A Q&A with The Women Behind Changemaker Association
With more people choosing to solve big issues using business (aka social enterprises), we’re seeing that these new social entrepreneurs need support and guidance. As part of our Changemaker Interview series at Under 30 Changemakers, we chatted with Danielle and Soléne who have been supporting new social entrepreneurs for years to grow and build their impact-driven businesses.
Danielle Carruthers and Soléne Pignet are passionate about igniting entrepreneurial spirit for social good in changemakers around the world. They are co-founders of Changemakers Association, an online communities that teach social entrepreneurs how to design and grow innovative, financially sustainable and impactful initiatives.
Q. What’s your favorite part about running the community for Changemakers Association?
Danielle: I love meeting all the amazing people who are drawn to be a part of these communities and interested in social change as a whole. Pretty much every day I have the privilege of hearing from people around the world who have a passion for doing good in creative and sustainable ways. In a practical sense this provides a neverending source of inspiration and fuel to keep moving forward, and in general it’s just plain fun.
In my ‘past life’ working in banking after University, I often felt like I was living a double life. As much as I tried to connect, it never quite felt right, or as authentic as I craved. As soon as I started taking action in the direction of coaching and working with changemakers, first with The Sedge and continuing with Changemakers Association, I felt more resonance with the people around me. Now, simply a quick intro from a mutual connection, or even a personal email from the depths of the internet, is all that is needed before shared values and an affinity for optimism take care of the rest!
When you’re engaged with people on this level everyday, a 2-way street of ah-ha moments and nuggets of new insight and wisdom are inevitable. Experiencing that on a regular basis is definitely my favourite part of the work that do.
Solène: Feeling connected with a community of like-minded entrepreneurs is definitely one of my favorite aspects as well. As Danielle mentioned, that’s one of the perk when you step away from the corporate world and find a true, authentic alignment with what you do, and most importantly, who you do it for or with. Personally, I am really grateful to live at the time in human history where there is Internet, that allows anyone to connect with like-minded people no matter the physical distance. Actually, I am french and I live in Istanbul, Turkey; so far as I love the experience of living abroad, it can feel quite lonely at times, especially when starting your own business.
I am sure many changemakers can relate : when you create your own venture and challenge the existing, feeling lonely is frequent. It is actually part of the game; you always face some kind of resistance when you want to create a change, challenge the status-quo, and make a difference.
Joining forces with other “misfits” in other places, or even simply sharing your journey in an authentic way with others who face the same challenges, is critical to keep believing that it can and it will work and make the impossible, possible.
Q. As co-founders of Changemaker Association, what’s the inspiration behind it and the background on how it came to be?
Soléne: Danielle and I had been supporting early-stage entrepreneurs for a few years when we “noticed” each other (online, of course!). We both believe there is no such thing as competition, (even if our companies address the same need) and so we collaborated on different projects before deciding to start Changemakers Association.
Our main ambition is to scale our impact : use all that we’ve learned supporting dozens of purpose-driven entrepreneurs with The Sedge for Danielle and Creators for Good for myself, and make it accessible to hundreds and even thousands of changemakers around the world.
Danielle: The story of how Changemakers Association came to be is a fun one. Solene and I first met via a ‘Skype coffee’ after Solene found The Sedge online. (Yes, this was one of those random emails I referred to above!) We soon discovered we shared a similar vision for supporting early stage social entrepreneurs in their pursuit of creating impactful and sustainable businesses.
After some more informal collaborations (co-hosting Q&A webinars for example) we realized we worked really well together! We had similar work styles, similar goals, and an open and friendly communication style that allowed our work to thrive together.
It wasn’t long before we turned those early collaborations into the start of what is now maybe best explained as ‘lifelong biz buddies for social change! Changemakers Association was the solution we dreamed up to address the gap we saw in skills development for social entrepreneurs and changemakers.
Although there is increasingly more information available online, and recently more formal opportunities to study social business in post-secondary institutions, these options really don’t solve some of the biggest obstacles early-stage changemakers face. Mainly — sifting through decision after decision, and implementing strategies that best suit each leader’s individual path of creating change.
We wanted to create an affordable learning community, built for changemakers by changemakers, where our members would be supported with practical, action-oriented strategic guidance for turning their vision for change into reality.
Q. Your topic for Changemaker Summit this year is Introduction to Collaborative Communication. How can Changemakers benefit from Collaborative Communication within their organization?
We see many Changemakers get anxious about communication. “What am I going to say”, “How can I present myself/my solution”, “How can I ‘pitch’ my idea n the most effective way”, etc. Those are all valid questions, but they omit one key element : and that is that communication is a two way street.
It’s not ‘just’ about you and your message, it is also and most importantly about the receiving end! It’s about listening as much as it is about talking. Instead of communicating ‘at’ people, you need to be conversing ‘with’ them.
When you approach communication in a collaborative way, and really pay attention to what your beneficiaries have to say and what they are ready to hear, then you tap into the full power of communication. It’s not only more efficient, it’s also way more fun!
There are very specific strategies and best practices attached to that, which we can’t wait to share (and exchange on ;) ) during the summit!
Q. What is an outcome you are very proud of that was a direct result of your organization’s action?
Danielle: I am continually amazed witnessing the connections that come about inside our communities (the Global Social Entrepreneurs Lab open group on Facebook, and within Changemakers Association itself). These connections are entirely thanks to changemakers taking it upon themselves to use the spaces we’ve opened up to reach out to one another and connect in meaningful ways. That’s the beauty of communities. It’s not that our direct action creates the impact, but it’s the act of creating space for people to connect and engage that is important.
I am especially proud of one of our members who has been so diligent, not only taking in the information we share through Changemakers Association, but more importantly, making use of that learning through specific and ongoing action. It’s very impressive! Recently she took major strides towards better understanding her ideal clients by arranging a survey where she gathered insight from over 30 of her potential ideal clients. Some of the results were unexpected, and I’m sure these insights will go a long way to inform her next steps.
Soléne: Yes exactly, seeing people take action on our advice is the best reward. At the end of the day, we’re creating a lot of (well thought-through) content but it only starts to have an impact when the changemakers we support actually take action on it. Seeing them then get results out of that action, and create their own impact, is incredibly gratifying. At the end of the day, it’s the ripple effect that we crave for!
Q. Your organization gives some of the best advice for beginning social entrepreneurs with actionable blog posts. What is the best piece of advice you have personally received?
Danielle: I would say the best advice I’ve received is primarily centred around the idea of continuous iteration and evolution. One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Blank, which is “no business plan survives first contact with a customer”. This is so true, and it’s also an easy lesson to forget! Even the best laid plans and strategies need to be open to adaptation as they are put into action. This is true for any entrepreneur, but especially for social entrepreneurs often working with vulnerable populations and complex systemic issues, it is essential. We need to be receptive to, and even purposefully on the lookout for, unexpected insights and feedback at every step along the way. This information acts like a compass, helping determine that we are in fact moving in the right direction, or that we might need to adjust course. And also like a compass, with every few steps taken there is a potential need to re-adjust as we go. As leaders I think that continuous iteration of our plans and strategies is the key to ultimately making a meaningful impact and running a sustainable business.
Soléne: Another key advice, related to what Danielle just said, is to adapt your goals, strategy and actions to the stage you are at. Meaning, what you need to do and focus on when you’re just starting out is different from what is needed as you reach financial sustainability, and is again different from what you need when looking at scaling your impact.
A business is like a human being : it starts as a baby (=pilot stage), then becomes a child (=early stage). Once you have your first set of clients, you still need to transform like a teenager (=sustainability stage) before one finally becomes an adult and taps into it’s full potential (=scaling stage).
We see many social entrepreneurs trying to “give birth” to ‘teenagers’ or even ‘adults’, choosing their business model and communication strategy depending on how scalable it is… when scalability is something you don’t need to be so focused when getting started. It’s much more efficient to have a qualitative approach first, validate (and 99% of the time change/adapt) your idea to your beneficiaries and clients, before you’re ready to take that to the next level. In the modules we create for Changemakers Association’s platform for example, we always speak to each of these different stages, as there is no strategy that can fit all stages.
Q. In Under 30 Changemakers, we talk a lot about helping our peers out as much as we can. What is an actionable way a Changemaker could help your organization out?
Soléne: We launched last June (2016) and we are now in an expansion phase. We’ve refined our solution during the first 6 months with our early members, and now that it really “works”, we want to touch as many people as possible in order to scale our impact!
Danielle: If you like what we’re doing, please share it with your people! Friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, strangers! The more people who are connected into communities like ours, and learning and exchanging the wealth of knowledge/experience within them, the faster we’ll be able to really move the needle on the issues that need shifting.
Q. What is the impact of your work and who are the people it affects most?
Sólene: So far, we have supported 54 Changemakers in the Association, from 17 different countries. Beyond the numbers, our impact is best described by our members themselves:
“I decided to join Changemakers Association because I believe that an external point of view is absolutely crucial when you are running a business on your own. Time is so precious as an entrepreneur, and so I find it very convenient to work “on” my business once a month knowing exactly what to focus on.
I find that the modules are super well done. They are clear, with digestible step-by-step videos, and all the necessary summaries. The topics are super relevant explained in details, while respecting our own intelligence and experience.
Solène and Danielle are very reactive and always give great detailed advices. I have really learned a lot! Every new module boosts my thinking, and motivates me to move forward.”
— Nathalie Suisse, Healthy Food advocate + “Slow Fashion” Entrepreneur at jecuisinesainfacilement.com; Mode Maille, Switzerland
“Thank you so much for this! You guys nailed it! I’ve tried to do the programs of other mentors & coaches but never have gained momentum with them. And because of the place where I’m at today and meeting you guys I feel it’s the right time and the right place.
It feels different because the emphasis as I see it with you ladies is not in getting results, but in getting in tune with yourself and as a natural result, get results. So thank you again. I’m very grateful to have met you two.”
— Carmen Smallegange, Social Entrepreneurs supporter & founder of Assistant Entrepreneur, The Netherlands
Q. How can other changemakers become active citizens in their communities when they are just getting started? What is an easy “in” for your type of impact-driven work?
Danielle: Simply, start connecting. Don’t be shy to start taking action in any way, even ways that feel small, because that is the only way to start. It could be going out of your comfort zone to join a meetup event, asking someone you admire for coffee, or reaching out to an organization whose mission speaks to you. Big dreamers and visionaries with high aspirations sometimes feel the need to wait. Until this, until that, until all their ducks are in a row. Except the truth action-takers know is that the ducks are never all lined up the way you think they should be! It’s through incremental action that we do our best learning and growing, and before you know it you’ll find your ‘zone of contribution’ where you feel most fired up.
Soléne: Exactly! Progress comes from taking action. Yes, it does involve going out of your comfort zone: talking to others before you feel ready, and trying to be helpful even before your solution feels perfect.
At the end of the day, you don’t need to have all the answers, you just need to take a step in the direction of your dream impact — one day at a time.
To learn from Danielle and Soléne about Collaborative Communication, register for Changemaker Summit, our 3-day social impact conference in NYC this September 8–10 teaching the skills artists, activists, and social entrepreneurs can use to scale their impact.
To say thank you to our dedicated readers, use the code “MEDIUMBUDDIES” to get 20% off on VIP or General Registration. Tickets will increase in price by April 1, so get them soon before Friday!