Fab Five at Watermark

It was a jam-packed, energy-fueled day at the 2016 Watermark Conference for Women in Silicon Valley.

Like last year’s inaugural extravaganza (see Watermark LeadOn Inspirations), both main stage and breakout sessions delivered bold inspiration and actionable ideas to the 6000 (mostly) women attendees.

I can’t cover all the highlights. But here’s my “Fab Five” from Watermark 2016:

1. Integrating Profits into Nonprofits. Leila Janah’s philosophy is that the best way to help the poor is by giving them work.

Leila founded nonprofit Sama in 2008. Sama helps people lift themselves out of poverty through digital work. The workers are in Kenya, Uganda, India, Haiti and the U.S. The employers are the likes of Google, eBay and Getty Images who outsource small digital tasks.

But Leila believes fundraising is not sustainable. Her favorite nonprofits are those that earn revenue—think Goodwill, which earns over $5 billion annually from in-store sales. She wants Sama to exemplify this “self-funding nonprofit for social impact” model.

Towards that goal, last year, Leila launched Laxmi, a high-end cosmetics company that employs African women to grow and process its ingredients in exchange for a fair wage. Sama is a part owner of Laxmi, and profits will help fund Sama’s operations and provide capital to find new ways to fight poverty.

Intrigued with the profit and nonprofit integration model, as I am? You’ll enjoy this Fast Company article.

2. Life Is Good. I love a good founders story. And John Jacobs, who co-founded Life is Good with his brother Bert in 1989, shared one heck of a story.

Which is important if your mission is spreading the power of optimism.

Life is Good seeks to spread optimism through inspiring art, a passionate community, and groundbreaking nonprofit work.

You’ve seen their hats and shirts. You probably own some. Life is Good now offers over 900 different items. They sell in 4500 stores in the U.S. and in 30 countries.

Like Sama, they are a great example of a business and integrated nonprofit model (The Life is Good Kids Foundation).

Life is Good is also a case study for building a cult-like brand. Their brand emphasizes simplicity. Humor. Humility.

“If you are authentic,” says John, “people want to take the journey with you.”

3. Authenticity as the New Power. Why was the breakout session Reviving Your Career: Actionable Steps to Achieve a Professional Renaissance packed full?

Because as women, we love to reinvent ourselves. We are equally as ambitious as men. But ambition doesn’t just mean linear career progression. We care deeply about the strength of our personal and professional relationships. We care that we are using our gifts.

Moderator Wendy Wallbridge, a pioneer in executive coaching and author of Spiraling Upward: The 5 Co-Creative Powers for Women on the Rise, pulled out the “defining moments” from three women with very different stories. The commonality across all three?

All are crystal clear on what they love to do. They connect to a purpose larger than their own life. And now, each relishes her job that serves that purpose.

 4. Women Who Are Kicking It. This year’s luncheon headliners were soccer star Abby Wambach, the former forward of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team, and actress/writer/producer Mindy Kaling.

I saw Abby speak at a conference last fall. Seeing her again almost six months into her retirement, she was more…herself. She donned a plain white t-shirt. There was no podium—she walked the stage. She owned up to her recent DUI arrest. And she moved on to her mission—fighting for gender pay equity. Go Abby!

We all know Mindy for being outspoken, funny and fashionable. And yesterday, she didn’t disappoint. But one of her themes was dead serious. To achieve success, you need to put in the work. It’s just that simple.

Oh, I also loved her line “I’d rather be rich than sweet.”

5. Diversity attracts Diversity. I ended the day at the breakout session Achieving Your Biggest Professional Dreams: How to Define and Launch Your Moonshot.

The three women panelists were rocket scientists and rock stars. Literally. One of the panelists, Anjula Acharia-Bath, an entrepreneur and angel investor, was named as one of Billboard’s 2014 “International Power Players.”

Anjula has incredibly deep connections in the entertainment, music, and tech worlds. As an immigrant to the U.S., she started with nothing. Her advice?

“Build your network constantly by sharing ideas, connections, and inspiration.”

Make a habit of listening to what people you meet need. Pro-actively follow-up with the offer of connecting to someone they’d care to meet. They will remember you.

As a fellow connector-type, I couldn’t have said it better.

But one of my favorite personal observations of the day came from looking around the room at that last breakout session.

Anjula is of South Asian ethnicity. Her fellow panelists were an African woman and a Latino woman.

The audience was their mirror, a similarly diverse collection of (mostly) women, of all ethnicities and age.

“You cannot be what you cannot see.”

We’ve all heard that phrase as an argument for diversity in leadership. But in that room, I saw the phrase come to life. Right there, in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Proving that diversity attracts diversity.

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Jodi Morris Written by:

Venture Guide to High-Achieving Seekers. Success Coach. Venture Travel Curator. Impact Investor. Traveler. Writer. Global Connector. When we connect to others' stories it changes our own. Let's Venture!