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Emily Mishler Of The Cultivated Group On How They Are Helping To Promote Financial Inclusion

An Interview With Orlando Zayas

Operate from a Fluid Framework™: A business plan doesn’t have to be formal, long, scary, or set in stone. Many of the folks we chat with don’t have formal business education and what’s great? You don’t need one to build a business! A business plan helps to communicate with stakeholders where you’re at, who’s on board, where you’re headed, how you’ll get there, and what you’ll need throughout the journey and upon arrival. We have a thorough (and fun!) workbook to get you started: here!

Most of us take it for granted that we can open a bank or a credit card. But the truth is, according to the World Bank, close to one-third of adults — 1.7 billion — are still unbanked, and have no access to a transaction account. About half of unbanked people include women in poor households in rural areas or out of the workforce. What can be done and what is being done to promote more financial inclusion? Authority Magazine is starting a new series about Companies Helping To Promote Financial Inclusion. In this series we are talking to leaders of companies and organizations who are helping to promote financial inclusion.

As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Mishler of The Cultivated Group.

Born and raised in the rural Midwest of the United States, Emily Mishler is an intrepid optimist with a keen sense of adventure, eye for design, hand in the start-up world, and heart for philanthropy. She is the driving force behind The Cultivated Group and the world of Esmè the Curious Cat — on a mission to ignite and empower individuals and organizations to: “be the change you wish to see in the world”.

Specializing in business development, creative strategic planning, and fundraising, Emily launched her first company at the age of 22 and has since raised and distributed over $20M of private investment for private clients, for-profit entities and NGO’s.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Absolutely! It’s a pleasure to be here — thanks for having us. I’ve always had a knack for adventure, an insatiable curiosity, a creative flair, and a heart for helping others — and my career has absolutely been an extension of that. I grew up on a farm in the middle of the rural United States. We lived very modestly and simply — serving others and giving of what we had was ingrained in our family’s “culture” from a very young age.

I grew up in a very small town in the middle of the Midwest United States. I come from a family of farmers and values like hard work (sometimes to a fault), exploration, diligence, tenacity, and grit were instilled in me from a very young age. Those rural “roots” were a piece of the inspiration behind our companies’ name: The Cultivated Group.

Hindsight tends to be 20/20 and all the dots tend to connect looking backward and that’s certainly a trend amidst my own eclectic career path. While I studied Communication and Design at University, helping others through different opportunities was always a focal point. A series of decisions that I perceived to be big risks (at the time) and chose to jump and lean into, whilst always keeping my eyes and ears open for possibility and opportunity were huge contributing factors as my career and life’s mission has continued to unfold. Doors and opportunities presented themselves, to which I bet on myself and said “yes” (albeit sometimes with a bit of fear!) and based on my passions, experiences, and drive to influence the world for the better — stumbled into corporate philanthropy as a career. In August of 2018, I completed a MBA with a concentration in Philanthropy and shortly thereafter, began a new chapter of life in travelling the world and running my own location-independent, impact-driven companies.

Proudly housing four separate companies under the “Cultivated” umbrella, we’re redefining business as usual for businesses all over the globe (and even in outer space!). Each subsidiary equips organizations and individuals with the tools, skills, resources, frameworks, and funding they need to function fully as profitable, healthy businesses. Our team connects the business brain to the servant-leaders’ heart that’s at the forefront of the business of doing good. The work The Cultivated Group focuses on is all impact-based, which means at the end of the day our goal is to make the world a better place and use businesses and the influence we all have in our day-to-day lives to be the vessels for doing so.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Yes! As I was embarking upon my entrepreneurial journey (mine also included exploring the world solo for a while); Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love has been a story through which I found much inspiration and comradery. The themes of exploration, discovery, openness, courage, and connection have been instrumental as I’ve been both navigating the world itself and the professional world of development and business-building. All of our journeys through life are independent, but I don’t believe that in that they also need to be lonely. There is so much to learn from others and their perspectives, experiences, journeys, and the wisdom they’ve lived — and often when we aren’t sure where to turn, seeking council from others can be an incredible asset. The principles and themes I’ve learned from Liz Gilbert’s stories have been so impactful, I’ve adopted many of them into my own life and they have also become a part of our journey of impact at The Cultivated Group!

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Mahatma Gandhi’s quote “be the change you wish to see in the world” is one that’s provided a lot of inspiration and a discerning lens as the journey of my life has unfolded. In fact, through our companies at The Cultivated Group and through The Elevated Method, we’re redefining the phrase “business as usual”. We believe doing the right thing is always the right move to make and through our clients and our work, we’re activating and empowering the change they wish to see in the world. Our companies and team are on a mission to bridge the gap between the great ideas, access to opportunity, and taking action to change and preserve this beautiful world in which we live — one challenge at a time. Our focus isn’t overnight success: our focus is the consistency of thought and expansion of dreams and resources. This, when applied over time through massive action, creates sustainable systems that influence positive and inclusive change: we empower and equip our clients to become forces for good in this world. We use a combined approach of both services and products to equip our clients with the tools and skills they need and an extra set of hands (in some cases) to be able to make thoughtful choices when building, stewarding, enhancing, growing, and scaling their businesses.

The way we’ve structured the organization and its impact — the ripple effect is limitless.

I also don’t believe there was one, singular “tipping point” or “aha moment” for me to jump into this line of “work”. It was much more of a slow drip over a few years that compounded to the point I knew if I didn’t lean into the adventure of discovering and uncovering what was possible when it came to fulfilling my own potential, I would always wonder. That pursuit of fulfillment and sharing that with others is “truly living” to me. I also had positioned myself through education, exploration, and intentional preparation to be able to “lean in” to this life shift rather than maintaining the “formula for life” many of my peers seemed to be following.

The decision to “step up and do it” was simple, clear, and made with ease. It was not easy, but it was a decision I made with ease because I had taken the time to prepare and consider what my options truly were. The subsequent decisions that reinforced that position have been some of the most challenging and rewarding of my life! These decisions and this journey into the road less travelled takes a lot of courage — more courage than I’d ever employed to date at that point — and this adventure has empowered me to become the person I’ve always dreamt of being. I also realized that in looking back, all of the dots connected seamlessly. Whether I knew it or not at the time, I’d been preparing myself for an adventure and “leap with faith” for a very long time — it took reflection and a lot of intentional healing to be able to recognize that.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I believe sometimes, all we need is someone to show us an example of what’s possible. When we see people who look like us in positions of power or leadership, it gives us confidence that it’s possible for us. Being that example through our lives is one way I’d define leadership. Let’s be examples of what’s possible and redefine what’s possible — for ourselves and the future we wish to see!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Looking back, it’s fascinating to think about how “perfect” I believed I needed to be in order to move forward on things. It was a belief system that was rooted in a lot of fear and feelings of inferiority, which really caused a lot of stalling and paralysis in my personal and professional life. Sometimes when we try things that we’re not ready for, we fall down and develop a little proverbial bruising and sometimes scar tissue. When it “hurts” to get up as a result of those bruises or scar tissue, we can be afraid of moving forward and trying again. Until we’re aware of it and decide to make different decisions, the things we fear (even if it’s success!) can hold us back from really accomplishing our goals and making our dreams happen. Looking back, the lesson is that our greatest obstacle is ourselves and that we can do anything we put our minds to!

I used to be much more externally motivated — and an emphasis on physical appearance accompanied that in my experience. Since my perspective and outlook has shifted, so have my priorities. The way I relate to beauty now is majorially internally driven. You know when someone is absolutely on fire for what they’re doing and their eyes sparkle? That is beauty. That internal radiance that comes about as a result of alignment — that is what I look for. Yes, a certain amount of grooming and physical polish goes a long way — but it pales in comparison to the connection and radiance one can have when they’re confidently moving in the direction of their dreams and bringing others along the way.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with a basic definition so that all of our readers are on the same page. What exactly is Financial Inclusion?

A quick Google will define financial inclusion as “the availability and equality of opportunities to access financial services. It refers to a process by which individuals and businesses can access appropriate, affordable, and timely financial products and services. These include banking, loan, equity, and insurance products” — so let’s go with that!

What does it mean to be “unbanked”?

Being “unbanked” means unable to be adequately served by a bank or financial institution.

For the benefit of our readers, can you explain some of the typical reasons why a person might be unbanked? Why can’t they just walk into the local bank and open an account? Why can’t they simply open an account online?

For many people, the financial services that currently exist are too expensive. Though alternative services cost more over time, financial institutions often have fees, minimum deposit requirements, and other upfront costs that create steep barriers to entry for people without much cash at any given time.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps Business Should Take To Promote Financial Inclusion”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

Thanks so much. From my perspective, two main factors that distinguish successful starts from unsuccessful ones are the ability and strength to employ agility as-needed and a resounding undertone of grit and tenacity. In my opinion, becoming a successful organization does not require difficulty — it can be handled with elegance, ease, and simple solutions. However, sometimes to get to that point, it can be a learning and growing process — and that’s life. Both of those factors require one to lead with curiosity, trust yourself, trust your team, and the deep understanding and confidence in our ability to overcome obstacles and challenges — remaining on the end-goal despite turbulence.

Rather than focusing on a tech stack, resources, degrees, or capital — I believe for this conversation more so than those assets, it’s incredibly important to talk about the kind of leader and person you’re becoming — and the kind of company you’re building. The character of the leadership and organization, and how that’s reflected through deliberate, aligned action. Especially at the beginning, the people involved are your most important asset whether they’re internal or external stakeholders. And in order to create things with other people, that requires us to communicate effectively, efficiently, and infusing our communication with the kind of energy we want to build and nourish the company with. The way I see it, five things that will really help in the long-run to create a highly successful philanthropic organization are:

  1. Intentional Inclusion: There’s this saying on the Tube in London, “If you see something, say something” and “Mind the Gap”. The way we see it, our lives shift internally before we experience external results. As a leader and founder, our values and vision shift the direction and trajectory of the entire company. Get clear on those values and what matters to you! Be intentional about aligning your life with your values and you will feel much more at peace. Allow your team and culture to become infused with these values, this aligned action, and the intentional inclusion of those principles and actions. Focus on the internal shift & become your own best advocate. Pursuing a life of impact means accepting a journey of criticism. In attempting to change 100 lives, you will inherently upset 10 people. Too often we slow down or don’t start for the worry of the 10 to the expense of the 90 needing our gift. Focus on the 90 and go! Our goal isn’t perfection here: our goal is significance, alignment, and impact.
  2. The Value of Diversity: This not only applies to diversity of experience, it also applies to the tremendous value of diversity of thought. We’re redefining the phrase “business as usual”. We believe doing the right thing is always the right move to make and through our clients and our work, we’re activating and empowering the change they wish to see in the world. Our companies and team are on a mission to bridge the gap between the great ideas, access to opportunity, and taking action to change and preserve this beautiful world in which we live — one challenge at a time. Our focus isn’t overnight success: our focus is the consistency of thought and expansion of dreams and resources. This, when applied over time through massive action, creates sustainable systems that influence positive and inclusive change: we empower and equip our clients to become forces for good in this world. We use a combined approach of both services and products to equip our clients with the tools and skills they need and an extra set of hands (in some cases) to be able to make thoughtful choices when building, stewarding, enhancing, and scaling their businesses. And this requires that we allow ourselves to grow, shift, expand, release. We see it in nature all the time: life and patterns are cyclical, and diversity is absolutely necessary in order for ecosystems to thrive.
  3. Take Aligned, Inspired, Immediate Action: Know that things of quality have no fear of time. When it comes to living the life of your dreams, there is no room for try. And that doesn’t mean we believe in focusing on outcomes exclusively or forcing outcomes. But there is a big difference between wanting something and becoming unavailable to not have it. Become unavailable to not have the experiences and fulfillment you want; become unavailable to not live the life of your dreams. The goal here is to allow ourselves and our lives to unfold, as we take inspired, immediate, and aligned action in the direction of that unfolding. In nature, we don’t pull flowers open in order to see them blossom — we trust there is a natural process and we allow them to take their natural course; appreciating their beauty in each season and stage of growth. We also have the ability to cultivate this within ourselves!
  4. Build A Strategic Plan: 5–10 years down the road, do you know exactly where you’ll be? Good, us either. Building out a strategic plan isn’t about mapping out every single piece of the company’s journey you’re building, but it is about orienting your compass to True North, plotting out the next few moves (years) of the journey on a map, and communicating that to everyone who needs to know. This provides a pulse on the direction you’d like to go, and a basic framework of how you plan to get there with measurable success milestones along the way. Curious? Here’s a quick template to get the juices flowing!
  5. Operate from a Fluid Framework™: A business plan doesn’t have to be formal, long, scary, or set in stone. Many of the folks we chat with don’t have formal business education and what’s great? You don’t need one to build a business! A business plan helps to communicate with stakeholders where you’re at, who’s on board, where you’re headed, how you’ll get there, and what you’ll need throughout the journey and upon arrival. We have a thorough (and fun!) workbook to get you started: here!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Thank you! That’s very kind — and a really tough question, especially considering the state of the world at the moment. If I could inspire a movement, as simple as it sounds, it would be one of leading with radical honesty, curiosity, kindness, consideration, and thoughtfulness. Each of us has different experiences, all of which have inherent value, and if we’re open to it there is much we can learn from one another! That is how we begin to change the world: first through extending that kindness, thoughtfulness, and consideration inward; and then outward.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I’d absolutely love to have lunch with Sara Blakely and her husband, Jesse Itzler. Not only have they both been incredibly successful individually, the pair seems to have “figured out life” too. Raising a family together, encouraging one another, and making the world better along the way. I’d love to be able to learn from and create with them!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Emily Mishler

Instagram: @emilymishler

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/emily.mishler

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/emilymishler

Website: www.emilymishler.com

The Cultivated Group

Instagram: @thecultivatedgroup

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thecultivatedgroup

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-cultivated-group

Website: www.thecultivatedgroup.co

The Elevated Method

Instagram: @theelevatedmethod

Website: www.theelevatedmethod.com

Esmè the Curious Cat:

Instagram: @esmethecuriouscat

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/esmethecuriouscat

Website: www.esmethecuriouscat.com

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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