Investors’ Circle-Social Venture Network (IC-SVN) and New Resource Bank recently partnered to host a Bay Area Local network event for our combined communities. Growing Impact: A Gathering for Business Leaders & Impact Investors featured three inspiring business leaders — Lisa Curtis of Kuli Kuli; Brian Warshawsky of Fenix International; and Helen Russell of Equator Coffees — in conversation with Esther Park of Cienega Capital to discuss growing and sustaining impact. Over 80 IC-SVN members, New Resource clients, and guests joined for networking, education, and community building.
Each entrepreneur provided their own definition of what impact means to them and their companies. While there were a variety of perspectives, common threads emerged during the hour-long conversation:
- People are an asset to treasure
- One must instill values into the business setting
- There is merit to a story
Helen Russell of Equator Coffees reinforced the notion of empowering employees “from the farmer on up” and the importance of layering the company so that everyone can participate. She noted that “it’s not what you do, but how you do it and the story you tell.” Her notion of impact includes growing her company to continue to provide jobs for people. Russell strives to have her teamwork for a company with strong values so that they have that experience and can insist on this with future employment in other settings.
Lisa Curtis started Kuli Kuli to enable farmers initially in West Africa to have a sustainable lifestyle. The company now supports 1,000 farmers in this mission with a guarantee that the company will purchase everything grown. Curtis is fully committed to creating systems, culture, and processes that improve the livelihoods of where employees live and work, including Oakland where the company is headquartered. In the quest to ensure company value is maximized, Kuli Kuli is a benefit corporation. Curtis also recognizes that she is not the “story” as the founder, but instead, Kuli Kuli’s story revolves around the opportunity and honor of working with “amazing entrepreneur farmers” to bring a product to the rest of the world. All of these elements, taken together, define impact for Curtis.
Fenix International’s Brian Warshawsky definition of impact includes improved health, safety, and quality of life for the one million individuals in East Africa who benefit from the company’s solar energy products. Fenix was in the unique position of having just been acquired by global utility company, ENGIE, and Warshawsky shared the importance of ensuring values alignment during this process, confirming that Fenix’s values are not just writing on the wall, but instead guide business decisions every day. For Warshawsky, the story centers around customers and their experiences — both positive and negative — that help to shape the company.
The panelists represented companies in different stages of growth. Each leader brought a unique set of experiences and strengths. It was energizing to see that regardless of business model, product, or age of company, an unwavering commitment to social impact, people and values are playing a critical role in each company’s growth and current success. IC-SVN and New Resource look forward to celebrating the continued impact of Kuli Kuli, Equator Coffee, and Fenix International as well as the numerous other business leaders in our community.
Be on the lookout for more Bay Area opportunities soon!