 months, 3 months, 1 month and 2 weeks (I know, bear with me).
1. IDENTIFY THE GOAL: Start CPA in Miami. This will mean full-time staff, a formal balance sheet (but can be housed within another organization), contracts facilitated, a growing network and funding to move forward.
2. LIST THE BENEFITS? There are several outcomes I’d look forward to seeing. First, moving the needle on a key social justice issue that, frankly, makes my blood boil. Then, creating an organization by minorities, for minorities to take charge of this issue, provide meaningful employment, foster development opportunities, and foster quality of life. Last, and most certainly least, it provides me an avenue to continue developing my professional impact.
3. LIST THE OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME: I can already foresee a ton of them: Time is the first big one. Until CPA has funding, I have to continuously convince my supervisor(s) that I’m engaging in business development work that could potentially be lucrative for them. The tension exists, however, when I’m engaging in this work during time that I’m not dedicating to their other projects with certain revenue schedules. The second one would be the relationship building itself and all the challenges that come with it. The third would be the process of finding and developing relationships with the MBEs. This last one can be particular challenging as a Latinx man in Miami (often seen as majority, even though I’m not Cuban). Finally, as we scale up the organizing, finding and training new staff.
4. LIST THE SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE REQUIRED: For starters, organizing and relationship building skills would be very useful. Also ability to facilitate and navigate these conversations. Fortunately, CPA’s material and Felipe himself have been overly generous with material, templates, action plans, best practice, process and anything “technical”.
5. IDENTIFY THE PEOPLE AND GROUPS TO WORK WITH: Fortunately for me, I find myself in a stage of my life where support is abundant. Not only do I have the CPA incubator team and Felipe himself, but I also have my firm who is genuinely interested in this work. I’ve also become part of an additional leadership development program that runs parallel to this, called Maven Leadership Collective. I spent all of last weekend with them on a first of 6 retreats over 6 months developing myself and this idea for maximum impact. Finally, I’m counting on the Miami Global Shapers network of young professionals, all highly skilled and socially committed, to support me as their passion and time permits.
6. DEVELOP A PLAN OF ACTION: This is the project plan I’d like to work on as soon as next week. In place of it, I’ll leave my shorter term, intermediate goals further along the post.
7. SET A DEADLINE FOR ACHIEVEMENT: For CPA itself, as my vision states it, 1 year. For the intermediate goals, read further.
So, for the intermediate goals, my 6 months goal looks as follows:
To facilitate 1 contract that aggregates 3-5 institutions and that is awarded to 1-2 firms, one of which must be minority-owned, a co-op or majority ESOP (employee stock-ownership) within 6 months (by March 1st, 2020). The contract must provide savings for the institutions and must be profitable for the new firms.
In 3 months, it would be then:
To identify an actionable opportunity for 3-5 institutions to pool their buying power and get them on board for a joint RFP process.
In 1 month it would be:
To establish relationships with 3 institutions that are enrolled with the CPA model and are open to doing a contract with others in the short-term. Based on initial conversations on facilities categories, identify a shortlist of firms that COULD service these contracts.
In two weeks it would be:
Establish a relationship with 1 institution that is enrolled with the CPA model and open to doing contracts with others in the short-term.
Oh snap….this got real. This may be sabotage, but I’m also open to them being re-evaluated (hence the ‘R’ in SMARTER), but I know myself enough by now that I work better under rigorous accountability. This work is worth it. Now, I’m off to find more allies.
Wish me luck team!
Reflection Script (RS)
So for this part of the exercise, I’m hoping to reflect back on the learning over the past few days, many catalyzed by the comments of my peers on this post and others that emerged through my process of reading and commenting on the posts of my peers.
My first obvious reflection is how I tend to isolate myself and forget about the allies who are on my side. I’ve noticed I constantly reinforce the illusion of separation in my life as a way to justify that nagging feeling that I’m not enough or that I’m going to fail again.
Concretely, I did it this time but not even bringing up my newest and most potent ally in Miami for executing this work, who is also engaged in this program.
Funny how it didn’t even occur to me to bring her up then. That is not a reflection of her capabilities or commitment or anything. It’s my own tendency to forget my allies in the face of the big challenges of my life.
Of course I could blame it all on the late night writing, my workload, trying to get this done, Mercury being in retrograde (or was it Saturn this time?) or whatever. The truth is that would be a missed opportunity to shine a light on this tendency to isolate and feel like I have to do everything myself and alone.
I’ll have to be extra careful to make it a point to reach out, enlist support and recognize I don’t have the time or expertise to make it all happen beautifully by myself.
The second reflection is the additional layer of challenge that I’m placing on myself when it comes to relationship building, but the powerful support I’ve enlisted for this. Specifically, the Maven Leadership Collective is an organization that supports Queer and Trans People of Color (QT-POC) and allies to develop their leadership, technical skills and networks to augment their social impact initiatives.
Being able to work with them was a process I had to apply for, with a very intense and vulnerable application process I might add. In my interviews with them, they challenged me to go one level deeper in the sense of how this initiative could be harnessed to also support QT-POC. While my initial response was something along the lines of “gee, I guess we’re not there yet”, they challenged me to look at the disparity within the disparity. The Executive Director, a Black, Queer, Gender nonconforming man himself, spoke to me about his experience in the Black community and how the prevalent image of the Black man, even within the Black community, is antagonistic to homosexuality and queerness in all of its forms. This leads those individuals to suffer additional challenges and disadvantages.
His experience, insight, and message are incredibly incisive, powerful and deep. Being generally proud of my ability and disposition to incorporate new points into my thinking and change my mind if I consider I’ve been proven wrong or ignorant, I conceded to his reasoning and asked for their support in finding and developing relationships with QT-POC owned businesses who could potentially serve CPA institutions.
So far, they’ve been an incredible resource for deepening self-care, challenging my limiting beliefs, organizing next steps of my work, and even introducing me to new contacts that can help CPA flourish (such as people in the City of Miami and other non-profits who can fund this effort).
My last piece of public-facing reflection for this topic has to do with what makes this work so important to me and how I see it evolve in terms of “who I’m building it with and who will I enroll to sit at the table”.
Recently, in my work with the Maven Leadership Collective, I finally understood something about myself I had not before. Throughout my life, I have witnessed all sorts of injustice, but oftentimes it would never involve or affect me directly.
As many of you know, I grew up in Chile and spent part of my early childhood in Miami. My parents were both upper middle class, college educated, white-presenting people with a lot of privilege that was obviously passed down to me.
Growing up in the better-off suburbs of Chile, a rather conservative, westernized and politically stable society, I can’t say my story was one of resilience per se (at least not at that point).
I was, however, exposed to several traumatic events in my life that began to chip away at this apparent fairy-tale childhood I once had:
My parents’ divorce and moving to a different continent without my father.
Wrestling with, and then coming terms with, my own homosexuality
Did you know that when we experience trauma, our brain’s structure fundamentally changes?
Did you also know that hearing about the trauma of other’s can provoke that exact same effect? Basically, our brain doesn’t know the difference between hearing trauma and experiencing it for yourself.
My experience suggests that not everyone processes trauma the same way, BUT if you are a deeply empathetic person, who is known to feel and absorb frustration, agony and pain that others feel, then maybe, just maybe, you feel in your soul as if the trauma and the injustice is being inflicted to you as well.
Maybe, if we consider that our souls do not care for the illusion of separation this material world insists on, then not only do we acknowledge that the trauma of other’s is also our own, but our very being pushes us and mobilizes us to react and commit towards doing whatever we can to help remedy this.
I’m deeply convinced I am such a person, and I have become more attuned to this side of me over the years.
That’s why I’m convinced this work is a step in the right direction and it matters to me. In a way, it is a component of a structure that can help solve the trauma that is the lack of economic opportunity and the tragedy of unfulfilled potential in communities that have been suffering persistent disparities.
I also believe this work should empower and build-up the communities we’re trying to serve, as opposed to playing (white) saviors.
Whether I am or not a person of color depends on who you ask. Even if I am, I have not experienced the same level of disadvantages others have by nature of where I was born, how I grew up and what I’ve done since. However, and this was pointed out to me by a close friend here in the U.S. who studies discrimination in the context of global politics, the signs of discrimination are oftentimes subtle and my own implicit bias may make it easier for me to see when others are being discriminated but not myself. While I’m not exactly sure how accurate this notion is, I also know it’s not entirely inaccurate, to say the least.
I also think that allies (in this case, people not of the same minority demographic but are also committed to moving the needle on the issue), are crucial to making this and any social justice work a success. Taking down an oppressive system, in my mind, requires both those oppressed and those who have benefited from the system to tear it down. We’ve seen it in the American Civil Rights Movement, we’ve seen it in the Women’s Suffrage Movement and countless other times.
My vision for CPA is that it should eventually be run and expanded mostly by people who have suffered these persistent disadvantages and who have deep ties to the communities around them, either by virtue of having grown up there or being close to those who have.
While my first allies and I may not necessarily be those who have suffered the disparities, we’ve come to care about these communities as our own, and that puts us in a position to help enlist and empower the rest (I have my eyes on 3 residents of Overtown who are enormously driven and resourceful. I’ll be sure to approach them when the time is right, but the relationships are there at least).
So Sheila and team, we’ve got our work cut out for us. Thanks again for all your faith and trust. How about we knock this one out of the park? 🙂
Oh shoot….I think this reflection is longer than my original post… oh well.
To contact at least three different faith leaders (by October 31st) to assess their interest and the potential interest of their congregations in joining a CPA planning group.
For me personally, having individuals who focus on this work from a faith in action perspective will be very helpful. It will give me a sounding board, allow me to see where my own language could be improved, and to have a sense of not being in it alone. These will be individuals who I respect as well and create a space for me to engage with them on a new and deeper level.
Time is the biggest obstacle. Finding time to craft my email and follow up if necessary. Enabling them to find the time to respond and reflect. In addition, different denominations work differently. One of the individual works statewide, another is focused only in the metro area. It will also be important to take time to develop a clear “elevator speech” with enough detail to allow them to consider the possibility. This will be difficult as one obstacle is the lack of breadth in my understanding of what a community purchasing alliance is and could look like in our context.
Skills and Knowledge:
During this time, I will better understand the workings of CPA and the goals of a CPA. In addition, I will garner a better knowledge of the internal structures and obstacles in other faith denominations. I believe I will also have a better sense of my own passion for this work.
In addition to the people with whom I am to speak, I will also enlist a small learning cohort. The Bishop who opened up doors within the Lutheran Church, an IAF leader, my interfaith learning group, and my coworkers in the office.
Plan of Action:
Develop talking points and create initial email by October 15th
Send email with potential times to meet and/or talk.
Meet with individuals.
Write up a summary of key learnings and identify follow up points.