POSTED ON May 17 2017

Deb Nelson On Empowering Female Entrepreneurs

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About Deb:

Deb Nelson has a job at RSF Social Finance that is all about helping people align their values with their money, all while helping fund entrepreneurs for social impact businesses. As vice president of client and company engagement, Deb also works on strategic partnerships and client engagement. On top of that, she’s also the lead on a new initiative for the company – the Women’s Capital Collaborative.

Pioneered with an impact investor who wanted to do more to support women entrepreneurs, the Collaborative aims to do more to support women entrepreneurs – a group routinely overlooked and underfunded. In fact, Deb points out, women entrepreneurs received only 3% of venture capital funding from 2011 to 2013. Why is this? Unconscious bias, says the Harvard Business Review. Even when a presentation is given identical word-for-word by men and women, males are 60% more likely to get funded. This Collaborative is in place to do something about that.

“Our goal is to create an economy of generosity and connectedness,” Deb says.

And she’s at the right organization to make that kind of impact. Since 1984, RSF Social Finance has provided social impact loans, grants and investments. It focuses on creating direct, personal and transparent financial relationships for those who fund social enterprises, as well as those who leverage the funding to create long-term social and ecological benefits via organizations in food and agriculture, education and the arts, ecological stewardship and other related fields. It also provides “holistic integrated capital” – from financial capital, loans, loan guarantees and investments, to technical assistance grants, and human and social capital. “We know it takes all kinds of capital to help an entrepreneur thrive and grow their organizations,” she says.

In episode 44 of I Want Her Job: The Podcast, Host Polina Selyutin asks Deb about the story of her career path, the international travel that gave her the confidence to take on future challenges and the importance of intentionally creating “outsider experiences” for yourself.

Topics Discussed In Today’s Show:

  • Total Transparency: Deb discusses the importance of transparency at RSF Social Finance where personal relationships with all clients and social entrepreneurs are a priority. The organization even holds community pricing meetings, which allows social entrepreneurs, investors and RSF Social Finance leaders to come together and have a conversation about why they all do what they do – transforming the way people work with money and leverage their money. It’s so transparent that the three groups even set interest rates together.
  • Investing Together: RSF Social Finance provides funding to a variety of important organizations. One example includes RecycleForce, a social enterprise offering some of the most comprehensive and innovative recycling services around the county, while also providing life-changing workforce training to formerly incarcerated individuals. Another example is Equal Access, a United States-based organization that works with underserved communities in developing countries across the world to empower and support women and children. It does so by driving systemic social change that combines interactive media programming with direct community mobilization activities.
  • Making An Impact: One way Equal Access has made a big impact, Deb says, is via a partnership with UNICEF Nepal in the creation of a program called “Chatting With My Best Friend” to help take action in the problem of violence against women by rallying men. The audience of the program has is a whopping 7.2 million listeners, a quarter of the entire country of Nepal!
  • On Approach: Relationships are a key priority at the organization, Deb says. “We want to develop long-term relationships with our social entrepreneurs. When they run into trouble, we want to help them, as opposed to saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to call your loan now.’”
  • Lending A Hand: There are two ways go get funded by RSF Social Finance. The first, and main, offering is social enterprise lending through loans to social enterprises with a proven business model. These organizations can be for-profit or nonprofit, as long as they address an important social and/or environmental problem; have been in operation for at least three years; and that have at least $1 million in annual revenue. The second way is through a capital collaborative, which has different requirements. So, for example, if you’re a woman entrepreneur and you’ve already proven your business model but need growth capital, and fit within specific industries, then the minimum revenue is lower – just $200,000.
  • On Her Path: Prior to her role at RSF Social Finance, Deb served as the executive director of Social Venture Network – a network of mission-driven entrepreneurs that leveraged business for the power of social change – for 15 years. The organization provided human and social capital, but no financial capital, to women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color. “I found myself wanting more resources to give entrepreneurs, because they need all forms of capital, and financial capital is a very big piece – especially for women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color,” she says.
  • On Getting Started: “Do your homework, network as much as you possibly can, and find what makes you tick – when you feel like you’re making the best of what you’re passionate about and good at,” Deb says. “Get in touch with what motivates you the most.”
  • Building Confidence: Deb credits living in France for a year during her school years, and moving to Cameroon in West Africa as part of the Peace Corps, as opportunities that helped give her the confidence to manage other projects and goals in her life.
  • Step Outside: Deb recommends intentionally seeking “outsider” experiences by living in another country or by finding environments that will allow you to see a situation from an outsider’s perspective. She also recommends staying open-minded in life so that, “You’re always open to the different paths that life might take you on.”
  • Gut Instinct: “Listen to what your heart is telling you,” Deb says. “If you’re in a job, and everyone thinks you’re successful, your parents are so proud of you, and you’re making a lot of money – but you’re not happy and it’s just not your passion – get out! Find something that makes you happy. Work is hard, so it’s not going to make you happy every minute of every day, but if it doesn’t feel meaningful to you and it’s not interesting to you, then find something that is.”
  • Connect: Follow RSF Social Finance on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

In Case You Missed It: Check out our new series, “Tell Me More,” which features an in-depth look at future-thinking industries. The inaugural post explores impact investing. Read more.