INTERVIEW WITH LINDSAY KNEUVEN | COTOPAXI & TFC PARTNER

Could you please briefly describe your academic and professional background?

My career has spanned a few sectors, affording me a unique lens into the power of different business models to affect change and mobilize communities. I started out at a boutique wealth management firm where I found there was a great opportunity to embed investors’ social and environmental values into their investment strategies. That led to my role at Salesforce Foundation where I managed the global grantmaking and helped the foundation scale its impact and employee engagement across several continents. From there, it was off to Kenya with Nuru International to build the organization’s education system and team, while also developing income generating models to sustain the programmatic work. As a true Texan, I of course launched a dairy farm. After Nuru, it was on to Silicon Valley Community Foundation where I directed global grantmaking, strategic planning, program design, and benchmarking for a set of multi-national corporate donors. I love working at the nexus of social enterprise, philanthropy, and international development. It’s a fast paced, constantly evolving space with really complex challenges and increasingly innovative solutions.

I completed my undergraduate degree at Carleton College in Minnesota. Carleton is a magical place filled with incredible professors and students who bridge academic excellence with curiosity, tenacity, and compassion.

What is your role at Cotopaxi?

I serve as the Chief Impact Officer for Cotopaxi, a Utah-based outdoor gear company with a social mission. We are both a Benefit Corporation and a certified B Corp which positions us as a leader in the hybrid business movement and gives us a great opportunity to demonstrate how young companies can build a truly integrated model from inception. At Cotopaxi, I am responsible for the structure, strategy and implementation of our global philanthropy, supply chain, sustainability, and community engagement work. We are committed to helping aspiring social and systems entrepreneurs explore and believe in the power of business as a  force for good.

Could you briefly discuss the importance of social entrepreneurship in the field of international development?

Blending social and financial goals is incredibly beneficial for both the nonprofit and private sectors. Hybrid models enable more organizations to tap into resources that may not have traditionally been applied to issues in the social sector as they work toward population-level goals. With the evolution of social entrepreneurship, we see less dependence on donor dollars which in turn enables these organizations to be more nimble, more innovative, and more financially and programmatically sustainable.

What has been your experience interacting with the TFC?

Lindsey working with one of Cotopaxi’s grantees, Proximity Designs, a social enterprise working across Myanmar.

Cotopaxi has been fortunate to work with two groups from TFC in support of our supply chain development. These groups have enabled us to map best practices across our industry and others, evaluate the vast array of auditing tools relevant to our blended model, and help us develop and implement our own rigorous standards. The caliber of these students’ contributions has been exceptional. Their work has contributed markedly to our ability to achieve our goals.

In your opinion, how important is the role of academic centers in supporting social entrepreneurship?

Very! The field is complex and evolving. Social enterprises are taking many different forms. It’s essential for academic institutions to keep pace with these models and help evaluate their efficacy. Aspiring entrepreneurs who are trained in the structural nuances of these models and familiar with those that show outstanding impact or promise will be able to help us continue to push the sector.

Do you have any advice for someone hoping to build a career in the field of social enterprise?

I encourage everyone to find a mentor who pushes you to explore and challenges you to evolve your thinking. Try to gain multi-sector expertise through volunteerism, internships or mentorships. Learn to embrace change and gain comfort with risk – the social enterprise world is often full of unknowns. Balance innovation with the patience and attention to execute with excellence. Create systems that help you and your team reflect and learn from mistakes.  Lead with compassion and keep your eye on the root causes of the social challenges you have set out to solve.

 

BACK TO ALL STORIES