Hold Hands, Sing “kumbaya” and Save The World
In 2011, Echoing Green launched Work on Purpose, a program to help the Millennial generation build careers that are right for them and good for the world. And yet, green and good have become so commonplace on companies’ websites, it’s difficult to know what’s hype and which companies are, indeed, driving positive social change.
“Doing good” is implicit in our work, but what is hardest to explain is how we strive to provide staff a complete, hands-on experience, the chance to be part of important decision-making, and the cross-cultural learning opportunity to work in concert with local Kenyan staff.
Below, three Sanergy staffers reflect on their journeys and what brought them to Sanergy. In the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at what drew some of our Kenyan staffers to come work with us.
Emily Durfee, Consumer Marketing Associate
One cold morning in D.C., I first met David (one of Sanergy’s co-founders) for an interview. I was freshly graduated from Georgetown University and looking for an opportunity to gain more insight into what I’d studied as a Culture and Politics major. Three weeks following that interview, I was on a plane to Nairobi. I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that if I stayed in the US, I’d probably be pushing papers and writing reports.
My initial plan was to try out Kenya for three months, then move on to something different. That went out the window fairly quickly. I realized I hadn’t even started growing here. I have never had to formulate a marketing plan from scratch, and here I was setting and executing the consumer marketing strategy. Working closely with our Kenyan staff and local residents has been exceptional. I’m more invested in what’s going on; I met people I’m helping face to face; and I am getting to know the culture and the community. That’s been incredibly gratifying.
Kate Rose, External Communications
I get strange looks when I tell people I left Google to come work in the slums of Nairobi for a company that builds toilets. They think about the perks of free food, massages, and beanbag chairs and contrast it to the images of Africa they are familiar with (stark landscapes, great need, and maybe some safari animals thrown in for good measure). But after 5 incredible years with the tech company, I had to fulfill a request I’d made of Sanergy co-founder Lindsay.
Lindsay and I worked together as part of Google’s Online Sales team, and when she left to go to business school at MIT, I asked her if she would hire me when she started her company that I was sure would change the world. Two years passed, and Lindsay and the team got Sanergy off the ground. Meanwhile, I moved to doing PR work for YouTube. As fate would have it, Sanergy needed someone to oversee their communications strategy, and Lindsay made good on her promise.
What brought me here was the trust the team put in me to run with new ideas and build a communications strategy from the ground up. That degree of flexibility and pure creation was unparalleled in my corporate experience. I’m getting my hands dirty (sometimes literally), I’m seeing a side of Africa that not everyone is blessed to experience, and – most of all – I’m confirming that my mantra of “surround yourself with people smarter than you and follow them into the fire” leads to a great adventure career-wise.
Patrick Seeton, Vice President, Finance
I believe in an idea Jay Coen Gilbert calls “Stakeholder Capitalism.” It was something I had been talking about to anyone who would listen before I left my corporate finance job with KPMG in Vancouver. The basic idea is for an organization to fulfill a social mission while trying to create a profitable business for the benefit of all stakeholders.
What I saw through my Kiva Fellowship in Nairobi while on leave from KPMG was that Sanergy is doing exactly that. So when I told my parents about my plans to leave the cozy confines of Vancouver’s corporate world and join an outfit providing toilets to people who may never have had one, my Dad sent me this in an email:
“Makes me think of the old Bata shoe proverb. A long time ago, Bata sent two salesmen to Africa to investigate the market. The first one reports back “no point in opening here. Nobody wears any shoes.” The second one – “What an opportunity! No one has any shoes!”
So it was time to put my money where my mouth is and join a social enterprise that, as my Dad points out, like Bata, seems to have “the tiger by the tail.”
**also see Patrick’s Kiva Fellow blogpost on “Why I quit my Corporate Finance job to join Kiva’s newest Non-Traditional Partner – SANERGY”