Where and what is your North Star?
I’ve been on a “Social Impact Tour” over the last couple of months; the goal was to meet with 50+ people utilizing technology to scale their impact. Finally, last week, I met my goal. 🎉
I’ve had the privilege of meeting with 50+ subject matter experts, venture-backed entrepreneurs, and impact investment partners in one-on-one sessions.
The number one question they all asked me was, “Why impact?”
Every major professional decision I have ever made has been guided by the question, “How do I increase the odds of success for the communities I serve?” This question has driven my entire life.
It started with my degree.
My first choice was Architecture. The goal was to return home to Oakland and take my skills and resources to revitalize the housing projects I grew up in. I wanted to bring our community to a sustainable level, one we all took pride in.
Everything was on track…. until I learned about gentrification. 😳
To add to the pot, during a visit to help at-risk youth, I met a 16-year-old boy in Tallulah, Louisiana, who reminded me of myself. We lived 1,800 miles apart, spoke the same language, and had the exact same story, yet this kid didn’t know me from Adam. This indicated that the issue was more extensive and complex than Oakland initially showed me.
Eventually, I switched to Mathematics. I imagined I would return home and teach Math to the youth. I believed, and still believe, that an inner-city kid proficient in Mathematics would have the world in their hands. True story, on my tour of Ph.D. programs, I noticed that there were no Americans on the student roster at one university, and the dean commented, ‘Americans are terrible at Math.’ 😒
I loved Math and still do, but I wanted more, so I added Business. Since my Business professor had already adopted me, I had a strong bias toward his viewpoint. The goal here was to establish employment possibilities for inner-city families. If we create a system that provides equitable job opportunities, it will unlock opportunities for everyone in the community. While taking Business courses, I took my first Economics course. This was the first time I understood how the U.S. economy functioned and why my community and others like it existed.
When I switched from Business to Economics, I believed it was the right time. We still joke about it today, but my first response when my then-English professor and now mother suggested I pursue a Doctorate was that I didn’t trust Doctors. I hadn’t realized she meant a Doctorate in Economics. 🤷🏾♂️
So I set out to get a Ph.D. in Economics. My objective was to study how fiscal policy might be leveraged to improve people’s lives in low-socioeconomic communities. I got a few papers published and peer-reviewed, and I was off and running. I was accepted into several prestigious fellowships, and I was killing it.
I want to skip ahead here, but I earned a B.S. in Mathematics and Economics and an M.S. in Economics.
Then began my professional career; after working as a Data Scientist for a few years, I went independent, served on the small business advisory board for the state of Maryland, and created my own product development studio, initially focusing on building software products for diverse founders and small businesses.
At no point did I lose sight of my North Star. However, my daily alignment with impact had gotten blurry, which triggered this “Social Impact Tour.”
For those interested in entering this space, I’ll share this key finding, there is a lot of market opportunity in how we collectively define and ultimately measure social impact. But, to be frank, people have yet to figure out how to effectively measure their impact. Most rely on ESG but need more confidence to walk into those metrics. This is a challenge everyone I spoke with is facing, yet, interesting enough, there is still a ton of money being poured into this space to scale “impact.”
Either way, I have learned a lot and made great connections that have grown beyond our one-on-ones. In addition, I have figured out how I want to leverage my skills and purpose moving forward.
I now know there is no one way to go about this and that I will have to approach this from several angles.
A few angles I have started on include the impact work we are doing over at our product development studio, the work we are doing with Vive Concierge in providing high-quality healthcare services to at-risk communities, our work with Reinvest in laying the foundation of generational wealth through real estate investing, and the work we are doing to support the Black Business Warehouse in helping build a procurement software enabling enterprise organizations to easily contract with Black businesses, and the small product offering our studio will be launching to the public next summer 🤫.
My social impact footprint will set the path for many generations to follow.
So to the founders, SMEs, and Managing partners, I want to thank everyone for sharing your experience and expertise with me. A piece of you will always be a part of my impact work moving forward.
As a reminder, your North star’s light never dims; sometimes, with the help of others, you can adjust your positioning to get a better view.