On February 13, hundreds of changemakers will gather for the Elevating Impact Summit, a full day of speakers, performers, and interactive experiences to celebrate entrepreneurship and innovation for positive social, environmental, and economic impact. Among the event’s keynote speakers is Vidya Spandana, an engineer, entrepreneur, and former White House Presidential Innovation Fellow who co-founded New Knowledge and DMV.org. Vidya leverages data and technology to bring people together from across sectors to overcome meaningful, difficult, global challenges. I had the unique opportunity to chat with her about the upcoming event as well as concepts surrounding the so-called “industry.”
What excites you about the Elevating Impact Summit 2017?
I really like the theme (from ancient mythology to future technology). I also really like the other speakers and the overall narrative planned. There’s an interesting look toward the past. I think since we get so caught up in looking toward the future so much of the time, as an industry of impact or social entrepreneurs, we rarely get that chance to reflect on what’s been done or what’s been effective in the past and maybe learn from those things. Just the fact that there’s an appreciation for looking toward not just the recent past but back in ancient times is pretty rad.
I think this cohort of speakers, I’m hoping, will bring a dose of reality back into the industry. Sometimes I think we can get caught up in the hype moments of whatever the next latest trendy jargon thing is. I have a hope that the speakers will ground the conference in something that is more timeless and maybe less fad-based.
In your career, what led you to entrepreneurship and innovation?
I started back when I was in college, so my whole career has been based around it. I did have a regular job for the first two years after I graduated, but I felt there was a lack of freedom in being able to actually make an impact, whether it was in my work or within the organization. The traditional job didn’t give me the freedom I wanted to be able to do whatever it takes to turn my vision into reality. That’s what paved the path for entrepreneurship for me. In a job where you have certain mandates or certain strategies you’re supposed to use, you don’t necessarily have the resources or even the mental space to do think outside the box and do what it takes.
Can you give us a bit of a teaser from your talk?
What I’m going to talk about is the motivations of why people want to make an impact and how those motivations influence the actual work that we have. Often times I’ve been personally motivated to achieve something or make a change that hasn’t necessarily aligned with what the situation required for optimal impact. I’m going to talk about the role that values and personal motivations play on the creativity we have access to in solving bigger problems. Sometimes those motivations can limit us. The way forward might look toward data science to provide us a more “truthful” — a more neutral — perspective on where things are. Data can help give us an objective look at a situation rather than looking at it through our own value judgements that are often filtered through our personal motivations.
What do you wish people knew about the summit?
I wish people didn’t consider social entrepreneurs somehow different from regular entrepreneurs. I think one of the big challenges I find is we tend to create this kind of “industry” around social entrepreneurism — it seems unnecessary. In my mind there really isn’t a difference if you build an organization that provides value — all (business owners) already are social impact entrepreneurs. Whether they are making a net positive impact or not is the question. The fact is, everybody is already making an impact. Even if you’re not a business, even if you’re just an employee working for a corporation, not doing anything entrepreneurial, you’re having an impact on society. I would like more people would come to (the summit) and be open minded to it even if they don’t think they are a social entrepreneur. Any work we do is impacting society, impacting other people. Open up the “industry” and invite everybody in.
What do you expect or hope people to take away from the summit?
I want people to reflect on their motivation and take more responsibility for how their own personal desires impact their work. Look toward partners, look toward data, look toward outside influences to help keep them in check.
Kyle Huck has a background in graphic design and web-based marketing. He graduated from The Portland MBA in 2018.