Good Profiles feature members of our Good Generation who are either out there in the field doing interesting work or still in the trenches of schools and institutions waiting to make their mark on the world. Have your own story to tell? Know someone who would be great to be profiled? Please sign-up or leave a note here!
What do you do for a living nowadays?
I am the Founder and CEO of ProInspire, a nonprofit building the next generation of nonprofit leaders by expanding the talent pipeline, developing professionals, and increasing diversity. As CEO, I oversee the growth of our program and expansion into new areas related to developing leaders for social change.
Is “doing good” a key reason why you chose this job?
I started ProInspire because I was passionate about connecting nonprofits with talented business professionals who wanted to pursue careers where they can “do good.” Like any sector, talent is critical to ensure that nonprofits can be effective in achieving their missions. I believe I am doing “good” in the world by leading this organization.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the personal impact I have on nonprofits and our Fellows. The Fellowship is really a transformational experience for both. Some of my best experiences are sitting in meetings with our nonprofit partners where they rave about all the great work the Fellow is doing in their organization. I also love our monthly trainings and coaching calls with Fellows where I can hear about how they are growing as leaders in the social sector.
What would you wish were different about your job?
If I had my way, there would be more funding to support developing leaders in the nonprofit sector. There is clear data about the nonprofit leadership deficit and a clear need for organizations like ProInspire to serve as an intermediary. At ProInspire, we see increasing demand from nonprofits that want to expand their talent pools and a growing supply of great talent that wants to find a way to work for social impact. Still, funding for recruiting and developing talent is limited which makes it harder for us to expand our work.
What were some of the most important experiences that you’ve had that led you to where you are today?
I had two key experiences in my career that influenced me to start ProInspire. First was my experience transitioning from business into nonprofit. I started my career as a consultant at Arthur Andersen, but always knew I wanted to move into the nonprofit sector at some point. When I was ready to make that transition, it was very challenging to find meaningful roles where I could leverage my skills. Most nonprofits were looking for people to come into entry-level or senior roles (neither of which were appropriate for me), and I did not have a network to help me build connections with organizations. Historically nonprofits have relied on networks for recruiting so the lack of a network can really hinder someone looking to transition into the sector. Eventually I found an opportunity with CARE India – they were looking for someone to develop the business plan for a financially sustainable program supporting micro-entrepreneurs in Bhuj, India. I had done business plans at Andersen, but did not have experience at a nonprofit. I learned a lot at CARE and realized I could use my business skills for social impact. After I came back from CARE, it was much easier to find nonprofit opportunities because I had the credibility of business skills and nonprofit experience. I was constantly advising other people who wanted to make a similar transition and saw many get discouraged because it was so challenging.
The second experience I had was when I graduated from Harvard Business School. I was selected for the HBS Leadership Fellows program to work for ACCION International. HBS started Leadership Fellows to make it easier for MBAs to go into the nonprofit sector after graduation. I had a fantastic experience as a Leadership Fellow at ACCION and had the opportunity to launch a number of new initiatives related to microinsurance, payments, and financial literacy. I also met many nonprofit leaders who asked how they could find more people with skills in financial modeling, business planning, etc. I realized that the Fellowship model helped bridge two different groups that may not otherwise be connected. It also created a support network for me of other MBAs who were following “non-traditional” paths. When I decided to launch ProInspire, I looked at HBS Leadership Fellows, Teach for America, and other programs as models.
How did you get this job?
I started ProInspire so I can share the experience of being a social entrepreneur. I had worked in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors over the course of my career. In 2008, I was at a conference where Tom Tierney from the Bridgespan Group was talking about the “nonprofit leadership deficit” and the need to expand talent pools into the sector. This was my “aha” moment. I had seen the challenges business professionals faced finding roles in the nonprofit sector, and I had worked for nonprofits that wanted people with business skill sets but couldn’t find them. It was clear there was a disconnect between supply and demand. I spent 6 months researching the problem before I decided to go and launch ProInspire. In 2009, I started ProInspire with a pilot to prove the concept and determine the business model.
I think the biggest tradeoffs in being a social entrepreneur are figuring out how to pay yourself when you are building the organization and managing work/life balance. When I started ProInspire, I went just over a year without getting paid. Now I do get paid but it is not near what I was paid previously, especially as we invest in hiring staff to grow the organization. This is a challenge that many entrepreneurs face, not just social entrepreneurs. Work/life balance is always a challenge, particularly when you are the head of a resource-constrained organization. While I have flexibility in choosing what to do, the demands on my time are enormous and there are always too many high priority items on my to-do list. The organization also has limited resources so I often have to do things that I would rather delegate to someone else.
I had my first child in 2010 and he is now 18 months old. I often joke that ProInspire was my “first baby” and I have had to learn how to raise two “babies” that each demand endless attention. Some of the tradeoffs I have made to manage work/life balance is limiting travel, which has impacted our ability to raise the organization’s profile beyond Washington D.C.
If you had to make trade-offs, do you think they were justified or should it be different for others in the same situation going forward?
I hope that there is more support for social entrepreneurs in the future. There will always be tradeoffs in entrepreneurship, but there needs to be better infrastructure to support social entrepreneurs to help launch the great organizations that will change the world.
If you had to do it all over again, knowing what you know today, what past choices would you have made differently with regards to your career?
I don’t think I would have made any past choices differently. Each of my professional experiences taught me something that was critical in launching ProInspire. From my first job at Arthur Andersen, to CARE, to the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, to getting my MBA at Harvard Business School, to ACCION International, to Capital One (where I was when I decided to launch ProInspire).
I think people feel a lot of pressure to have a pre-determined career path, and I have found that the best careers often follow a windy path. Ironically, I never thought I would be a social entrepreneur. I hardly took any entrepreneurship classes in business school. I always thought I wanted to work for other great organizations to help them achieve their missions. But at some point I realized that an organization like ProInspire was needed and that if I didn’t start it, it might never happen. My lesson is to pursue opportunities that you are excited about and where you will have the opportunity to learn. Don’t worry about “what is next” because you will figure that out once you get there.
If you did not have this job and time/money were not a constraint, what would you ideally like to do?
If time/money were not a constraint, I would expand ProInspire to multiple cities. There is clearly an amazing talent pool of business professionals who want to use their skills for social impact, and important needs facing nonprofits around the world.
Finally, what advice would you have for others in the Good Generation who are interested in your job or career path?
If you are considering becoming a social entrepreneur and launching a nonprofit or social enterprise, I advise the following:
- Spend time developing the business model before you commit full-time: I spent 6 months while I was at Capital One researching the need and business model for ProInspire. I spoke with over 100 people who were leaders of nonprofits, recruiters, potential sector switchers, or other experts to really understand the problem. All of that feedback helped me refine the business model and gather data that ProInspire was addressing an important need. I also did a landscape analysis and looked at how our approach was different from other organizations. Once I had this research, I felt confident that ProInspire was addressing an important need and that I needed to focus full-time to launch it.
- Be prepared to not get paid for at least one year: I did not believe other social entrepreneurs when they told me this, but it was true for many of my peers and it was true for me. I worked full-time for 1 year and 3 months before ProInspire had enough resources that I could pay myself a salary. Even then, my salary has remained fairly low as we try to put resources into growing our programs. Also, it is hard to manage cash flow in the early years when revenues are unpredictable, so some months I don’t pay myself to make sure we have enough money to pay everyone else. This is the not-so-glamorous part of social entrepreneurship, but it is important for people to know what they are getting into. You should think about whether you have enough savings, can maintain low living costs, or find other sources of income (like side consulting) before you go down this path.
- Create a network of peers, mentors, and advisors: As a social entrepreneur, I rely heavily on a support system that I am continually investing in, learning from, and expanding. I have been very fortunate to surround myself with other social entrepreneurs who share advice and serve as a sounding board. I have built a great Board of Directors who provide expertise and credibility to ProInspire in many areas that I lack. I also have mentors that I lean on for different things – from advice on fundraising to managing work/life balance when growing an organization. Even if you are not a social entrepreneur, think about nurturing your own support system, which will be critical throughout your career.