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The Challenge

Meylah is a U.S.-based cloud service provider and Microsoft Gold Partner bringing smart tourism solutions to local economies, benefitting merchants and tourists alike. As travelers have readily adopted the rapid technological advancement of the 21st century, ease of planning and instant connectivity has become the expectation. But minimal or nonexistent online presence from merchants and outdated technological infrastructure threatened the revenue potential of the lucrative tourism industry.

The Solution

The idea was sparked at Microsoft Inspire 2017, and Meylah utilized Microsoft’s IoT Solution Accelerator Program to bring smart tourism to local businesses and economies that might otherwise lack the resources to keep up with the increasingly digital world of travel business:

  • Aimed to put “the tourist at the center of the experience,” according to co-founder and CMO Chaitra Vedullapalli;
  • As a collaboration between Meylah, Microsoft, HPE, Bosch, and several other companies, implemented fully and IoT-enabled infrastructure, including smart Wi-Fi, an itinerary builder, parking meters, smart cameras, retail endpoints, kiosks, and more in the Grays Harbor region of Washington state; and
  • Merchants are provided access to marketing data, tools, and real-time insights through Microsoft Power BI.

The Results

Meylah recognized that smart tourism is the next evolution that will bring this wave of revenue and business opportunities to even less developed cities, and is seeing their success come to life:

  • Solved digital access challenges for both merchants and tourists;
  • Drove economic prosperity and job creation in a local community, and can be replicated in other popular destinations; and
  • Meylah is now in discussions with 14 other popular destination organizations in several countries, including heritage cities in India.

Want to see how you can innovate high-tech solutions to benefit entire industries like Meylah? Read the full case study here.


More people are dying of drug overdose today than died of AIDS at the height of that epidemic with more than 72,000 just in 2017. Prevention, treatment, and recovery are three legs of the same stool to reduce this epidemic. The third leg, especially communities of recovery support, provides hope to reverse this epidemic and help individuals build lives they are excited about living. Founded in 2004 in Seattle, the Recovery Café model is an effective way to deliver community-based recovery support that is different than other recovery centers or fellowship halls. Using a membership approach, this person-centered recovery-oriented system of care supports a person as they establish a healthy life and continues to provide the stability they need to thrive. Since 2016, the Recovery Café model has spread to 15 cities in seven states and D.C. with more groups working to bring this healing model to their communities.


In 2017, more than 72,000 individuals died from a drug overdose in the United States. Since 2002, our nation has seen a 3.1 fold increase in the total number of deathsi from drug overdose. In response, we have seen Congress take actions to combat this epidemic. This included the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016ii and the 2018 SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Actiii that continued the focus on the need for more prevention and treatment. 

Prevention and Treatment are two legs of a three-legged stool to end this epidemic. The third leg is longer-term recovery support. When a person completes treatment, recovery is that ongoing support a person needs to prevent relapse and develop new healthy habits to thrive. It is crucial to provide recovery support to turn the tide of this epidemic and the potential for futures ones. 

Started in 2004 in Seattle, Washington, the Recovery Café model is an effective way to deliver community-based recovery support. Community-based recovery support is people in recovery supporting others in recovery. Recovery Café incorporates the four types of recovery supportiv– emotional, informational, instrumental, and affiliational, as well as 10 Guiding Principles of Recovery.v The Recovery Café model is not treatment, but the model relies on best-practice recommendations for support in addiction recovery. 

Serving more than 900 individuals last year, in its most recent annual report, the original Recovery Café in Seattle reported the following from member (consumer) surveys:vi

  • 90 percent said that Recovery Café helped them find recovery
  • 97 percent said that Recovery Café helped them maintain recovery 
  • 91 percent said that Recovery Café helped reduce drug relapse
  • 77 percent said that Recovery Café helped reduce alcohol relapse 
  • 95 percent said that Recovery Café increased their sense of hope

Every aspect of the Recovery Café model is meant to communicate that you are loved! 
Photo Credit: Peter Ways

Simply put, the Recovery Café model is a community of recovery support in a café setting. What makes it different than other recovery centers or 12-step fellowships that exist throughout the county is that the Recovery Café model is membership-based. It is not a drop-in center or fellowship hall and it supports individuals recovering from many different things including mental health challenges. While it is free to be a member, there are three commitments that each member makes. These commitments are meant to foster a sense of community and accountability:vii

  1. A person must be at least 24 hours drug and alcohol free to enter a Recovery Café; 
  2. Members must attend weekly Recovery Circles or call to be excused; and
  3. Members must contribute to the community by helping run the Café and nurturing the recovery of others.

A Person Must Be At Least 24 hours Drug- and Alcohol-free to Enter a Recovery Café 

Every time a person comes into Recovery Café, they need to have at least 24 hours of drug-and-alcohol free time. If someone doesn’t have 24 hours, we ask them to return when they get to 24 hours. If we can point them to a 12-step meeting or other needed services, we do that. It is important to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free refuge for those who are in early stages of recovery. We encourage those who have relapsed to get the needed 24 hours and to return to our community, when they return, we ask them to tell us what they learned so their experience can strengthen others

Members Must Attend Weekly Recovery Circles or Call to be Excused 

Every Member attends a weekly structure of loving accountability called Recovery Circles. Recovery Circles are small groups of six to 10 people that meet weekly. It is the same people, same time, same day of the week with the same facilitator week in and week out. 

In a Recovery Circle, everyone shares about their recovery journey, the successes and the challenges as well as what is on the horizon. After a person shares, they can invite feedback or questions. Over time, the individuals get to know one another, care for one another, and form the foundation of a new healthier social network. Circle members hold each other lovingly accountable and help each other to thrive. 

Attending one’s Recovery Circle is so foundational that if a person is unable to attend their Circle, we ask they call in and excuse themselves. If they don’t call and don’t attend, they lose their membership privileges for a week and regain them when they attend their next circle. Exceptions to the rule arises, but Recovery Circles are the foundation for everything else in the Recovery Café model. 

Members Must Contribute to the Community by Helping Run the Café and Nurturing the Recovery of Others

Members provide support to each other in tangible and intangible ways, increasing their sense of connection and hope.
Photo Credit: Peter Ways

Every person has gifts to share. In their substance use and/or mental health challenges, they may have come to see themselves as having nothing to share. Contribution then is a tool to build self-esteem and deepen recovery. A Member is invited to contribute in two different ways. The first are tangible tasks like helping out in the kitchen, keeping the coffee pots full, taking out the trash, or cleaning the bathrooms. These are activities that keep Recovery Cafés vibrant and beautiful. 

The second is intangible ways that are no less important. It could be welcoming someone new to Recovery Café, sitting with someone having a hard day, providing directions to an emergency shelter, or helping organize an activity. These intangibles forms of contribution empower Members, deepen their sense of worth, and help them become leaders in the community. 

Who better to support someone newer to recovery than a person that has been there and can share their wisdom? It is therefore important to create opportunities for Members to contribute to the life of the Café community.

As a Member grows in recovery, the Recovery Café model seeks to raise these individuals up into leadership roles within their Café. Leadership opportunities include facilitating a Recovery Circle, helping coordinate activities, or teaching a class to name just a few.

Recovery Café Network

Since 2016, the Recovery Café Network (RCN) has helped groups that want to replicate the Recovery Café model open Recovery Cafes in their communities.viii In two years, RCN has grown to include 15 Recovery Cafés in seven states and the District of Columbia,ix serving thousands of women and men seeking recovery from addiction, other mental health challenges, and homelessness. 

RCN uses a social licensing model where Recovery Café in Seattle grants a license to organizations within RCN to use the materials it has developed since 2004. During the first two years, RCN provides focused assistance such as in person training, templates and resources, and ongoing support to help organizations implement the Recovery Café model. At the end of two years, organizations are evaluated and accredited. 

Financing a Recovery Café 

RCN estimates that in the first several years, a Recovery Café can operate for around $300,000.x Several Recovery Cafés to date have been able to rely on volunteers, donated space and in-kind support to reduce their operating costs to under $150,000.xi Dedicated funding from various sources including government varies from region to region. Health insurance reimbursement including Medicaid varies from state by state and is often excluded.xii  

Part of RCN’s support includes helping organizations identify the funding sources that make sense for their location. In some communities, private philanthropy is able to finance a Café’s operations. In others, governments have proven good partners to provide the funding necessary to support the women and men needing recovery support. RCN works with each Recovery Café to identify their fundraising strategies and help to execute. 

Furthermore, RCN staff approach regional and national funders that may not be interested in funding one location to support the network of Cafés. Once that funding is secure, RCN acts as a pass through for all the Cafés that qualify for that funding stream.

Final Thought

Over the past several years, much attention has been focused on increasing access to treatment. Access to treatment is vital. However, without recovery support systems in place like the Recovery Café model, a person may cycle through treatment numerous times, costing the individual, the family, and the community precious dollars and time. The Recovery Café model helps a person maintain their recovery, find stability and thrive, saving everyone money, and bringing that person back to life before our eyes. 

Works Cited

i “Overdose Death Rates,” National Institute of Drug Abuse, last revised August 2018,

ii “S. 524 (114th): Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016,” GovTrack, last revised July 22, 2016,

iii German Lopez, “The Senate just passed a bipartisan bill to confront the opioid epidemic,” Vox, Updated October 3, 2018,

iv “Peers Supporting Recovery From Substance Use Disorders,” SAMHSA, accessed on October 12, 2018,

v “SAMHSA’s Working Definition of Recovery: 10 Guiding Principles of Recovery,” SAMHSA, accessed on October 12, 2018,

vi “2017 Recovery Café Annual Report,” Recovery Café, March 2018 

vii “Membership Requirements,” Recovery Café, accessed on October 12, 2018,

viii “About Recovery Café Network,” Recovery Café Network, accessed on October 11, 2018,

ix “Success Stories,” Recovery Café Network, accessed on October 12, 2018,

x “Recovery Café Template Budget,” Recovery Café Network, Seattle: 2018

xi Uhl, David, “Come See Presentation,” Recovery Café Network, Seattle: October 3, 2018

xii Legal Action Center and Abt Associates “Financing Recovery Support Services,” SAMHSA, 2010 


Combined sewage systems (CSSs), in which rain and sanitary sewage are mixed together and discharged into local waters, are one of the leading sources of water pollution in the United States. The sources of this pollution are, to a large extent, controlled -- and contributed -- by the communities that surround the waters to which their sewage is released. All communities with CSSs must incorporate a form of public participation in their long-term control plans in an effort to mitigate their impact. Ideally, public participation could evolve from traditional, passive sharing of information to active community engagement with a measurable reduction in water pollution. StormSensor, a Seattle-based tech startup, proposes that more active solutions are possible if the current gap in empirical data can be filled in a way that is cost effective, efficient, and easy for communities of all sizes to adapt. 

Combined Sewage Overflows 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 860 communities, Seattle included, rely on CSSs to handle runoff from rain events. CSSs are those where stormwater sewers and sanitary sewers are connected, which means when it rains, water treatment facilities become overwhelmed and discharge a mix of rain water and raw sewage directly into local waterbodies (Figure 1). Effluent from combined sewage overflows (CSOs) contains a wide array of pollutants, including heavy metals, nutrients, and human pathogens (EPA 1994). Although most communities undertake at least some action to control these releases, a substantial amount of work remains to be done (EPA 2004).

Figure 1: Diagram of a typical combined sewage system.

Public Participation as a Best Management Practice

CSOs are controlled using best management practices (BMPs). These practices include structural engineering-type controls along with non-structural measures, such as policy changes and community education programs. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) calls for the “integrated use of natural and social sciences…in the planning and decision making which may have an impact on the environment” (NEPA 1969 S102, 2A). This call is particularly apt in the case of water pollution, because, to a large extent, the surrounding community controls the sources of wet weather pollution (EPA 2005). For this reason, the EPA mandates that public participation programs be included as part of the stormwater management plans for those communities that manage CSSs (EPA 1995). 

Public participation efforts have traditionally been consultatory in nature, including things like informative meetings and/or public warnings about water quality when warranted. However, research demonstrates that public participation efforts actually have the greatest impact on improving local water quality in cases where local citizens engage in active pollution prevention instead of cities simply disseminating information (Dietz and Clausen 2004). This type of participation allows the community to gain understanding about the role they play within their watershed, and it presents them with opportunities to take ownership and practice responsible citizenship (Duram and Brown 1999).

The Data Problem

The primary limiting factor in CSO control plans is a lack of data. Most CSSs are evaluated based entirely on modeled data with little to no validation. Overflow volumes, pollution loads, and impacts to local waters are largely estimations. To date, very few of the communities across the country with CSSs collect any real-time data at all because the high cost of traditional sensors precludes widespread adoption. New York City, for example, is home to the nation’s largest combined sewage system, which is estimated to discharge more than 6.5 billion gallons of raw sewage each year (DiNapoli 2018). There is currently no system in place to track these discharges. As previously mentioned, all regions with CSOs are mandated to control sewage releases and warn the public when they do occur. This is rather difficult to achieve when no real-time data are being collected. It is equally difficult to encourage the public to participate in a meaningful way when the problem has not been quantified or directly linked to the community.  

Making an Impact with StormSensor

The EPA requires all communities with CSSs to develop community participation plans and CSO warning systems as part of their long-term control plans (EPA 1995). It would behoove these communities to utilize the full potential of this requirement and actively engage the public in pollution prevention to spread awareness and engagement, effectively reducing the overall scale and impact of CSOs. 

Current warnings in CSS communities, such as Seattle, Atlanta, and New York City, are based on model estimations. They often post messages on their websites warning residents to refrain from fishing, swimming, wading, or otherwise contacting the affected waters during the span of the CSO event and for some period of time after the event ends. Adding a request for the public to conserve water until the CSO event is over would give their citizens an opportunity to actively participate in reducing pollution to their local waterways. 

Modeled data suggests that encouraging the public to conserve water during storm events goes a long way to reducing the pollutant load to local waterways during CSOs. For example, a model run for a community in Brooklyn, New York, predicted that only 50 percent community participation in water conservation during storm events results in a 45-50 percent reduction in nutrients and fecal coliform (Stempel 2014). 

This model has yet to be tested quantitatively, and StormSensor wants to be the first to bring this solution to scale by helping communities overcome the biggest obstacle: access to real-time data with actionable insights. In order for cities to ask the public to take action to prevent CSO pollution, they first have to get an accurate idea of where, when, and how much combined sewage is being discharged in the first place. This would entail having real-time sensors at every outfall to local waterways, which, to date, has been economically unfeasible due to the high cost of traditional monitoring equipment. 

StormSensor has developed a system for monitoring and quantifying CSOs in real time, and it has done so with the end-goal of making region-wide deployment fit into a typical municipal budget. This system includes Scute™ sensors which measure water level, velocity, and temperature, paired with Terrapin™ web-based software which pulls the sensor data and hyperlocal weather data. The StormSensor team is currently developing algorithms to send instant notifications when a CSO event is occurring, as well as calculate the volume of each overflow. StormSensor’ software instantly sends notifications that a CSO has started or stopped to utility managers; cities can push these notices to the public to increase the accuracy of warning messages and encourage participation in water conservation during rain events as a way to reduce pollutant loads. Additional sensors could be placed on outgoing sanitary pipes to residential blocks as a way to quantify and confirm participation efforts. Community’s would then be able to provide incentives to communities who participate, similar to flex programs often offered by power companies that encourage residents to use less power during the summer to prevent outages. Such a measure would not only allow for better informed citizens, but also encourage them to take meaningful action to improve their local water quality and contribute to their city’s efforts to reduce the frequency and impact of CSOs.  

Figure 2: Conceptual diagram of CSO outfall monitoring and public notification system with StormSensor. 

StormSensor plays a major role in closing the empirical data gap in regards to CSO control. The example provided here is just one of the possible uses for the StormSensor system, which also can be applied to stormwater management, coastal management, food control, and climate change. In all use cases, StormSensor encourages users to think beyond traditional data capture and use innovative technology to make a larger impact on their community.  For more information about StormSensor, please visit our website. We also encourage you to also check out our blog to get more examples of the work we’ve done. 

Works Cited

Dietz and Clausen, and Filchak. 2004. Education and Changes in Residential Nonpoint Source Pollution. Environmental Management. Vol. 34, 5, pp. 684-690.

DiNapoli. 2018. A Partially Treated Problem, Overflows from Combined Sewers. Office of New York State Comptroller. Albany, New York. May 2018. 

Duram and Brown. 1999. Insights and Applications Assessing Public Participation in US Watershed Planning Initiatives. Society and Nature, 12 (5) pp 455-467.

Environmental Protection Agency. 1994. Combined Sewer Overflow Control Policy. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Federal Register, 59, (75) pp. 18688-18698.

Environmental Protection Agency. 1995. Combined Sewer Overflows, Guidance for Long Term

Control Plan. Office of Water. United States. Environmental Protection Agency. Washington, D.C.: U.S.EPA 832-B-95-002

Environmental Protection Agency. 2005. National Management Measures to Control Nonpoint Source Pollution from Urban Areas. Office of Water, Washington, D.C.: U.S.

Stempel. 2014. Water Conservation as a Best Management Practice for the Mitigation of Combined Sewage Overflows- Case Study: Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn, NY. Dissertation Submitted to The Graduate Center, City University of New York. June 2014. 


Jeanine Liu, owner of Miro Tea, shares how the community aspect of Chinese tea houses inspired her to start her business.
Photo Credit: Anna Nodolf


We are all familiar with the link between consumer spending and the health of the economy, but what role might consumer spending play toward a more inclusive economy? Rapid growth and gentrification in cities from New York City to San Francisco to Seattle and beyond have given rise to questions regarding the extent to which rising economic prosperity is or is not equitable and inclusive. In the exploration of how to facilitate more inclusive economic growth, consumer spending is an underleveraged potential driver due to the opacity consumers face when trying to decipher who benefits from the money they spend.

Intentionalist is a social enterprise technology startup working to bridge the gap between the growing number of consumers who want to support the diverse local businesses that shape our communities and their ability to easily find and support them. 


Local businesses are often acknowledged as the economic backbone of America and are also an integral part of the social and cultural fabric of our communities. However, growth, development, and rising costs of living have increased the economic pressure on small businesses, leading to closure and displacement. As cities and communities grapple with how to mitigate the impacts of gentrification and displacement, consumer spending is an underleveraged tool to support economic inclusion and reinforce community connections.

Convenience is Queen

Technology has ushered in an era where consumers can find and buy whatever they want, whenever they want it. From the growth of same-day service from online retailers, to a myriad of delivery options when it comes to restaurants of all sizes, it’s easy to argue that when it comes to consumption, convenience is queen. But while this has led to convenient, transactional spending, many consumers, including millennials crave connection and a sense of community.1 Fortunately, the convenience-driven consumer culture has been paralleled by a growing consumer interest in supporting small retail businesses that are a part of the local community.3

We Need to Close the Opportunity Gap

Despite a growing interest in supporting local businesses, there's a gap between diverse small businesses and the ability for people who care to find and support them. Existing resources focus on what is for sale, and consumers are left with the burden of time-consuming research when it comes to figuring out how and where to find information regarding the people behind the businesses. While the buy local movement continues to gain traction, for consumers interested in supporting more inclusive communities, a beyond local solution is needed.

Intentionalist Connects Consumers to Diverse Local Businesses

Intentionalist is a start-up social enterprise developing an online platform that makes it easy for consumers to find and learn about diverse local businesses and the people behind them. In addition to providing information about the product or service, Intentionalist allows consumers to more easily identify women-owned, minority-owned, veteran-owned, LGBTQ-owned, family-owned, and disability-owned brick and mortar businesses. This means that at a time when consumers are increasingly aware of the opportunity to vote with their dollars, it’s becoming easier for them to find and support businesses owned by historically marginalized communities. 

Beyond the growing resource itself, the Intentionalist approach reflects a long-term vision informed by a systems view of the opportunity to advance intersectional consumer support for a more inclusive economy. The initial focus is on the greater Seattle community, with plans to expand to other cities. However, thanks to the ability to Suggest A Business, Intentionalist already includes businesses from Atlanta, Georgia, Washington, D.C., Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, California, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and beyond.

Intentionalist Complements an Emphasis on Access to Capital and Technical Assistance

When it comes to supporting small businesses and microentrepreneurs, there is an existing ecosystem of organizations and entities providing financial and technical assistance to small and micro businesses. However, while non-profit organizations, public sector entities, and community development financial institutions offer critical support, any existing directories or guides to small business clients are limited in scope and reach by the individual organization’s portfolio. Intentionalist has embraced the opportunity to partner with Seattle non-profit organizations like Ventures, Business Impact Northwest, the Ethnic Business Coalition, the African Women Business Alliance, and the Greater Seattle Business Association, whose members and clients benefit from inclusion as part of the guide and promotion of their unique stories.

A More Inclusive Economy Demands an Intersectional Approach

In response to the Women’s March in 2017, The Stranger in Seattle published a list of women-owned restaurants in Seattle, which it updated in 2018. In March of this year, Jay-Z and Diddy announced the development of an app to help consumers find black-owned businesses. In addition, a variety of Google Maps-based lists circulate on social networks as consumers search for an easy-to-navigate resource that goes beyond “local” or “small” with an emphasis on underrepresented communities. 

The Intentionalist guide is designed to be intersectional based on our hypothesis that a more inclusive economy is best facilitated by providing a single resource that encourages consumers to support local businesses that span the full range of diversity they would like to see reflected in their communities. To complement the online guide, Intentionalist also publishes a blog and organizes events that provide opportunities for consumers to get to know the people and stories behind small businesses. 

Consumers Want to Support Their Communities

According to the Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey commissioned by American Express and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, on Small Business Saturday in 2017, consumers spent 12.9 billion dollars, and 67 percent of those interviewed shared that they participated in order to give back to their communities.3 Intentionalist makes it easier for consumers to do something they already want to do -- find and support small businesses and the people behind them -- in their communities, throughout the country, and eventually, around the world.

Intentional spending transforms impersonal purchases into purposeful support for people and communities that matter. In addition, new research shows that a shift of even five percent of consumer spending from more affluent to less affluent neighborhoods may contribute to a decrease in income inequality by up to 80 percent.4

The Intentionalist vision of the future is one in which consumers have a resource at their fingertips that enables and incentivizes support for the diverse local businesses that make our communities the places where we want to live and work. Who benefits from the money we spend in our daily lives? A more inclusive, intentional economy starts with everyday decisions about where we eat, drink, and shop. It’s time to #SpendLikeItMatters.

Works Cited

1 Segal, Chelsea. “10 Reasons Why Millennials Love Small Businesses and How You Can Win Their Business.” Inc. Accessed October 10, 2018.

2 Danziger, Pamela N. “Top Shopping Trends Of 2018: Retail Experts Share What To Watch For Next Year.” Forbes. Accessed October 10, 2018.

3 Accessed October 10, 2018.

4 Winters, Chris. “Shop Here, Not There: Science Says Reducing Inequality Is Almost That Simple.” Yes! Accessed October 10, 2018.

Seven years ago I was introduced to Brian Howe, co-founder of what was then a two-week-old Impact Hub Seattle. Co-working was still a new idea. Accelerators were few and far between. “Social enterprise” was a term more commonly heard in the nonprofit sector than for-profits. Even the term “impact investing” had yet to take off.

Meanwhile, Ben & Jerry’s had been sold to Unilever over a decade earlier, Whole Foods had their IPO almost a decade before that, and companies in the sharing economy like Zipcar, AirBnB, and Lyft were edging into the mainstream.

Nonetheless, the world of social good felt like a nascent industry back then, and into this world Brian, I, and three others held a weekend event for “social entrepreneurs” called #SocEnt Weekend. It was at that time that Brian and I were on YouTube with this interview.

Reminiscing is often fun. More so when we can look back seven years to see what we thought might happen in 10 years in the future. The question was, “Will Seattle Become the Capital of Social Entrepreneurship?”

Seattle isn’t the “Silicon Valley of Social Good,” but neither is San Francisco nor anywhere else in the world. Seattle is most certainly one of a handful of cities leading the way, and we may be at the top of the list, depending on the criteria.

Sometime between that meeting ages ago and now, the Kauffman Foundation sponsored a series of videos showcasing entrepreneurship in various American cities. For each city, they picked two themes that showed off something special. For Seattle, that was for-profit social good.

There is certainly even more going on in Seattle now than there was back then. Looking back makes it clear that the once nascent market is now established and growing. And ths is without counting the global efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Global Partnerships, Capria, Fledge, and others, all based in Seattle but making impact around the world.

So, if there is one big lesson in all of this growth, it’s that impact isn’t just a Seattle thing, not even when it’s based in Seattle. Social good is a global phenomenon, and Seattle is one of the great places where it happens.

Seattle is a funny city. I’m a native to the area and have no trouble admitting our own little quirks. I’ve also been incredibly fortunate to travel around the world and be immersed in culture vastly different from our own. The energy on the streets of Buenos Aires and the spiritual connectedness in the Nepalese Himalaya couldn’t be more different than the passive rainwalkers during Seattle’s cold, dark, and rainy winters. But far beyond the “Seattle Freeze,” Seattle is also unique in its focus on global issues. For such a small city with a culture of people becoming more socially withdrawn during our dark winters, we also have a vibrant spirit for looking beyond borders to see how our innovations can be used to better the world.

I believe it’s this introspective attention that has led to many of our global innovations. Take my social enterprise, MovingWorlds. In the past five years there has been a firestorm against “voluntourists” as report after report demonstrates that when people pay to volunteer their skills overseas, they often create more harm than good. The New York Times even held a Room for Debate on this very topic after an Al Jazeera’s People and Power section uncovered child-trafficking as a result of this practice. This is not only true for volunteering, but really, for much of philanthropy. While many backed away from voluntourism to avoid the bad press, our startup social enterprise leaned into this issue, analyzing every stage of the process: How do you find organizations that actually want volunteers? How do you filter organizations that will truly benefit from hosting volunteers? How do you select volunteers with the right know-how and motivations? How do you ensure that matches turn into productive relationships? How do prepare both parties for these cross-cultural experiences? How do you track impact so you can keep improving the way you match, prepare, and support both parties?

Instead of drawing away from these complex issues, we dove into the practices of our own organization, and the industry at large for one simple reason: Data was clear that a lack of access to human capital – more so than financial capital -- was the leading barrier to progress for emerging market startups and local social impact organizations. This data continues to be reinforced, and was re-reported in 2018 as being the key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. As the world was becoming more aware of the need to boost human-capital, we noticed another scary trend -- both impact investment capital and philanthropic capital was becoming more risk-averse and moving away from locally-led organizations to support bigger institutions. For us, this cemented the need to find a way to get skills and expertise to grassroots organization that have the best abilities to create local jobs and solve local challenges.

Five years later, we’ve emerged as an award-winning social enterprise that helps organizations find top talent by connecting them to an incredible pool of professionals that travel and “experteer” their skills for short-term projects. Our best-practices in finding projects, matching them to expertise, and supporting constructive projects that make a sustainable impact have been published in Devex, NextBillion, SSIR, and more. Along the way, we’ve been approached by, and engaged with, some of the world’s top brands, like Microsoft, eBay,, EY, Kering, Siemens Stiftung, and more to help them identify how they can mobilize their human capital to support their corporate social impact goals and better develop their employees. As one example, The MySkills4Afrika program which we co-designed and co-manage with Microsoft just earned a HALO award for best skills-based volunteering program.

One of our proudest accomplishments was a report we published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review this past year sharing our best practices in how to ensure skilled volunteers land with impact. 

I believe it’s our introspective spirit that led to our innovations in skills-based volunteering, but it’s also fueled by something else native to us Seattleites. As much as we withdraw, we also strive for connection with people and nature. Once our winter is over, we flock to social events, the forests, and the mountains to make the most of our limited time under the sun. And every season when we do, it’s with a renewed sense of self, and our place in the world. The rhythms in our social impact innovations represent this same rhythm -- withdraw in introspection to improve, and then rush out into the world to connect with the things that matter most.

Right now, many investors and social impact incubators assume social enterprises, conscious companies, and mission-driven startups need outside funding. The question of when and how to fund each enterprise drives the existing paradigm that assumes all conscious businesses need or want outside funding. 

Within this assumption, the main question is often whether or not a social enterprise is ready for funding. But are we asking the right question -- do all social enterprises actually need outside funding to begin with? 

To answer this question, let’s turn to the largest, most-overlooked sector in business -- the microbusiness. 

The Forgotten Microbusiness: A Game Changer for Wealth Creation

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a staggering 92 percent of U.S. businesses are microbusinesses -- defined as a business with one to five employees, counting the owner.

Despite this vast majority, many investors assume that all startups want to be the next household brand. Therefore, funding is required to build and hire the right team to eventually exit the business with a sale, acquisition, or initial public offering, and 10x the investor’s return. This is where the current funding paradigm falls short.

Microbusinesses (which studies show are mostly comprised of young people, women, and/or minorities) often don’t want to exit. They may not even want a team. They want the income and freedom that allows them to spend time with their family or travel. They are far away from the typical startup founder spending hours and hours hustling to make the next do-or-die round of funding.

What’s Possible Inside this Missed Opportunity

As a business coach who works with conscious, mission-driven microbusinesses and solopreneurs, my market research shows that the vast majority of microbusinesses aren’t built with an exit strategy in mind. Instead, these microbusiness owners are building what’s sometimes referred to as a “lifestyle business.” Their end goal is more freedom to be with their family and friends, enjoy their favorite hobby, travel, and give back.

The current funding paradigm isn’t designed for this. You would never see an investor put their money on a microbusiness that plans to stay a microbusiness. They would assume there was no potential for growth. But this is untrue.

Many microbusinesses are, in fact, making anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000 per month with zero employees and just a handful of contractors. Most of them were self-funded. No, they aren’t trust fund babies, or former Microsoft employees who had their stocks go public. They were people with no money, perhaps even living off credit cards, who were able to build successful businesses without outside funding.

Why the Current Funding-Focused Model of Business Growth Is Broken

Having been an Office Hours Mentor for Social Enterprise Alliance and the current Chair for Social Enterprise Alliance, Washington state, I have been surprised to find how many entrepreneurs lack basic business fundamentals. Even when they secure funding from winning a contest or an incubator, they often lose that money because of poor decisions, due to a lack of business skills or inadequate market research. For example, one social enterprise secured $50,000 in government funding, then found there was no market and their model wouldn’t work, after spending all the money. Another social enterprise secured $60,000 and was featured on several major news outlets. The owner confided to me that even before their launch, they ran out of money by hiring expensive professionals for branding and are almost through their savings.

Funding alone is not the answer. Investing money in a business concept that has yet to be tested, or in hiring a team to 10x scale growth quickly doesn’t address the underlying issue. When the owners of the business lack business fundamentals that cause them to make basic mistakes in market research, sales, hiring, or negotiating deals, you must address the source of the failure. 

A New Model for Entrepreneurial Success

The solution to these issues is to invest in the growth of the entrepreneur, not the growth of the business. This can be accomplished by building proven, scalable business accelerators -- created by experienced, successful entrepreneurs with demonstrated, repeatable results from their students.

Accelerator programs range from six weeks up to a year, averaging around eight- to ten-weeks. Quality, trusted accelerator beginner programs cost anywhere from $997-$1,970 per entrepreneur. Advanced accelerators can cost anywhere from $2,500-$15,000. Instead of being funded by investors, these programs are typically paid for by the entrepreneurs themselves, using credit cards, short-term personal loans, or bootstrap funding generated by early paying customers. Accelerator formats include online training, local, in-person training, group coaching by phone or video conference, or a hybrid of all three. Each accelerator typically focuses on a particular area of business expertise such as marketing, money management, or building an online course. 

For example, my Client Accelerator for Conscious Entrepreneurs is an eight-week hybrid program, consisting of online training, group coaching, and a Facebook community. It’s focused on helping entrepreneurs attract more clients through creating and executing a strategic marketing plan, customized to an entrepreneur’s unique strengths, passions, budget, and target market. 

Tailored to the conscious microbusiness and lifestyle solopreneur, this accelerator follows six modules covering business fundamentals focused on vision and values, offering and niche clarification, leveraging networks, determining marketing strategies, creating key performance indicators, messaging, and creating structures for success. 

Learning these business fundamentals helps to scale a conscious company’s quadruple bottom line of people, planet, profit, and presence. Here are some of my student’s results:

Chris Anibarro, Principal Owner of Impact Consultancy, helps nonprofit and government leaders and teams elevate their performance by teaching them how to apply systems and mindsets to continuously improve. Three times he tried, on his own, to start a consulting business. In his best year, he generated $10,000 in gross revenue. Within 12 weeks of starting to implement the fundamentals from the Client Accelerator program, he secured $100K in contract work, enough to quit his nearly six figure nine-to-five job. Two years later, he’s consistently averaging a gross of $30K per month.

Brandi Macouzet, owner of the digital marketing agency Mac J Web, serves ecommerce businesses. Before starting the Client Accelerator, she was barely making it month to month, with no retainers, one year into the business. In less than eight weeks as part of the Client Accelerator, she gained the confidence to secure a $55K private contract plus a $2K per month retainer, along with picking up four other monthly retainers. 

Karen King, CEO of Productions Without Borders, had a brilliant 20-page business plan she hadn’t executed in six years and spending $4,000 per month on hiring professionals that weren’t growing the business. She never went after her passion of diversity and inclusion training, thinking she had to stick with what paid the bills but was not her passion. After starting The Client Accelerator for Conscious Entrepreneurs, she got on the phone and started selling. During the Client Accelerator, she gained the confidence and faith to go after her real passion of diversity and inclusion training, narrowed down her niche to media producers, busted through her procrastination, got on the phone, made sales, and secured her first diversity inclusion client with a major Canadian network association.

The Future and Now What

The accelerator solution is simple -- maybe even common sense. But what can make it innovative is integrating this working model with existing institutions, organizations, and government agencies. 

The sectors of nonprofits, government, academic, and private investors need to collaborate. Government and private funders could invest in providing scholarships to already proven accelerator models versus trying to fund social entrepreneurs directly. Other sectors should ask questions of those already serving this market with accelerators and ask them what innovative solutions across sectors would allow better collaboration. 

But, first things first. Acknowledge the limits of the current funding-driven paradigm and focus on a learning-driven model of conscious entrepreneurs mastering business fundamentals. Then, help all sectors better collaborate by funding proven business accelerator models.  

Author bio

Anna S. Choi, Conscious Business Coach, empowers the next generation of conscious entrepreneurs to unleash their brilliance, attract more clients, and scale their impact. As a broke art major with zero experience, connections, or knowledge she started her first conscious wealth management business, InsideOut Investing. By age 25, Anna was able to triple her net income and gross six figures. Now she helps her clients do the same by clarifying their vision, leveraging their genius, and executing strategic marketing plans. If you're interested in gaining focus, energy, and inspired action in a like-minded conscious entrepreneur community, learn more at


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