Position: Chief operating and financial officer, Global Good Fund, a nonprofit in Rosslyn that specializes in leadership development for social entrepreneurs.
Angela Atherton gravitates toward businesses that have a social mission, from her first job out of college at American Capital Strategies to her work at Fannie Mae to serving as head of risk management at the Calvert Foundation. Being married to a foreign service officer led her to live in Egypt and Turkey, and form her own financial consulting business. Throughout her career, and during her time abroad, she has been exposed to social enterprises. In her new position at the Global Good Fund, she embraces the notion of doing good and doing well at the same time.
Did Global Good Fund approach you or did you approach them?
So this is the most unusual way to get a job, there was an ad. I reached out to Carrie Rich, the CEO, and made my plea that I was well suited for the position.
You are Global Good Fund’s first COO/CFO. What will you be doing?
The Global Good Fund has had a really successful fellowship program, and it’s purely nonprofit. It’s a 15-month program for social entrepreneurs. There’s no cost to it. In fact, [participants] get $10,000 to put toward their leadership development goals. We help them create a leadership development plan and provide coaching. There’s an executive coach that helps them come up with that leadership development plan and be more of a mentor. Those are coaches that really spend 10 to 12 months, every three weeks or so, checking in with the fellows and working with them to achieve their leadership development goals. So far, we’ve been reliant on donations to make that happen. We just took an application for our 2016 cohort. We’re going to take 16 fellows. In the first round of applications, we had 300 applicants. There’s demand for our services. I was brought on to launch some of the services as commercial offerings, which allows us to have greater outreach to that social entrepreneur community and can generate some of our income so we’re less dependent on the donations.
Who benefits from this service?
Let’s focus on the millennials who didn’t necessarily go a corporate route where they had all the feedback mechanisms that we’ve seen having worked in the corporate world. It’s hard for them. They’re going at it alone. It’s great. It’s amazing, but they can’t get that kind of feedback. We see that as a real value, just the feedback. Then we’ll also offer coaching services to help them assess that feedback to come up with their own leadership development plan.
What are the challenges moving in this new direction?
First of all, we have lots of ideas on the commercial side, as you might imagine, as we break up what we offer on the fellowship side and focus on replicating that. There’s a balance about getting to market and doing it well in a timely manner. We want to get out there and start offering some products, get them in a good position and look at what other opportunities that we can explore. But that whole notion of managed growth is difficult for any company, whether it be for-profit or not-for-profit. That’s one issue for us, making sure that as we continue to expand the offerings that they align well with our mission. I think people will throw ideas at us all the time and other ideas will come up and we need to continue to make sure that we hold true to our mission. And finding the right partners. I think in most of these efforts we’re looking to partner with other organizations, so finding a like-minded partner is essential.
Where will your customers be located?
Like our fellowship, I think they’ll be all over the world. Fifty percent of our fellows are domestic, all over the U.S.; 50 percent are international, all over the globe.
What kind of businesses are they involved in?
It’s amazing. They are in all sorts of sectors: health, education, we’ve got sustainable fashion, we’ve got energy, anything you can think of.
What is their age range?
The fellowship program focuses on millennials. The theory of change there is that you invest in them they’ll take it back to the organization they run now and use some of the same principles. They’re probably going to start another venture so there’s this proliferation effect. We believe that good leadership can be the difference between a company being good or decent and great.
We’re also seeing that as we engage with people in the communities that we’re in there are people at all stages of their careers. We all get to a point where we look around and say is this what I’m meant to do? Am I living a life of purpose? I think that there will be people who are established, mid-career business professionals or people who are looking to leave the for-profit world, or at a stage of retirement, but nobody is retiring anymore. It’s a new career phase for some folks. I think this is an interesting way for them to explore what this means. For the baby boomers, this is all new. Baby boomers didn’t grow up in a space where social enterprises existed so I think there’s some learning opportunities there as well.
What’s the best advice you have received during your career?
I think the best advice came fairly early in my career and it was to speak up. I was in a room full of really seasoned folks and occasionally I would speak up. The CEO of the firm pulled me aside and said you should speak up more. When you do speak, you have interesting and helpful suggestions, so speak up.
And I think, I don’t want to overstate this because I think some people do, the value of a network. I was one of those people that thought that if you’re lucky enough to get a job, keep your head down and work really hard and people will notice. I’m not discounting the importance of the working hard part, but I think that the networking piece, working the two together, is what’s really essential to advance in your career.
— Interview with Kathy Orton
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