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© 2016 Opportunity Internationala 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Meet Amanda Britt

By Allison Kooser

Last year, we sat down with Amanda Britt, Young Ambassador for Opportunity and Founder of the collaborative workspace, Panzanzee. She shared with us her entrepreneurship journey and why she believes in Opportunity's work. 

Allison: Hi Amanda! I would love for you to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about Panzanzee.

Amanda: Well first, thank you so much for inviting me to do this! Opportunity and YAO have been such an important part of my life for the past five and a half years and a community that has been really special and catalytic for me, and also a community that, in 20 years, I see myself still being a part of.

My company is called Panzanzee. We’re based in Chicago and we’re a coworking space, incubator and entrepreneur community for social impact companies here in Chicago. We’re mostly focused on start-ups, but also companies – for-profits and nonprofits – that are in growth stages and all have two components to their organization. One – they are or are seeking to be sustainable. Eighty percent of our organizations are for-profits, twenty percent are nonprofits. And they are all motivated by a mission and mindset to make social impact through their organization. We’ve been up for two years – we started as an incubator and worked with five companies that had really great results out of our place. Then we pivoted and became a coworking space in River North, Chicago, and in our time running, we’ve supported over 55 companies in their concept, launch or growth phase. And it’s been a stellar ride!

Allison: Amazing! How did you get started with this? What is your background and how did you decide to venture out on your own? 

Amanda: Growing up, I always knew I wanted to devote my life to address global need. So coming out of Davidson College, a liberal arts school in North Carolina where I focused on political science and French, I was exploring foreign aid and foreign service, I had some really exciting tours of the United Nations, the senate foreign relations committee and a State Department-sponsored nonprofit – which is actually a fun side note. It had me in Moldova over 9/11, so just a fascinating ride. During those experiences, I learned a lot about what aid organizations and Foreign Service could do on the positive side, but I also saw some of its inefficiencies. And there was a really efficient part of my personality that needed to try to get to the answer more sustainably. So I decided to give business a go and Bank of America was headquartered in Charlotte, where I was at the time. A senior executive took me on as an analyst, and ended up staying there for 8 years learning different parts of banking and real estate.

During that time, in 2008, I learned about microfinance and was impacted in two major ways that pointed me toward how Panzanzee developed. First, I’m adopted, and I was exploring my own adoption story. I visited a series of orphanages and one was in Oaxaca, Mexico. I encountered a six year old girl named Jacquline who couldn’t be with her mom because her mom lacked access to capital.  I had just learned about microfinance and the concept became really alive to me. Here was a need – a social need – that needs to be met, and here’s an economic way by bringing banking services that can meet that need and keep this family together in a really powerful way. The whole concept of microfinance and social enterprise came alive in my life in 2008. Later that year, I knew I wanted to commit my life to something like microfinance and was seeking out jobs. I ran into Linda VanderWeele [an Opportunity International VP of Philanthropy] and, lo and behold, they were starting this young organization called YAO, and I got to be a part of its formation here in Chicago – and it’s just been an incredible ride. 

Those two things with microfinance shaped what is now Panzanzee. The catalyst was, in 2010 when I was at Bank of America and I had been on the peak and the crash of the market and survived throughout the process, and I was ready to move on to something new. Friends who had more money than time suddenly had lost their jobs in the market crash and had more time than money. They were starting companies and all of their companies had a social impact focus. All of these entrepreneurs had the same needs: they needed tools, they needed how to become a better entrepreneur, they needed networks, they needed funding, they needed space to sit and not be in their basements, they needed a community. I realized I was a natural aggregator of needs in my corporate and government lives prior. I asked the question, “What is the kind of organization that can meet these needs?” The answer was an incubator, so that is what we’re going to do. I found some people who wanted to be a part of it and we knew that there was a market here Chicago. Three years later, we’ve done something. It’s really been fun. To connect that train of thought, a career is not a linear, straight path, particularly in this day and age. It’s been a series of connecting the dots and its taking risks with new ideas, especially with finding people along the way to build a mission together. It’s definitely not been a solo journey.

Allison: That’s great! What’s been one of the more challenging components of starting your own venture?

Amanda: I’ve always heard that entrepreneurs are really naïve visionaries who have the courage to leap and then you get out into the abyss and look around and ask, “How did I get here?” That’s been very true, although it has been a really rewarding path. Three things stand out to me as the most challenging components of entrepreneurship. The first is just that there is a steep learning curve. I was used to being resourceful in my corporate roles as an entrepreneur and the infrastructure a corporation builds around you allows you to be successful in those roles because you focus solely on your role. It’s a shocking moment in entrepreneurial life when you realize you have to build that infrastructure around you and you’re used to being successful in sort of a growing role and now, it’s everything. You have to go buy your own ink cartridges for your printer and you have to return your own phone calls and do your accounting and do your own sales and marketing. Those are things that they tell you, but you’re not prepared to the way at which that comes at you. That gap that I saw myself drove a deeper desire for me and Panzanzee to try and help build that infrastructure for other entrepreneurs. 

Another thing we realized with Panzanzee is that we’re not building a business, but we’re building a market in Chicago. This time in 2010, social enterprise was not really a topic in Chicago at large. Entrepreneurship with the text scene was just coming on to the table and paved a really nice role for us. Now, social enterprise and social impact start-ups are a real force and presence in Chicago. There’s a greater demand than we at Panzanzee can respond to and I didn’t expect that we’d be building a market as well as a business.

The third thing I’d say, for any of you watching The Olympics, you’d probably see this in athletes that the most outstanding challenge of entrepreneurship in me and in entrepreneurs around me is the battle of the mind. This is not unique to entrepreneurs; it’s probably unique to all of us. I really like the downhill skier, Bode Miller, who recently won a bronze medal. When he was doing a speech on his training, he said that you train for the physical skills in skiing, but no one prepares you for the mental stamina that it will require. I think that is really true of entrepreneurship. There are obviously a lot of business place hurdles, market place hurdles, product challenges, customers who can be challenges, but no one prepares you for the ups and downs of the everyday mental challenge. At the end of the day, until you build a really good team around you and have a strong market place presence, you have to learn how to manage the ambiguity and the ups and downs that come with that. They can be a bigger barrier than anything else and any other market force in your way. It’s simply learning to manage yourself. I’ve seen hundreds of entrepreneurs, that’s one of the single things that you balance is that no one is pushing you, you have to push yourself every single day. That can be the greatest reward, once you learn to manage it.

Allison: That’s awesome and helps lead into our next question, which is the reward aspect. What has been some of the high points, the rewarding pieces, of being out on your own?

Amanda: For Panzanzee, hands down, the people. Our greatest asset is the community of entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, service providers, young professionals, experienced professionals, and students who all want to get behind this vision of social impact. They want purpose behind their work and their jobs and they want to do it sustainably. Never before in my life have I been so engaged in a community of passionate, brilliant people taking action on their dreams. It keeps me encouraged every day. I think that is also another life lesson applied, not just to entrepreneurship, of what you learn in entrepreneurship very well is learning to fail. I like to say that I am a recovering perfectionist and entrepreneurship has challenged me in a way that my corporate government roles shielded. When the buck stops with you, you learn to adapt quickly and get acquainted with failing, over and over and getting up, over and over. One of the ways I’ve started to manage this ambiguity was taking improv classes at Second City, where you learn to fail in 30-second increments. You fail over and over in public, and then you realize and train your muscles that it’s not that big of a deal to fail. Now, I’ve really come to learn to love and embrace failure. Not ultimate failure, but little failures that you learn from and can build success from on the way.

Allison: What was the motivating factor for taking those Second City classes? Are you an aspiring Tina Fey or something?

Amanda: I don’t think my teacher would say that I am. I’ve always been a creative person first, and I think that at any job, it is really important to not lose yourself solely to the job. For me, it was really important to have a creative outlet on the side and that has helped me do my job better. It’s really important to separate your identity from your business or job because if your business or job goes away, you’re still a person, you still have meaning and worth and value. It’s very easy to confuse the two. I just wanted to have fun. I thought it would be great and then I realized it was giving me this tool set of how to think through things and how to negotiate on the fly and to not be afraid to try something and improving my speed to market. It has been really fun and it just makes the environment here at Panzanzee a lot more fun when you ‘haze’ people a little lightly with improv sketches during work breaks. We love it and it is a part of our culture.

Allison: Very fun. Can you share a few stories of some Panzanzee entrepreneurs that really stick out as doing compelling, interesting things or ones that have stuck with you over time?

Amanda: Yeah, it’s really hard to pick, so I’ll pick a couple that can stand out quickly. We have 40% of our entrepreneur members who are in the consumer product groups, 30% in tech, and 30% in the service industry, like financial services or education. One of the groups that stands out in my mind is part of one of YAO’s founding members, Nathan Popkins , who works in this office. Cumulus funding was an organization that he started in 2011 that delivers loans and consumer finance products to those who were turned down by banks but still bankable here in the US. They actually make equity investments in individual consumers in exchange for a percentage of their future incomes. They pay back on a timing that if they lose their job for six months, they’re not bound to those payments until they resume their income. That’s really powerful innovation in the financial sector that makes lending much more accessible to more people.

On the consumer products side, some of our most active members is a group called Better Bag Corporation. They are a compostable plastic bag that in a compost site, decomposes in 180 days or less. It’s made of complete GMO free corn products. They’re not only selling, they just sold to Midway and O’Hare, as well as other places throughout Chicago, and they’ve taken trips through the state department now to Columbia. They’re looking at other sites in Asia that can expand their services. It’s really just a very tangible product that is making innovations in consumer products in the green space.

The final thing that I think is a really interesting innovation that you wouldn’t expect to find here in Chicago is a business accelerator called Future of Fish. They’re making innovations in the seafood supply chain. They tried to say, “how do we save the ocean but not just throw money in it? How do we actually change the supply chain routings that are just stripping certain fish or oyster clam beds from the ocean? How do we do that in a way that affects the supply chain and not just raise money to save the coral reef?” And those are also elements, but they’ve got a worldwide, world-class organization that is really changing the seafood industry and they’re based right out of here in Chicago and in Panzanzee.

Allison: That’s great! They’re very cool and very diverse businesses. What is one motto, piece of advice, quote, words of wisdom that have stuck with you, encouraged you, and kind of shaped how you’ve moved forward in your endeavors? 

Amanda: I always think in terms of the what and the how. In the what, our motto at Panzanzee is, “At the end of the day, it’s about making impact.” That really focuses the end game of decisions we make or work with our entrepreneurs to make. There are a lot of aims but at the end of the day, if your decision isn’t lining up to sustainably impact your end users, whether that be impoverished groups or the ocean or students needing education, then don’t do it. At the end of the day, it’s really about pulling stakeholders together to keep focused on those missions. That’s a balance between finance and mission from time to time, but that’s a really important motto for us. 

On the how side, this gets into the name, Panzanzee, recognizes and we’ve had to live our own process, which is the right process leads to the right answer. Creating an environment that facilitates discovery is really essential to growing as a person and to growing as a company. Many people ask what the word, ‘Panzanzee,’ means. When I was three years old, I couldn’t say the word chimpanzee, I said Panzanzee. My parents said I was notorious about saying that I was right and was using the right word. It wasn’t until kindergarten when I learned that the real word was chimpanzee. When we were thinking of names of what kind of organization that was going to help social impact company, Panzanzee came up to the forefront, because we thought how true is that of entrepreneurs or true in general. We have an idea, we think we are right, and then there is a process of actually discovering how all that materializes. And so, if you honor the process, particularly in social impact, it’s really important to listen and not just assume. It’s really important to take the best parts of the wheel and reinvent the other parts that aren’t working. You need that environment of discovery and an open, questioning mind and spirit versus having a ‘me, too’ application. We found that to be true with entrepreneurs we work with, as well as ourselves.

Allison: How do you encourage people to do that, to have that open mind, to be open to doubting and rethinking, and coming up with new ideas?

Amanda: I do think, to not be cliché, it does go back, to our motto, at the end of the day, it’s about making an impact. It is first of all, keeping your goal out in mind. If you want to impact farmers in Nicaragua through a co-op, for instance, which I was fortunate enough to experience in 2012 with Opportunity International, you have to listen to your user and it tech businesses, it’s the same thing. Your user experience is the fundamental, most important thing and to always come back to the problem you were trying to solve. Inherently, these kinds of lean start up mentalities keeps you focused in that rootedness.

The second thing is to really let go of your assumptions and treat it like a science experience, to test them versus to hold on to the need to be right as the answer. That need can drive your business into the ground. The fear of being wrong, the fear of exposing the real product or solution or business model or team can drive a company into the ground very quickly. And so, a nimbleness is required not only in your assumptions but also how you go about getting the resources for your assumption. We have one-on-one relationships with our entrepreneurial members and we help them connect to mentors who we think would help hold their companies in the best interest and give them great guidance. They walk with them and share the dream but also challenge them at certain points to keep those questions out in front.

Allison: Are those mentors other entrepreneurs, business leaders, or a mixture?

Amanda: A mixture, absolutely.  The entrepreneur, unlike what goes into a corporation, is only as good as their network because that infrastructure is lacking unless they build it. What’s required to make an entrepreneur successful is the input and shared skill set of many different skills. We break down the mentor categories by former entrepreneurs, current entrepreneurs who serve as peers or have gone through this before, investors who know what makes a successful company run, of service providers who are attorneys, accountants, HR support, that give input into what running a business is required and to make sure it stays regulated, to other professionals in industry fields.

Industry expertise is one of the most important things you can add to your board as an entrepreneur in your field to make sure you know the industry and can avoid a lot of the pitfalls and circumvent your timeline so you can go faster. Industry specialists, both as analysts and as experienced, is one of the most important things we found for us at Panzanzee. To have other CEOs on your board is really important to help you make decisions. Usually, they come without an investor’s interest. They come with a pretty independent mindset and have gone before you so they know how to make the right decisions. They know what it is like to synthesize a realm of decisions and at the end of the day, the buck stops with you and you need to make that decision. We try to introduce entrepreneurs to CEOs, like you said, who have gone before them, who know what it’s like to be in the arena. So, in other words, it takes a village.

Allison: Sounds like it! Lots of skill sets necessary, for sure. You kind of mentioned this in several aspects, but just to make things a little more clear, we know obviously you were highly involved in the creation of the Young Ambassadors for Opportunity, so what drew you to Opportunity and drew you to support Opportunity International?

Amanda: I was really taken with the financial and business rigor that Opportunity applied to serving the poor. I’ve seen it, over the past five years, sustain and grow. They attract world-class business leaders with a real heart for mission and a real propensity to listen and not just come in knowing the answer. The composition of that team, the skill set, first and foremost was what drew me in to take comfort that they would deliver their mission of microfinance in a way that was both good for the markets that they were serving and financially stale. I haven’t seen many non-profits do it better, in fact, I haven’t seen any. They’re world-class in the way that they deliver their mission. The integrity, the transparency, and the caliber of leadership actually drew me in to support their mission.

Then, on sort of the broader angle, I met so many people like me who had really great jobs but wanted to be connected to something with purpose and passion and to use our livelihoods to serve those with greater needs. Opportunity was growing a young professional group at the time with people who were just like me and wanted to do the same things. We didn’t know exactly what to do about it, but we came together and decided that we would be a community together. I can say that five years later, it has been one of the strongest communities in my current life, not only with similar young professionals like myself, but we also have several potential capital marketers that come from the Opportunity network. We have a number of volunteers and we’ve taken on interns. My friends are involved in Opportunity and organizations like it, so I think the trend for young professionals and experienced professionals alike who want to serve in a way of purpose sustainably is only going to increase. Opportunity has a great trajectory and it’s a great family to be a part of.

Allison: Agreed. Maybe I’m a little biased, but I’m with you 100 percent. If you were to give a piece of advice to entrepreneurs, budding entrepreneurs, people thinking about going out on their own, what would be one or a few of the things that you would like them to know?

Amanda: I’m going to be a bit cavalier in my first one because I think there’s nothing you can do without learning it. I’d say do it and don’t do it alone. Taking action, I’ve learned, is the only way to know if you have the right answer or if you’ve gotten on the right track. There’s a certain amount of preparation and analytics that need to go into every decision, but at the end of the day I remember spending so much time mentally wondering what I could do and analyzing the possibilities and even working up the courage to take the risk, when doing it is the only way to know if it’ll work or not. The risk is so worthwhile.  That said, if you do it alone, eventually you will burn out. Entrepreneurship is inherently a lonely and isolating field, and I say that in the best light because it’s the battle of the mind challenge that is thrilling to overcome. You need a community as an entrepreneur and more importantly, you need advisors.  One of the greatest mistakes that I’ve observed as entrepreneurs is stepping out with a great product or idea and taking longer to form an advisory board, even if informal, full of product industry experts and people they trust with expertise that can help move them forward and open new channels. Most successful entrepreneurs have not done it alone.

One of the most important things I’d say is to challenge your mindset from ‘I want to be in control, this is my idea, I just want to be free of a boss,’ to ‘Here’s my mission. I want to solve ‘x’ in the world. Who are the best people and what are the best resources to bring around me to deliver this.’ It’s better to deliver your own platform to something rather than to just be your own champion and to try to get to that group of resources faster so you can move the idea forward faster and fail faster and getting up and changing and pivoting faster. 

Allison: That’s great! Obviously, with Opportunity you’ve seen our work in the field; you traveled to Nicaragua with us in 2012. What kind of things have you seen from very small scale entrepreneurs? It is a similar experience or a very different one? As an entrepreneurial expert, what would be your analysis there?

Amanda: Expert, only by doing work and I still have so much more to learn. I was really impacted in 2012 by a farmer named Eduardo in Nicaragua. I know I’ve shared this story before in several other venues but it’s so powerful to me. He was a 57-year-old man who had just started the 7th grade with his daughters. He was able to go to school because he had seen the power farming, innovation, and a farming co-op, which was the power of community that Opportunity was able to give to him. He had spent his entire life farming off of one acre of land and one crop, I believe he was growing yucca at the time. He, like many other farmers in his region, was struggling to survive. They had one cash crop yield a year and had to survive on that throughout the year. They believed that they were competing with one another at market, and it was a pretty small market outside of Managua, Nicaragua.

What Opportunity was able to do was to say through the loans that they were giving twenty or so farmers, was form a co-op. This convinced the farmers, rightly so, that instead of competing with each other, they were competing with China and other export countries. To pool those crops together and sell them at market in one lump sum actually made everyone richer. Then, they helped them to develop technology to farm better. They introduced different types of crops from yucca. Eduardo expanded to hibiscus and certain types of beans. When he shared with us that day in his field when he was starting the 7th grade, he attributed it to the fact that he had 23 acres in two years from one acre. He was able to provide for his family and send himself and his kids back to school. He was out there doing it but he wasn’t doing it alone. That idea really became powerful and it instilled in me the reality that I’ve experienced that community is not just a group of people, it’s a real economic engine that can be harnessed in the right ways.

Allison: That is awesome. I haven’t heard that story recently and it’s always impactful.

Amanda: Yes, Eduardo is making his way around the city as I tell his incredible story because it’s true.

Allison: Yeah, exactly. So what’s next for you? Do you have a big dream for the future of you or for Panzanzee or something entirely unrelated and different? 

Amanda: I’ll start with Panzanzee. We really aim to build a national pipeline of fundable and sustainable impact companies. My dream is that in the next five to seven years, we just have helped entrepreneurs grow sustainable companies. There are a crop of them that are flourishing and growing and creating great companies that are services in the market and deliver social impact. Because we are such a petri dish of entrepreneur activity, we become a platform globally that shares the entrepreneur’s success stories, maybe some of their failure stories if they allow us, because that’s important, too and the great impact that they’re doing. We are a part of helping shift the cultural mindset, both in business and in life in general, in that business and impact don’t have to be separate binary efforts; they coexist. I hope the word, social enterprise, goes away. I hope it becomes more of a culture and a way of life and a way of doing business, rather than a subset. It’s also really exciting to be on the pioneering front of that, along with many others who are making social enterprise happen.

For me, personally, I’ve always wanted to be a professional downhill skier but after watching the Olympic athletes, I think that one’s long past. This is going to sound really corny, but this is true. I just want my life to matter in helping move the dial forward for disenfranchised people. I want my life to be one that connects the people like me who want to do the same to those in need and to do it in a way that’s lasting and smart and creative and fun. I hope to have a family to share that with one day and in the meantime I have the most remarkable group of people. I hope the trajectory keeps going and that I can just be a part of contributing back.

Allison: That’s awesome; great goals. Just for fun, if you could get on an airplane today and fly anywhere in the world, where would you go, what would you do, and why?

Amanda: I would go somewhere warm, especially if it was today. I have this goal of traveling to one new country a year and the one that’s been on my mind lately is going to Egypt, which sounds really nice right now since Chicago’s cold. I’ve just always wanted to see a part of ancient history and the mammoth structures that they built in Egypt. Unfortunately, with some unfortunate labor conditions, but I’ve always wanted to see the outcome of that. I’m drawn to the politics of the region and I’ve never seen the Middle East and that’s a part of Africa I would love to go to. So if anyone’s going and has a ticket, I’ll hop on to get out of the cold.

Allison: I’m with you, it’s been too long of a winter already. So you’ve mentioned improv classes, but what other things do you do for fun when you’re not working?

Amanda: Chicago is such a great restaurant city and so there are always fun things to try and do. I’m a musician, so I write music. I don’t always share it. Sometimes to wind down, I’ll sit at my piano or guitar and work on a song or write out an idea. Lately, I’ve been doing musical improv, which is about as corny as it gets where you make up musicals on the fly. It’s hard but it’s a lot of fun. I do a lot of yoga, tennis, and cross-training. When the weather gets better, I’ll hopefully be able to do a lot more tennis.

Allison: Sounds good. One of our participants, Adam, submitted a question for you. He asks, “What are the best nonprofits you know of that work towards solving world hunger?”

Amanda: That’s a great question, Adam. My first instinct is to actually say Opportunity International, genuinely, because they’re providing sustainable livelihoods that can help families rise out of hunger but we obviously know world hunger is so much more systemic. I would actually like to get back to you on more specifics to back up my answers because I think there are a number of really great organizations. I haven’t studied the levels of efficiencies or transparency that they have, but one that comes to mind is OxFam. I know that they’ve been doing some really terrific work on hunger. I think their One campaign, while it doesn’t deal directly with world hunger, has done a really great job collaborating within the country and on the ground that deliver really great systems. One of the resources I use is Charity Navigator, where you can look and see where the nonprofit ranks in delivering its mission; is most of their proceeds going towards operating expenses or is it actually going towards delivering services on the ground? And that’s one thing to look for. I think Opportunity International has a really nice margin. It’s less than 40% go towards operating expenses, it might be much lower.

Allison: It’s about 20 percent now.

Amanda: Yeah! You cut it in half. I look for those types of things.  

Allison: Alright, so last question - people want to know about life in general in Chicago? Do you have a favorite restaurant in Chicago? Or even just one you like? 

Amanda: So I’m terrible at picking favorites. I can never do it. So I restaurant I like is one that I’ve been to just recently cause it’s near my house is Perennial, under the Lincoln Hotel. They bring all local food sources to the table and at one of the last YAO Chicago board meetings was there and it was great. For Mexican food, I kind of like the off the wall, hole in the wall kinds of places. There’s this really great Mexican restaurant on Randolf called Perez and it’s been there for ages and they haven’t done a thing to spruce it up but it is the best Mexican food for the best price that I’ve found in town. Perez is at Randolf and Sangamon, don’t get a reservation, just show up in your jeans, it’s awesome.

Allison: Do you have any words of wisdom as someone who has been a Young Ambassador from the beginning because we’re constantly reaching new YAO folks and launching new YAO chapters. Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for people launching new communities of Young Ambassadors?

Amanda: Do it and don’t do it alone. I think every community is different and no community is franchised. We learn that very quickly in co-working that what works in one community may not work in another community. Find the people, if you’re in a market that’s building a YAO group or wanting to start one, who have the passion to be a part of what you do. People just like you who are looking to find a way to place a sense of purpose in life through business and if microfinance seems to appeal to that.

Allison and the national team have done a really good job of building the infrastructure that can support you for branding, for technology, for lessons learned. Find mentors throughout other parts of YAO. I know the board and other chapter members would be so happy to have conversations. Allison is brilliant and has done so much in her time here but she can’t do it all. So lean into other chapter leaders or members who can share resources and come visit. Come visit a strong chapter, I know Chicago is really strong. New York is strong, San Francisco is strong, and Denver is really growing. I know there are others that I haven’t mentioned. Go visit and remember that the network across the country, in Canada, and even in London, is your strongest asset and is available to you. I’ve stayed in YAO members’ homes in other cities. We all want to be friends and we don’t need to wait for the conference to do that. Find what’s unique about your community, build into it, and leverage the infrastructure that Opportunity has already built. 

Allison: Great! Another listener, Jeremiah, asks, “What is the best activity or program that YAO Chicago has done?”

Amanda: I’ll share two things. I love our annual Tunes for Tanzania, that we did three years in a row. We took three local bands, filled out Schubas, which is a local music venue, raised a ton of money. One year I think we raised $15,000 just around the community and music and good raffle prizes. I think what was so great for that was that it was an annual event that people could expect. It was engaging music and sponsors in different parts of the community. It gave us a really great branding opportunity to share YAO and Opportunity’s story, as well as feature the really great YAO members who made it possible every year. So on a big level, that was really great and successful.

On a more organic level, one of the most successful things we did to build YAO was simply having dinners and potlucks in peoples’ homes and we did it one by one, dinner table by dinner table. Developing those friendships and sharing other things besides microfinance helped us use that opportunity to ask questions, swap stories, read articles. This began to develop this organic and really strong community that over time has become I think over time has become one of YAO’s largest chapters. Don’t discredit the small one by one strategy because it sticks. Once you grow that core foundation of leadership, then events like Teams for Tanzania really become possible and powerful.

Allison: Definitely, and Tunes was a very successful, multi-year endeavor. Thank you Amanda for being a part of this

Amanda: Thanks guys for letting me be a part of this. I’ll just close by saying that entrepreneurship is not just a profession, it’s a mindset and it is the driving force in the US behind job creation. The mindset is also the driving force behind innovation, whether you’re starting a company or in a company already or even searching for a job. The disruption of innovation that you can bring to a market and still leverage the existing tools and infrastructure is so powerful and so important and there has been no greater time in the history of our country to pursue a business and try to stretch out your dream. Or, if you’re a part of a company, it’s important that you really just try to move new mindsets and move the dial forward. I just encourage everyone, if you’re on this call, you’re already entrepreneurial, or you’re wanting to learn how to be, to not just see entrepreneurship as a profession, but as a lifestyle and a mindset. Go do it and don’t do it alone.

Allison: Awesome, that’s great advice. Thank you so much Amanda! Thank you everyone and have a great day.

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