#wcw Jenn Brown
Jenn Brown is a nonprofit and social impact consultant who works with organizations to help amplify the positive impact of their projects or operations. She gave a Lightning Talk in September about crowdfunding, but there’s a lot more to her story. Meet Jenn!
You lived and worked in Southeast Asia for more than ten years. Can you tell us about your most rewarding work there?
Definitely my time helping open and operate the Lao Friends Hospital for Children. It’s a pediatric hospital in Luang Prabang, Laos funded and run by a U.S. nonprofit called Friends Without a Border. The hospital provides free medical care to over 15,000 children each year in Laos and serves as a medical residency and training facility for Lao doctors, nurses, and many other clinical staff (pharmacists, lab technicians, radiology technicians, etc.). I worked with an inspiring and talented team and got to see the health outcomes of our work every single day when I walked into my office. I also learned A LOT in the process!
What did you learn about yourself from living abroad for so long?
Oh wow, so many things! Someone just asked me yesterday what I thought the strangest things about American culture are, now that I've spent so much time outside of it, and I responded that 1) I can't believe people wear shoes inside the house and 2) I can't understand why we don't eat meals family style (sharing is caring!). I also put hot sauce on almost everything I eat now, because I think food without spice lacks flavor. Ha! Fun cultural customs aside, though, I learned how flexible and adaptable I can be, and I've grown to become someone who is super comfortable being independent. I'm a total extrovert at heart and love being around people, but moving so many times (6 cities in 4 countries in 11 years) means you have to figure out new contexts pretty quickly, and you don't always have your closest longtime friends around to help you navigate the challenges. You become comfortable getting to know yourself, exploring on your own, and just diving into whatever interests you, without a need for reassurance or approval from others. That's not to say the experience is lonely, though -- quite the opposite. I found some wonderful communities abroad, and I now have a network of people around the world who are very near and dear to my heart.
Now that you are back in the U.S., you’re helping get the word out about a new crowdfunding platform. What is it about Ulule that interests or excites you?
I've been working with Ulule, a certified B Corporation and mission-driven crowdfunding site, on planning some pitch events across CA this fall. We're hosting a whole series with our event partner, Bank of The West, under the theme Pitch Pitch: Act for Impact. These pop-up events coincide with the launch of a crowdfunding campaign and are an opportunity to get your business and crowdfunding campaign in front of new audiences. One important factor in crowdfunding success is how many eyeballs you can get on your project, so these events are a great way to gain exposure to new networks. We also provide coaching webinars on crowdfunding and pitching, which is a large factor in why Ulule's success rate is around double that of other crowdfunding platforms. If you are a female entrepreneur or have a socially or environmentally responsible idea, reach out! I love that crowdfunding is such a great tool for small businesses with limited cash flow or entrepreneurs who don't have access to more traditional forms of financing (VCs, personal wealth, debt financing, etc.). The only up-front investment is your time, so there's no financial risk to trying to launch something. Also, I get to talk to SO many cool entrepreneurs and learn about their projects!
I hear you are also a volunteer Kiva loan editor. Can you tell us more about that?
I am! I read Muhammad Yunus's book, Banker to The Poor, when it first came out and microfinance was still a pretty novel idea. I wanted to see up close how this work played out on the ground, so I spent 5 months as a field intern with a Chinese microfinance institution in rural Sichuan province. As I later worked with other nonprofits and social enterprises in the region, creating access to financial services for the world's underbanked population continued to intrigue me. I saw many different models of poverty alleviation while living in developing and lesser-developed countries, and I feel pretty strongly that creating more robust local economies is an important way to help these communities flourish. Funding small entrepreneurs is one way to help facilitate this, which is what Kiva does through its online lending platform.
As a loan editor, I help review and edit loans before they go live on the site. In addition to making sure the English text is accurate and grammatically correct, I also make sure the loan is categorized correctly. So, for example, if you want to lend to a woman farmer, you can search and sort loan recipients by gender or industry. I love reading the stories of the borrowers because it brings back so many fond memories of local noodle stalls and other small businesses I regularly patronized in Asia. I just hit my 1-year "Kiva-versary" and have edited over 300 loans enabling almost $150,000 USD in lending activity!
What else are you working on now, and how can the Women Catalysts community help?
I love connecting with people who are working at the intersection of business, sustainability, and social impact, or who are working for innovative nonprofits (whether they are doing work here in the U.S. or abroad). Since I'm still fairly new to the Bay Area (1 year), I'd love to meet more people and learn about more organizations working in this realm -- especially in the fields of global health or financial services for the poor. I've been doing contract and consulting work for the past year, so I'm always on the lookout for new opportunities where I can offer up my skills and experience in these sectors.
I also teach yoga on the side, and one of my goals for 2020 is to lead my first retreat. Just a long weekend somewhere in CA to start...but I'll make sure to share it in the Women Catalysts community when I finally manifest this dream. In the meantime, you can check out my yoga life at jennbrown.yoga :)
How do you say “thank-you” in Chinese?
In Mandarin it's "xie xie" which is pronounced a bit like "shay shay." I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know how to say thank you in Cantonese, which is what a lot of the Chinese-speaking population here in the Bay Area (and all my neighbors in Oakland's Chinatown, where I live) speak! Guess we know what the next question I ask my neighbors is going to be when I bump into them in the hallway!
Xie xie, Jenn!