By Deborah Ayanna, Digital Communications Manager
After a year of working as a freelance digital marketer, I found myself growing tired of working for businesses that weren’t making a positive difference in the world. I wanted to do work that mattered.
I shared my frustration with my dad–I wanted to use my social media skills to help grow companies that cared about more than making money. His response surprised me. He told me about a growing movement of organizations dedicated to making a positive impact and a profit. That was the first time I ever heard of “conscious capitalism.” I was living and working in Atlanta at the time and he mentioned that I should look into an event called SPECTRUM that would soon be happening locally. SPECTRUM, produced by leading social impact convener SOCAP, would be all about identifying ways to increase access, inclusion, and impact for entrepreneurs of color.
I started doing my own deep dive into social entrepreneurship and conscious capitalism and got excited about the potential of this work, but also daunted. Everything I was reading about–impact investing, impact measurement, SDGs, ESG, etc. – were terms I had never heard of before. There was so much to learn. And so I began to wonder what value I could bring to an event like this?
Though many of the topics that would be covered at SPECTRUM were unfamiliar to me, my dad encouraged me to go. He knew I would enjoy hearing thoughtful leaders talk about gender and racial equity. As a former HBCU student, those kinds of conversations have been a major part of my personal and professional journey. I was taught to always ask myself how am I giving back to my community in the work I am doing and to look for ways to pull others up with me as I rise. So with my father’s encouragement, I decided I wanted to do more than attend SPECTRUM–I wanted to volunteer.
Once at SPECTRUM, I got to hear all kinds of stories from the front row. As I performed my volunteer duties, helping with technical support and timing sessions, I got the opportunity to listen, learn, and hear stories of impact investing and social enterprise in action–the details of how they do it and the stories of why they do it.
I learned that only 1% of venture capital funding goes to founders of color, and only a fraction of that capital goes to women of color. And as a young black woman who’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit and plans to build ventures in the future–that statistic hit me hard.
With that information in mind, I was especially interested to hear the actionable advice that SPECTRUM speakers offered to the founders of color who were in the room to help them secure more capital. I learned about funders, accelerators, and other players who would help Black and Brown founders grow their businesses and get where they wanted to go. Throughout that first day, I was continually surprised about how many of these things I had never heard about before.
The first day of SPECTRUM opened up my mind and taught me that there was another way to do business. That night as I thought over the day’s conversations I realized that I could use my skills as a digital marketer and storyteller to help social entrepreneurs get their stories out. I met so many great people and they told me, almost across the board, about how they hadn’t been able to work on building their online presence because they were so focused on the impact. That was something I knew I could help with.
On the second day of SPECTRUM, I began to share ways that social impact organizations could tell their stories online to reach a bigger audience. One of the people I happened to talk to was Lindsay Smalling, who was then the CEO of SOCAP–though I didn’t know that at the time. After our conversation, Lindsay encouraged me to apply for the communications position they were hiring for. I did–and I got the job. Now my work is to tell the stories of the entrepreneurs and investors at the intersection of money and meaning–people who are making a positive difference.
I am gratified and proud to be doing work that matters, especially now.
I was, and am, excited to help get out the story of SPECTRUM. We were busy building an even bigger and better SPECTRUM event for this year when the coronavirus pandemic began to spread across the country.
We knew that this conversation was far too important to cancel. The statistics clearly show the outrageous amount of racial inequality in this country. Greater numbers of people of color are falling ill and dying from COVID-19. Black, Latino, and Indigenous-owned businesses in the US are endangered at disproportionate rates as well. It is being reported that somewhere around 90% of minority and women business owners in the US will be unable to access funds from the Paycheck Protection Program.
We decided to move SPECTRUM to a virtual event so that these critical conversations can still happen. And now that we have, even more people can get involved. Instead of gathering in Atlanta, we will meet online. Together, at SPECTRUM Virtual, we will take part in interactive virtual conversations about access, inclusion, and impact.
I’m urging you to join us.
I’m especially calling out to other young people. Before the pandemic, I knew so many college students that were about to enter the workforce who felt they must choose between their desire to help the world and their need to make a living. I’ve often heard socially conscious college students say they feel like they have to work a corporate job first and then help people later. The pandemic has shown me that we cannot wait for later.
Going to SPECTRUM quite literally changed the trajectory of my professional life. So for anyone thinking about going, stop vacillating, and just register. I was not a finance or investing expert before I went to SPECTRUM (and I’m still not one today). But if I had let the fear of the unknown stop me, I would never have learned any of this information or had these experiences.
SPECTRUM Virtual is happening June 9th through 11th. There will be an invaluable wealth of knowledge available within this online community of business leaders, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, cross-sector practitioners, and investors. We’ll talk about the urgent need for access, inclusion, and impact across capital markets and work together to develop solutions.
I encourage you, even if you have never heard the term impact investing or social enterprise before, to join us at SPECTRUM Virtual. Your voice is welcome, your voice is wanted, your voice is needed.
Join a community of multicultural changemakers who will come together online to work towards an inclusive impact economy at SPECTRUM VIRTUAL, June 9 – 11, 2020. Learn more and register to attend SPECTRUM Virtual here.