In Too Deep

Co-creating investment opportunities with marginalized communities | Episode 3

January 22, 2019 Jenna Nicholas, CEO of Impact Experience Season 1 Episode 3
In Too Deep
Co-creating investment opportunities with marginalized communities | Episode 3
Chapters
In Too Deep
Co-creating investment opportunities with marginalized communities | Episode 3
Jan 22, 2019 Season 1 Episode 3
Jenna Nicholas, CEO of Impact Experience

Jenna Nicholas is the CEO of Impact Experience, an organization that helps build deep relationships between impact investors, foundations, entrepreneurs, artists and local leaders to co-create solutions with marginalized communities. Listen to learn about her work ensuring insights and leadership are coming from communities themselves, and how they use a curriculum that builds a foundation of trust and understanding to unlock greater forms of capital and partnerships.

Show Notes Transcript

Jenna Nicholas is the CEO of Impact Experience, an organization that helps build deep relationships between impact investors, foundations, entrepreneurs, artists and local leaders to co-create solutions with marginalized communities. Listen to learn about her work ensuring insights and leadership are coming from communities themselves, and how they use a curriculum that builds a foundation of trust and understanding to unlock greater forms of capital and partnerships.

Jenna:

One of the things that just became increasingly clear to us was the disconnect between so many of these foundations/ investors/companies and the marginalized communities that they were looking at investing in.

Jeff:

Welcome to In Too Deep, the place for meaningful conversations about tackling tough problems. This week we are rejoined by Sam Rye and also Jenna Nicholas, who is the CEO of Impact Experience. Her organization works to build bridges and deep relationships between impact investors, foundations, entrepreneurs, artists, and local leaders to co-create solutions with marginalized communities.

Sam:

I'd love to hear a little bit about your role with Impact Experience. Jenna, can you tell me a bit about that?

Jenna:

Sure happy to. So about four years ago my cofounder and I decided that we wanted to start Impact Experience, really building off the work we had both done investing in socially responsible businesses and funds in different parts of the world. And he had done a lot of work in New Orleans with Katrina and helping to build the entrepreneurial ecosystem there and I had done a lot of work in building a coalition of foundations to divest from fossil fuels and invest in new economy solutions. And this coalition is a 170 foundation group with $10 billion in assets under management and one of the things that just became increasing clear to us was the disconnect between so many of these foundations, investors, companies, and the marginalized communities that they were looking at investing in. And so we cofounded Impact Experience really with the goal of how do we build bridges and really provide a mechanism, where insights and leadership can come from communities themselves. I now run this organization and have a wonderful team of people, and work on projects both in the US and internationally in communities that are in transition, whether it's in southern West Virginia communities that have really been struggling with any laid off coal miners and incredibly high rates of diabetes with decency and drug offense rates or in Puerto Rico and Houston with the hurricane hit communities.

Sam:

You mentioned you were in Cleveland at the moment. What are you working on with Impact Experience right now?

Jenna:

Yeah so we have been exploring some work, really building off our work in West Virginia. Really across the Appalachia region, including in Ohio. Really the goal in each of the communities that we work in is to work with local leaders to really understand what are the core issues within their communities. And then we curate groups of investors, foundations, companies, thought leaders, entrepreneurs around core issues in the community. And we have a curriculum that we've designed with a few key parts to it around trust building and marketing opportunities and challenges and then cocreating commitments and next step. And really with this, the idea of how do we unlock greater pools of capital and partnerships in these areas, but really based on this foundation of trust and understanding. We're in the process of scoring some of that work in Ohio and continuing that in different communities across the country.

Sam:

It's such valuable work. Knitting all of those aspects together to realize the impacts that we can have. Out of interest, how does Kumu fit into the work that you're doing at the moment?

Jenna:

Yeah, so it's been really exciting. Over the past year we've started to use Kumu as part of our engagement in each of the communities that we're working in. It actually really came from one of our participants in our work in north Georgia. The work in north Georgia is focused on the intersection of sustainable agriculture. And we had one of our participants who just in the middle of our session, just started to create a Kumu map of the different organizations and stakeholders within the community and outside. And uh, this is particularly around that issue that broadband access in the community and who were the players, and it was so valuable as part of the discourse and engagement to be able to literally visualize what did the current ecosystem look like so that we were able to see visually where some of those gaps and opportunities were, to really work in parallel with the conversation and engagement that was taking place in person. To have a way of both creating something that would last beyond the convening itself and would be a mechanism for also engaging a broader set of stakeholders outside of the group in that work as well. And so we've now started to use it, um, in each of the engagements that we have in the communities that we work in as both an asset map that can be helpful to all of the participants and our community leaders as well as an ever widening set of people that were engaging in our work.

Sam:

Are you finding there's anything you're still struggling with Kumu at the moment?

Jenna:

It's been really great. Part of it is how do we lower the barriers for people to continue to input data and information over time into the product? So we have really a pleasure to work with our friends in Georgia who originally built out this platform and he's been incredibly valuable in terms of being able to populate and build out each of the Kumu maps for each of the communities that we're working in. That our goal would be that this is something that everybody could add to, and it could be a simple process that can take place. And so we've been working through one of the best mechanisms to be able to do that so that those people who haven't necessarily taken part in the impact experience itself, are able to see that and be able to contribute to it over time.

Sam:

It seems like a very common challenge of participatory organizations like yourselves. There's only so many people you can convene in a space, and there's that wider community beyond that that you want to reach out to.

Jenna:

Yeah and just to add to that. Part of what inspires us to want to use a tool like Kumu in the first place was, given that it is so highly curated, we typically have 30-40 people that take part in each of our impact experiences, about half from the community and half from outside. And it's important for us to have this curated, trusted group of people. But in order to really scale our work and be able to reach as broad a group of people being able to use tools like Kumu to be able to do that is a big part of what kind of really excites us about the tool.

Sam:

Do you see any potential ways to do digital engagements that have opened up because of Kumu as a tool?

Jenna:

Yeah, very much so. And I think it's something that makes it possible for people who haven't necessarily taken part in the impact experience, or people who have said I'm not able to participate in person but I'd love to find a way to be supportive, being able to share the Kumu maps that we're creating with them, as being a really simple way of us being able to portray what's taken place during that time and have a mechanism for being able to do that effectively. So yes, it's been a really exciting aspect of it to engage in that way.

Sam:

Awesome. That's great. One area I'm actually just dabbling in the tool with myself at the moment is actually the presentations area. I was wondering if you've played with that at all.

Jenna:

Yeah, we actually used it on one of the projects that we've been working on recently to sort of, different from core work, but is with a funder that we've been working with that was interested in funding initiatives that relate to de-polarization and exploring promoting pluralism and what are mechanisms to be able to do that. And so and especially how I met Jeff, we were presenting a gathering that they put together. And we used Kumu as part of that presentation and actually we were mapping over 5,000 organizations, in the end and we created a Kumu map, it actually ended up being even more than that. The power of being able to trace something as large as that for the group that we were presenting to, for us we had tags we had used with the map and to be able to zoom in and have ways for them to really understand what was the interconnectedness or lack of between the organizations that we were mapping, it was a really powerful aspect of the tool for us. I'm really excited to be able to do that. And we're often giving presentations in different parts of the world. A lot of those presentations are around ecosystem building. And so to be able to show when we're presenting to a company or a funder, the power of the capital that they could provide, being able to show that visually and through the presentation mode with Kumu is a really exciting aspect of that.

Sam:

Yeah. Wonderful. I'm wondering if there's any maps that you're particularly proud of that we could share with people to show them some of your work.

Jenna:

Yeah, I'd love to show you this organization map. Let me check with our partner to see with if that one will be possible.

Sam:

Yeah, that's wonderful. Hey, thanks so much Jenna. It's really, really interesting to speak to you about your work and about how you're using Kumu and I'll look forward to following your progress.

Jenna:

Wonderful. And yeah if there's anything else I can send over, just let me know.