Making Social Entrepreneurship Accessible through Resources and Live Events; with Neetal Parekh
Neetal has created an extensive platform to help social entrepreneurs reach their full impact potential. Her hope is that social enterprise becomes so ubiquitous that we won’t have a separate term for it — it will be the standard way we do business. She’s making social enterprise accessible to everyone through a variety of resources and live events, called Impactathons®.
In the interview below, she shares her insight into how to solve big problems through deeper understanding.
Tell me about your company and the work that you do.
My company is called Innov8social, and the focus is building content programs to make social entrepreneurship and social impact more accessible and actionable. There is a book, podcast, an online course, and now it’s moving into some of these more interactive live experiences: Impactathons®, consulting, one on one coaching, and small group coaching, all with the same goal.
How did you come up with the idea to start this?
I have a background in law and in law school I was interested in the intersection of impact and commerce, and scaling social impact. And at that time, there was a “two-party system,” nonprofit and for-profit, kind of an ‘either/or.’ Then as I started learning about the emergence of the benefit corporation movement and social enterprise, this emerging, middle road was really interesting and exciting to me. And after some time I took a leap of faith and actually left my work to see how I can be more engaged in that space.
2011 was the year California was looking to pass the benefit corporation legislation as well as another social enterprise piece of legislation. I started Innov8social first, that year, as a blog to share some of those law and policy updates in California and beyond. Then, over the course of time, as I started meeting more incredible people in the space, the focus has expanded to include more content, resources, and stories. More recently, I have seen the need for live events, or more personalized or customized experiences, so it’s shifted into more experiential learning.
Were you practicing law before that, or what was your background originally?
My background is in law, but at the time when I started, I was working at FindLaw, which is a Thomson Reuters company, on the social media side. They were just launching their first social media team, so I was one of the first people on it. I was doing everything from blogging, to managing a Wiki, to managing the online communities. There was a lot of content strategy, digital strategy, SEO, but all in the legal content space. So that was the connection point. When I started learning about the work of social enterprise, launching a blog felt more natural because I had been doing that professionally.
Throughout your career or this journey so far, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
The biggest lesson is you always have to ask yourself, ‘how can I be valuable to this space?’ You can’t assume that because you have created content, products, or media that they will automatically be useful to this evolving sector. You always have to be asking, ‘how is this space changing and how can I be valuable? What problem can I solve? What perspective can I offer?’ It keeps us more flexible to create solutions that may not be at all what we thought we would create. But if we’re really listening to people, what the needs are, what the gaps in the system are, we can adapt our work to make it valuable and useful in supporting the growing impact ecosystem.
What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?
For social entrepreneurs, it’s a really unique time in the space because there is a lot of growth happening. Falling in love with the problem that you’re trying to solve and understanding some of the gaps at a systems level can be really helpful. I think where the space is right now, which is maybe not what it was five or 10 years ago, is that there are a lot of solutions and a lot of brainstorming of solutions, but there’s still a need for people to really deeply understand the issue that they’re trying to solve and understand the existing system. How is that issue being addressed currently? Maybe there is a solution but it’s not scaled or it’s not as optimized as effective as it could be, and how could your work support that?
There is an opportunity right now to go five levels deeper in understanding the problem, whatever that is. That kind of in-depth issue mapping can come up with not only better solutions but also more sustainable solutions that could help the social entrepreneurs thrive as well. It’s still a difficult time to get enough funding and to find the right mentors. But if you really know what you’re trying to solve, really strive to understand it, I think you have a much better shot.
What’s your vision for the future? Either for your business or for the world or for both?
I have the hope that one day we retire the phrase “social enterprise/social entrepreneur” because it is just part of doing business. We measure impact in a way that all companies across the spectrum have some reading of what their impact is, positive or negative, and that over time that can be improved upon. That’s the vision. It may make impact ecosystem builders like myself redundant. But the most impact would come when social impact in business is so common, it is ubiquitous.
For me, in the near future, I would love to see the events that we do, Impactathons®, be leaner so that there’s dozens or hundreds happening. Right now they convene in partnership with universities and foundations. The vision is that it is a type of experience that a social entrepreneur can attend not only once, but they can attend whenever they need the support of impact-aligned individuals, inspiration, and mentorship to build upon their idea… they could attend multiple times if they need to. They can keep working on their idea, and keep improving it, taking it to the next level and finding partners, team members, and investors. The goal is to make something you can always go back to when you need to keep working on your idea.
What action would you want readers to take?
I would love for readers to visit the website, check out the book and listen to the podcast. If they are interested in having an Impactathon® for their community, they can go to impactathon.co. There’s a place they can sign up and we can brainstorm who are the right partners to make that happen in their community or neighborhood, or school, university, or company and find a way to convene their local social impact communities through a live event.
Find Neetal Online:
The Impact Podcast: theimpactpodcast.co
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