May 13, 2016 12:49 pm

How this young changemaker perceives Philly’s social impact space

"I thought I had a really good idea of what I was stepping into," said GoodCompany Ventures' Devon Sanford. "Eight months down the road, it’s hilarious how little I knew about it."

Devon Sanford.

(Photo by Tony Abraham)

The word “impact” can carry a different meaning depending on who you ask, when you ask and why you’re asking. It’s a term that can divide a room full of folks who are all working toward the same goal.

It’s a term that means something totally different to GoodCompany Ventures‘ Development Associate Devon Sanford when she’s not working at the social enterprise accelerator, which is piloting a Social Impact Projection tool to help social entrepreneurs quantify their potential social impact.

“I’m interested in pursuing the best way to have a really strong impact,” said the Boston College graduate and Venture for America fellow. “But on a personal basis, I really appreciate a more grounded, one-on-one impact.”

Specifically, “impact” means something different to Sanford at work inside the old Impact Hub building than it does when she’s volunteering as a writing teacher at New Jersey nonprofit Hopeworks ‘N Camden.

“I love the opportunity to go there once a week and sit with the kids. I don’t know how much impact I’m providing,” Sanford said. “But there’s something really important to gaining personal experience and personal growth just as much as it’s important to provide benefited impact to as many people in the greatest need as possible.” 

"There’s something really important to gaining personal experience and personal growth just as much as it's important to provide benefited impact to as many people in the greatest need as possible."
Devon Sanford

That impact dichotomy began when Sanford was studying English and business management at Boston College — a Jesuit school that, much like Pennsylvania’s Quaker schools, reinforces mission in education. Jesuit education, Sanford said, adopts a holistic approach around social purpose. 

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“Suddenly I had people in groups and classes asking me what I was really passionate about, why I was there, what work I’m doing and why it matters,” she said. “Those questions really stuck with me. I really took it seriously and wanted to do something that held true to those values.” 

By the time she graduated in 2013, Sanford knew she wanted to work in the business world at a company that stayed true to a social mission. When she landed a job at a communications firm void of that, Sanford’s desire to work somewhere in the social impact space was ignited.

That’s when she found Venture for America, which places recent college graduates in fellowships with startups.

“One of Venture for America’s big pushes is that you work in an economically developing city in a community that needs support,” she said. “That really sold me.” 

In June of last year, Sanford joined GoodCompany as a Venture for America Fellow. The accelerator notably hasn’t launched an actual program since the second cohort of FastFWD, but with Climate Ventures 2.0 (seemingly perpetually) on the horizon as it continues to accumulate large partnerships, Sanford is raring to get to work with some social entrepreneurs.

And though her work with the Social Impact Projection tool served as a good introduction, Sanford is just starting to understand how varied and complex the local social impact space can be.

“I thought I had a really good idea of the world I was stepping into,” she said. “Eight months down the road and it’s hilarious how little I knew about it.” 


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