Rules for joining the Philly impact economy: Keep a DIY mindset, hire inclusively - Generocity Philly

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Oct. 6, 2017 12:47 pm

Rules for joining the Philly impact economy: Keep a DIY mindset, hire inclusively

These were some of the lessons learned for a few social impact-focused business owners in Philly, shared during a panel called "What is the Impact Economy and How Do I Know if I'm Part of It?" as part of 2017 MED Week.

Aasit Nanavati, Trevor Day, Lou Rodriguez and Liz Brown speaking about impact economy at 2017 MED Week.

(Photo by Albert Hong)

If you want something done right, sometimes you’ve gotta to do it yourself.

That was the sort of mentality that drove Liz Brown, co-CEO and head of design at web dev firm Webjunto, to start her own business with her cofounder after coming to the realization, with a push from her father, that she could make her own kind of impact.

“‘You’re not going be able to impact others the way you want to if you don’t just start something of your own,'” Brown reminisced her father telling her.

Now, “giving back” has been at the forefront of Webjunto’s work, which includes things like helping build out QSPACES, the digital platform that launched this past June to help LGBTQ folks find healthcare professionals who are understanding of their needs.

Brown was one of four panelists at a 2017 Minority Enterprise Development (MED) Week event called “What is the Impact Economy and How Do I Know if I’m Part of It?” this past Wednesday. Co-hosted by the Sustainable Business Network and Best for PHL, the talking points covered that triple bottom line that socially responsible businesses should strive to meet — people, profit, planet — and how city government is working to help businesses achieve that goal.

Trevor Day, the procurement commissioner for the City of Philadelphia, was on hand to talk about how the city has been working to modernize procurement policy, something he’s talked about before. It was Day who helped push forward the “Best Value” procurement policy change that voters backed through a ballot measure back in May, which now allows the city to award contracts for services and equipment based on factors of quality instead of just the lowest price.

Local government is changing to meet people where they are, rather than demanding to be met where it's always been.

(As this Forbes story on that procurement policy change mentions, the Best Value approach would potentially “open the city’s marketplace to more opportunity for business than ever before, including minorities, women, and disabled-owned business.”)

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Day said this kind of work is about relationships and listening to what stakeholders say they want and need. It’s a change Day said the government is going through to meet people where they are.

“Government in the past has been very, ‘This is what we’re doing and you need to come meet us’ and I think it’s changing that and saying, ‘How is the world operating and how can we meet the world?’” he said.

For Lou Rodriguez, who started his own civil engineering consulting business Rodriguez Consulting in 2007, it was through his first few hires that he realized he could make some kind of difference with his business. In fact, his very first hire for a land surveyor was a Polish woman who met the credentials with flying colors yet at the time was cleaning bathrooms for a living, something Rodriguez possibly attributed to her not being able to find a job whether it was because she was a woman or because she “had too many Z’s in her last name.”

Rodriguez also ended up hiring a Nigerian land surveyor who got into the practice so he could take those skills back to his home country where would be able to reclaim land taken from his family during the civil war there. These employees and others Rodriguez eventually brought onto his diverse team taught him a few lessons about starting a company in America.

“It was kind of a tough thing to start learning as an American, that we’re not so great” at including everyone, Rodriguez said.

Aasit Nanavati, director of strategic partnerships at WeGardn, an online marketplace for organic farmers to connect with customers, himself found a lot of answers about what kind of impact he could make after moving out of the country to India to help with its slums. It was there where he learned there needed to be a holistic, sustainable model for businesses (including small businesses and entrepreneurs), universities and government to have a collective impact together.

Back in Philly, Nanavati is trying to create that model and hopefully replicate it across other cities.

“If it’s not happening at the federal level, then we have to do it here at the local level,” Nanavati said.

As a summary, Brown made it clear that the path to becoming a triple bottom line-focused business, something she said Webjunto is still working toward, is one, “coming to terms with that fact that I can’t help everybody” and two, “learning along the way what our impact truly is.”

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