Do well by doing good; insights from social impact entreprenuer Jenifer Willig

Jenifer Willig is founder of social impact consultancy, motive. She’s also co-founder of social enterprise WHOLE WORLD Water, raising money for clean & safe water initiatives around the world with a mission to raise 1 billion a year.

Forever changed by her experience as CEO of (RED), the AIDs initiative founded by U2 front man Bono and former U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s nephew Bobby Shriver, Jenifer discovered a passion for driving social change through business. Today she’s a social impact entrepreneur whose work has touched thousands of lives and raised millions of dollars around the globe.

In this week’s Success Stories episode she talks with Catherine Robson about redefining what corporate social responsibility means and why a business’ economic impact and social impact are not mutually exclusive.

With a passion for creatively solving business problems, Jenifer started her career in advertising in the nineties, working with big names like British Airways and AT&T.

One phone call in 2007 proved to be a gamechanger; steering her from advertising guru to the passionate social impact entrepreneur she is today.

“I got a call from a friend saying there’s this new thing starting, they really want to talk to somebody. It was a company called (RED) raising money for AIDs in Africa that was started by Bono and Bobby Shriver. At the time I’d never actually heard of it,” she recalls.

“I ended up taking a meeting and just fell in love with the model.”

“It looked at a new way of doing (social impact) business that wasn’t afraid of being a bit more aggressive.”

“They really wanted this to be something that could sustain itself over time and the only way for that to happen is if the company is making money doing it,” explains Jenifer.

“Taking the coffee to meet Susan Smith Ellis, CEO of (RED) at the time, was a big life changer.”

Jenifer joined (RED) as Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and later, led the organisation as CEO. During her time at the helm of (RED) the brand raised US $185 million for people living with HIV and harnessed millions of people to advocate on behalf of the organisation.

It was her work with the brand that inspired Jenifer to start motive along with co-founder with Katie Harrison.

“I ended up seeing behind the curtain of some of the biggest companies in the world like Apple, GAP, Nike and Starbucks and really seeing the commitment and passion they had for a mission like (RED).”

“It just made sense that every company should be able to align their business missions to what they care about and do it in a way that adds to the business, not take away from it,” says Jenifer.

At motive, she works with clients to transform their social investments to deliver sustainable value. Motive’s goal for their clients, including the likes of GAP, Morgan Stanley and Old Navy is to prove, position and scale social impact aligning their values with their mission to build their business.

She’s also thrilled with the recent launch of her new social impact consultancy, Hive, alongside  3 co-founders, Katie Harrison, Sheila Roche, Erin Thornton; some of the industry’s leading social impact strategists.  Hive is a collective helping companies, organisations and individuals deliver results for their social impact efforts and already count  the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Girls Not Brides as clients. 

Working with global nonprofit venture fund, Acumen, Hive founders will invest 10 percent of its profits in solutions that focus on initiatives empowering women and girls.

By her own admission, she came to be a serial entrepreneur quite ‘un-intentionally’ but there’s no question about her unshakeable intention to make a social impact.

When launching motive, Jenifer and her team learnt a big business lesson: sometimes you really do have to blow your own horn.

“One of the things with motive, we were quite shy about our successes and we never really launched. I mean, we’ve launched but we never really talked about our case studies, the work that we did.”

“We were like ‘Let’s make sure we’ve really got everything down before we can talk about the work that we do.’ That was a key learning.”

“I think we should have been a little more aggressive in being willing to put ourselves out there.”

A lifelong learner with gritty determination, she firmly believes it’s big action, not big ideas, that will change the world.

“I think what keeps me inspired to get up every day is these are real issues and really changing people’s lives, or having the potential to.”

“I read that one of the traits of success is not necessarily talent, but grit. I think I have a kind of ‘stick to it-ness’, I really have a drive,” she says.

“Anything can be an opportunity, especially when you work in things like social impact.”

Listen to this week’s full episode at The Constant Investor or on iTunes.