Christopher Gergen‘s first entrepreneurial venture—a coffee shop bar in Santiago, Chile—was impactful, but more impactful was the man who walked in and introduced himself as a “cultural entrepreneur.” In this episode, hear how that first project inspired him to support founders and transform entrepreneurship in the Triangle as a Founding Partner of Forward Impact Solutions
This transcript has been edited for clarity and readability.
[START OF INTRO]
Alisa Herr: Welcome to “Inside Impact”, where we give you a behind the scenes peek at how organizations can create positive change in their communities. I’m Alisa Herr, founder of Unity Web Agency. And on the show today, social entrepreneur Christopher Gergen shares his story on how he decided it wasn’t enough to be just a founder. He wanted to move the needle by truly making a difference. For Christopher, it all started when he was working at CNN Headline News and noticed something was missing.
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Christopher Gergen: Being in a newsroom covering the world was just not close enough to trying to make an impact in the world. So against all parental pressure, friend expectations, everything else like that, I left CNN and spent a year traveling through Latin America with a group of artists. I started my first entrepreneurial venture, which is a coffee shop Bar Restaurant in Santiago, and it’s really a super cool community called Nunoa. And we have live music five nights a week, and a rotating Art Gallery and an ADC restaurant and attracted all of this unbelievable cultural talent. And it was through that, that I met a guy who became a mentor of mine. And he had started his own university. So here I was thinking that I was hot stuff, having started my own bar, and this guy had started his own university. And so I asked him what he called himself that he called himself a “Cultural Entrepreneur”. And for me, that was the first connection of the connecting of dots to say like, I love being an entrepreneur, but I want to have more impact in the world.
Alisa Herr: Christopher eventually sold the bar, moved back to the US and went to grad school. After getting both a Master’s in Public Policy with a focus in education reform, and an MBA, he founded and sold an online tutoring company. Christopher then worked with AmeriCorps VISTA to place 400 entrepreneurs into 96 nonprofits, and even founded a charter school in DC. Somehow, he found time to co-author a book called “Life Entrepreneurs”, which profiled 55 founders who are truly making an impact on the world. So when Christopher and his family moved down to North Carolina, he was teaching entrepreneurship. But again, something was missing.
Christopher Gergen: I loved it. But as I got into it, I started thinking, you know, we’re putting all this energy into developing this next generation of talent that has unbelievable potential to go out and make a meaningful difference in the world. But at the time, North Carolina had not yet created a fertile environmental ecosystem to be able to connect those entrepreneurs with the resources and relationships that they needed to be successful to be able to take root and grow here in North Carolina. And so that really got me turned on to how do we create a more fertile environment in communities to be able to foster innovation and entrepreneurship? And that led to launching velocity forward here in Durham, which was Durham’s first co-working space and was trying to think about ways to be able to surround these social innovators and entrepreneurs with the resources that they needed. And out of that, then emerged, HQ Raleigh, which became Raleigh founded, and then ultimately, what became the inception for forward cities.
Alisa Herr: Cool. All right. How have you seen entrepreneurship create impact in communities?
Christopher Gergen: So this will tie into my own personal journey, which is that I think entrepreneurship has impact on multiple levels. I think there are some huge opportunities for adding to that impact. So the obvious answer in terms of the impact entrepreneurship has on communities is on economic impact. As we start and grow businesses, we’re able to create more jobs, we’re able to create greater revenue, we’re able to create wealth within families, within communities. There’s a real value add in terms of the products and services that come out of the entrepreneurial economy. 95% of our state’s economy are small businesses that are less than 100 employees, I mean, on and on and on the entrepreneurship and small business is really the backbone of our economy, here in North Carolina, across the country and around the world. And I think that the entrepreneurial spirit is something that is going to be even more important as we go forward. Gone are the days where people are able to be in the same job for 10, 15, 20, 25 years in a row and much more prevalent is going to be this dynamic, as has been called free agent nation where people are taking control of their own destinies and are having a variety of different jobs. Now, going from job to job may not seem entrepreneurial, but at the end of the day, ideally, people are saying, here’s the direction I want to go. Here’s the kind of job I want, here’s the kind of impact I want to have, and that intentionality is inherently entrepreneurial. So that’s important. That it’s going to be able to inform not just our small business economy, it actually informs our workforce, because our workforce has to be entrepreneurial.
So I’m on the Governor’s Workforce Commission, for example. And a big part of our focus is trying to think about how do we equip people for next generation jobs? And next generation jobs are, by their very nature, going to be more entrepreneurial, you’re going to want to find people who are able to translate a vision into action, they’re able to mobilize a team to get things done, they’re good communicators, they’re good strategists, they can adapt on the fly. We know that to be true. So we know that we need an entrepreneurial workforce. So it’s critical to our workforce. We’ve already talked about the fact that people who are able to be intentional on the professional side, often are able to be more intentional on the personal side. And I think that there’s a direct correlation between how entrepreneurial somebody is in terms of being able to be clear about where he or she would like to go in life, and how they want to align their days with that vision, and be able to translate that sense of purposefulness with happiness. So I actually think that there’s a really strong correlation between an entrepreneurial mindset that is inherently purposeful, and proactive versus reactive, that lends itself to greater happiness, so I think it’s tied to happiness.
Alisa Herr: Yeah, it’s cool.
Christopher Gergen: So I think all of those are the positive benefits of entrepreneurship. The number one challenge, I think we have, is to be able to make that path more accessible. Because what we see across the board is that particularly in communities of color, and in rural communities, among women, that there are barriers to entrepreneurship, starting and growing businesses, being able to get into jobs that they can grow professionally into being able to live in a deeply fulfilling way. There have been because of persistent generational systems of racism, and other barriers that have been put into place we have, that’s the number one challenge we face. So amazing opportunity and potential huge driver of economic impact and growth. The number one thing we need to be focusing in on is how do we make it more accessible?
Alisa Herr: Yeah, I completely agree with that. It’s interesting, I had never thought about the mindset of deciding what you said about people that haven’t started their own company, but are switching jobs to choose the life and their career that they wanted, as entrepreneurial. I hadn’t thought about it in that way. And it’s really interesting, because for me, I feel like my entrepreneurial journey started when I decided to start a business. But thinking back on it, I’m like, well, the funny thing about why I started the business was because as a woman in tech, I thought it’d be easier to start a business than to find a job. Which is crazy for everybody that has started a business. They know it’s not easy. But for me, I was like, well, the barriers for getting a job are so big, and getting the kind of job that I wanted, are so big. Well, I was like, I can forge my own path.
Christopher Gergen: You know, the interesting thing I mentor and coach a lot of young people in particular as they think about coming into the professional work world, what does that look like? How do I land where I want to land? And often a job search can feel very binary, I either have a job or I don’t have a job. And what I recommend is actually trying to if you’re really if you know the direction you want to go, you know the kind of field you want to be and you knew the kind of job you want to get that it’s often helpful to even start on a consultative path where you go and work with a handful of companies and contribute in a way that would be value add to them. Now you need to know what skills you can bring to bear and be hireable. But it’s at a much lower barrier for a company to be able to, for example, bring somebody in on a part time basis than a full time basis benefits. And so you might be able to get to a place where you’re actually have a couple of part time gigs, show your value, feel them out, in terms of their culture, determine if that’s the right fit or not. And if the fit is right in both directions, often it will translate into a full time job. So when I talk to people who are, for example, interested in coming to work with me, I always test them out. And I think that’s a two way street, they’ve got to see if they’re interested in continuing to do and be part of our culture and vice versa. We want to feel it, you know, they can add the value that we’re looking for. So I don’t think, again, going back to the workforce, I don’t think the workforce is binary, I think it’s ultimately you need to take a portfolio approach, and to really be clear about what you want to be doing, be able to clearly communicate that. And as I share with my students develop your T develop a set of horizontal skills that can be applied to a deep vertical. And again, demonstrate your value that way.
Alisa Herr: That’s awesome. And thinking about that, as an entrepreneurial mindset is just mind blowing to me, and it makes so much sense hearing you say it.
Christopher Gergen: Yeah, I mean, I again, entrepreneurship is not only, should not only be defined by somebody who is starting and growing a business. I actually think it’s a mindset. And it the mindset translates to every dimension, not just your professional, your life, but also your personal life.
Alisa Herr: Yeah, definitely. Let’s talk about Raleigh founded. So in addition to everything else that you’re doing, you’re also the founding partner, or a founding partner of Raleigh founded, which is the largest entrepreneurial co working community in North Carolina. And as you mentioned, before the interview, we spoke and you said that it was the second certified B Corporation. That was for a co-working space in the world.
Christopher Gergen: What I understand.
Alisa Herr: Okay, that’s really cool.
Christopher Gergen: It’s pretty cool.
Alisa Herr: I love our community. I love the triangle so much anyway, can you tell us a bit about what co working spaces do for communities?
Christopher Gergen: Sure. So let me back up for a second talk a little bit about the origin of Raleigh found, and what led us to start it. So going back to the earlier part of the conversation, there were four of us who basically felt we had the opportunity to be able to pay it forward. All of us were entrepreneurs in our own right, we’d had a modicum of success in terms of our own entrepreneurial journeys. And we wanted to try to create the type of space and environment that none of us really had access to when we were starting our own entrepreneurial careers. So four of us came together to start it. And there were a lot of really cool circumstances that made that happen. One of the positive alignments was that Raleigh had basically said, we need to foster more innovation and entrepreneurship. And they had at summit called innovate Raleigh, and one of the key takeaways was, we need a space and we need a community to be able to bring people together. And we had just started to have this conversation. But as soon as there was a rallying cry for this, we said, hey, this is something that we can contribute to. And so one of my partners, Brooks Bell, had some extra space for in her company and her and this beautiful space that she had renovated for, for her company, Brooks Bell, and we decided to test it out there and this was 10 years ago. And it was a small space. And within two weeks, we had 500 inquiries about people who wanted to be part of the community either come in to our space, take a desk, take an office, or just come to our events. And so it was very clear to us from the beginning, that there was a pent up demand to be part of something bigger than themselves and be part of the entrepreneurial conversation and to be part of the triangles, burgeoning entrepreneurial community and to feel like they were connected. And so we have quickly grown, we grew out of that space and have grown now to about 150,000 square feet across the triangle and then and then are starting to partner and collaborate with other folks in other parts of North Carolina and now the southeast. When we were doing that work, to go back to the for benefit corporation piece. We felt that it was going to be good for us to be a for profit company. I had started velocity forward as I mentioned earlier, Are as a nonprofit organization. And we made three major mistakes on that. One is that we were too small, two is that we were too narrowly focused. We’re just focused on social entrepreneurship. And three is that we were undercapitalized. And it was very difficult to get sort of philanthropic partners to sort of wrap their brains around what we were trying to do. Yeah. And so as a result, after three years, we closed the space down.
Alisa Herr: Wasn’t it, was there a component of it that was an accelerator?
Christopher Gergen: We partnered with, yes, we did. We had an accelerator. That was part of it. We had lots of incubation programming. So we had some amazing partners in the constellation of the velocity forward world. And it’s really cool to see the impact that velocity forward continues to ripple out with. But again, going back to this idea of like, what do you learn? And what do you take forward with you, one of the things we realized was that we don’t want to be in a situation where we’re constantly undercapitalized and we don’t have the right business model to be able to sustain the work that we were doing. So we felt we want to be a for profit, to be able to test the business model against this to make sure it’s truly sustainable, and co-working lend itself to that, the very core of the model is that basically, it’s a real estate business. So you have, you need enough space. So it’s helpful that we are now scaled up so that we’ve got the ability to be able to really utilize space in a thoughtful and imaginative way, and be able to create a sustainable growing company. We wanted to make sure that we were continuing to have as much impact as we possibly could, because that was the whole point of starting this. And so we thought that being a for Benefit Corporation, which is a way to essentially certify yourself, as you know, through your own journey with this through a fairly rigorous process to say, Okay, what’s the impact we’re going to make from an environmental perspective? How are we going to treat our team? How are we going to treat our community? What are we going to do in terms of our positive social impact, and we get audited. So we’ve got to continue to hold ourselves accountable and hold true to these rigorous standards. And it signals to people like this is the community we’re creating and we’d like you to come join us in this journey. And it’s been fabulous to see the number of companies who have come into our space, for example, who were not aware of the for benefit corporation world and have decided to become for benefit corporations, we partnered up with NC State to create a B Corp clinic. So that, you know, companies that are on this journey can be part of a community going through that process. And it’s very clear that the future of business is going to be one that needs to take a more responsible approach to its employees, to the environment, to our communities. There’s a saying within the nonprofit world, which is that if you’ve got no margin, no mission, so if you don’t have a way of being able to sustain your operation, it’s very difficult to be able to do the impact work that you’re focused on doing. There’s a growing, saying within the for profit community, which is no mission, no margin.
Alisa Herr: Oh, interesting.
Christopher Gergen: And so a lot of businesses are starting to wake up to the fact that if they are not intentional about the kind of positive impact that they can make, they will ultimately lose out on three things, management, market, and money. If you think about each of those young people want to go work for companies that they can feel good about, consumers want to buy stuff from companies that they can feel good about. And money when it comes to, you know, an apples to apples comparison would rather invest in companies that are having a positive impact versus ones that are having a negative impact. Now you have to make sure you’re being a positive cultural environment to be able to hire and retain good talent, you’ve got to be able to put forward really good products and services that people want to buy, and maybe pay a small premium on that. But for the most part, you need to be competitively priced. And you need to be able to make sure you’ve got decent returns on that business. But if you can achieve all of those and be a positive for impact business, that’s a huge competitive advantage and an opportunity for growth. So for all of those reasons, we’re really committed to this really focused on this. And we see Raleigh founded as a platform for good. So the space is a means to an end. We use it as a way to bring we have 490 member companies now, to be able to give them a home to give them the resources and space and relationships that they need to be able to grow. But collectively, the kind of impact we’re having in the communities that we’re in, is really exciting to see. There’s so many things that are coming down, I’d encourage people just to even go check out our website at raleighfounded.com and see all the cool stuff we’re doing, like our rural affiliate program, our main street program, working with entrepreneurs of color to start and grow restaurant businesses to some of the things that we’re doing in the for benefit corporation space.
Alisa Herr: Yeah, it’s great that it has persevered, I guess, through the pandemic. And it’s like continuing to just bloom even more.
Christopher Gergen: Yeah, it’s been a wild ride. That’s for sure. I mean, right when the pandemic hit, you know, there was definitely a ‘oh shit’ moment. You know, what’s going to happen to our community, our space, and we had to get some rent forbearance, and we had some very good collaborative partners, we benefited from some of the federal relief, because it was grim there for about a year. But what’s interesting is that as people are coming back to work, we’re seeing an acceleration of the evolution of work, which is, I don’t think we’re going to see businesses go back to 100% of all their employees back into their offices, that everybody’s got their own office spaces. I think people are coming to appreciate that if they need concentration space, they can do that at home. But there’s a real need for being able to create more opportunities for collaboration. And so we see companies now that were had much bigger footprints that had their own office spaces, get rid of their old office spaces, and want to be part of our community, because they can say, we can take a smaller footprint, people can come in and work as they want. We’ve got great conference room spaces, great collaboration spaces, and be tap into that energy and then be able to go back and work from home. So we actually think that the future is going to be quite exciting for the co working community writ large, especially ones that are really focused on positive community impact.
Alisa Herr: Definitely. I completely agree with that. We haven’t really spoken much about your current company, Forward Impact Solutions. How has your work with forward cities evolved into this new business where your advisory firm in an investment fund?
Christopher Gergen: Great. So let’s back up for a sec for forward cities. So started forward cities six years ago, seven years ago now, to try to address the issue that we were talking about before? How do we create? How do we address the barriers to entrepreneurship for especially under connected communities of color? And how do we work with cities and regions to be able to create these connected ecosystems to be able to address those barriers and create pathways for black and brown entrepreneurs to be able to start and grow businesses. And so forward cities was started with that premise. And it’s continued to grow and evolve and really had meaningful impact. Over the course of the seven years now, forward cities has been doing this work, and dozens of cities and communities across the country about a year and a half ago, given our focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. And by my very entrepreneurial nature, I thought it was really important for the organization ultimately to be led by a person of color. And I was delighted and really inspired by somebody who joined our team about three years earlier named Faye Horvat, amazing entrepreneurial ecosystem builder in her own right. And so we started to work towards her succeeding me as CEO forward cities in December of 2020. She’s amazing, and continues to grow the organization and some really inspiring and impactful ways. And it also allowed me who sort of an inveterate entrepreneur to sort of hand over the management reins and to be able to step into a new entrepreneurial venture, which is very exciting for me. One of the gating factors to a lot of this work is that it is typically undercapitalized. So, there’s amazing work that’s going on by organizations like forward cities and others, to be able to really do this important community based work. Yet, we don’t have enough public money and philanthropic dollars and private investment going into addressing these systemic economic inequities. And so forward impact is focused on that question, how can we try to get more money invested into systems solutions in cities and regions to be able to Create generational wealth creation opportunities, whether it’s helping more people start and grow businesses, get more people into family sustaining wages, get more people into homes, we’ve got to be able to do and put investment in ways that we haven’t traditionally done for impact is, as you suggested, a consulting firm. So we work with government and policy makers, and philanthropists and private investors to help them think about how to invest more strategically into the system’s to be able to move the needle. And it’s been a very interesting time to be able to do this work, because we have cities now emerging out of COVID. They’re moving from response to recovery to re-imagination. So they recognize the fact that they need to be doing things differently. I think we have seen, and I hope the thing that we have seen a sustained racial awakening, and a real commitment to doing this reimagining themselves in a more equitable way. And we actually have real money to work with for the first time in a long time, we have a once in a generation opportunity right now with some of these federal relief dollars that are coming down the pike. Yes, so we have billions of dollars now flowing into cities and regions, and rural communities to think about how to reimagine their systems and different in meaningful ways. The thing I’m most concerned about is that we’re going to, we might miss this once in a generation opportunity in the majority of communities, because there’s not enough local capacity to be able to think about how to properly metabolize that capital and deploy it in a way that’s going to really make meaningful change. That’s a maybe a conversation for another day. But I think that there’s a massive capacity gap right now, in places like North Carolina where you’ve got the major metros, who are really moving quickly, on driving towards more equitable systems change work, and you’ve got communities that are still trying to figure out how they can use this money, what the money can be used for, and don’t have the local capacity to be able to even manage it effectively. So that’s a challenge. And then we also have on the Forward Impact side, we have an investment fund that’s focused on how do we do more with our own investment dollars to be able to deploy it into catalytic real estate projects that are going to make meaningful differences in the communities that we’re trying to, again, move the needle in.
Alisa Herr: So is there a specific focus, like regional focus?
Christopher Gergen: There is, we’re focused on so the name of the real estate investment fund is called Forward Carolinas, and it’s specifically focused on North Carolina to start with May, we’re also looking at some opportunities in South Carolina. And again, it’s looking at where there are real estate investment opportunities where you can do site control of a particular piece of land that is strategically aligned with where a region wants to go in terms of, for example, redeveloping or driving growth along a particular commercial corridor, trying to create more opportunities for affordable housing, create more spaces for small businesses to go that are locally owned, and can be sort of catalytic to community and economic development. And so the goal is to try to raise capital to be able to buy those properties and help develop them in a way that would achieve what the city is trying to do and have positive returns for our investors.
Alisa Herr: That’s amazing. I love that. A lot of times, we only get to see the end result of all of this hard work, but not all the effort that it takes to get there. So I created this podcast to be able to get a behind the scenes look at all the hard work from the inside. And I’d love to hear from you about with all this time that you’ve spent in the entrepreneurial world. What is something that you didn’t expect to learn that you learned or what was surprising?
Christopher Gergen: One of the key things that you learn in any entrepreneurial journey, and was corroborated through and through in terms of our research with life entrepreneurs, is that nothing ever goes as planned. You know, everyone talks about sort of the collision with reality or when the rubber hits the road, but invariably, things don’t go the way you want them to go. And it’s led to some business failures, curves, cutting things like just unravel. And you know, ultimately you realize like, this is not working out and at the end of the day, you’ve got to just pull the plug. We talked about that, with velocity forward. It was really disappointing to close this beloved space that we’d all created over the course of three years just because we couldn’t see our way to a sustainable model to be able to make it work. And it taught us a huge amount like without bowl city forward, we wouldn’t have Raleigh founded. I don’t think in some respects, we certainly wouldn’t have done it the way we did it and carry a lot of those lessons forward. So the key to at least, my entrepreneurial journey has been embracing the concept of adaptive persistence. Because invariably, you hit walls. And rather than knocking on like the same door again and again, and again, can you figure out a way to go around and go through the window, you’ve got to learn how to persist and adapt, you can’t just persist on the same straight line, you’ve got to continue to find your way around. And often, that’ll work, you know, every business I’ve ever started. And I think I’m somewhere in the mid-teens at this stage of the game, in terms of the various enterprises that I’ve started, none of them are the same as what we initially conceived of when we first started it, you know, there were lots of different pivots and changes and adaptations that we had to make, either because the market was responding differently, our product or service wasn’t working the way we thought it would, there was a new opportunity that presented itself. And so that is key is to be able to have a sense of adaptation, and belief that you’re gonna see this thing through. Because it’s, it’s not always easy. Like, if you’re done that on your own, it can be a film a little bit lonely, sometimes, along those lines, one of the other things that I’ve really come to appreciate is how important a good sounding board is. We talk about this idea of a personal board of directors. But it’s the concept that when you are being challenged on something, sometimes you’re just so deep into it, you can’t see whether you’re thinking about things the wrong way, or the world around you is thinking about things the wrong way. But one way or the other, it’s not really working out at this.
Alisa Herr: Yeah, there’s a perception challenge there. You’ve nothing to do with them.
Christopher Gergen: Yeah, you have no idea. And so you need an outside perspective. And so one of the things that the sort of the ways that I’ve described the personal board of directors, we talked about it in the context of life entrepreneurs is that you want three characteristics to happen with personal board of directors. One is that you want it to be hyper honest, right? Like, you need to be able to come into a conversation with somebody that you trust, and you need to be open and vulnerable. And just lay it out there and see where the chips will fall. And you need to make sure that people who are on that personal board of directors are coming from a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives. Because you do not want your mom and three sisters giving you advice about what you should be doing with your entrepreneurial venture, right, they’re gonna treat you like you’re nine years old. And they are not going to give you the counsel that you need, because they’re going to try to be overly protective, or whatever it may be. I love having people in my life who are 10, 20 years older that can provide some context and perspective about what I’m working on. And also, there’s this great tool that is to be the innovator in residence at the Center for Creative Leadership. And one of the tools that CCL uses that, that I think it’s a readily available tool is something called this change style indicator. And it looks at how people are comfortable with change. And it’s a pretty interesting assessment. And you basically plot yourself onto this spectrum. And you go everywhere from an extreme ideator to somebody who is just like trying to drive change all the time and never see something that is you know, the way they want it to be and always trying to make it even better to the middle of that, which are pragmatists who say, yeah, we can change let’s think about being open to change. But let’s also take it in a more practical direction. And then you can have conservers who if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You need people on that whole spectrum. I’m an extreme ideator. No surprise there. My wife is a pragmatist. And it that works for us. Because I’m sometimes like, often, you know, left feels like, you know, coming up with all these ideas. Sometimes she’ll wake up at 7 o’clock in the morning, I’ll be like, Hey, I’ve got this new business idea I’m working on. And I’ve written a business plan to go along with it. And she’s like, Okay, let me just have some coffee. Let’s sit down. Let’s be reasonable about this. And you need that kind of balance and perspective. And so the third piece that makes up a good personal board of directors is that you want to make it reciprocal. So whether you’re actually serving in that same sort of counselor support, sound board roll to the same person. And sometimes you can sometimes you can have this really dynamic group, we started one in DC. And it was a group of entrepreneurs. And we came together on a monthly basis and just sort of really put it all out there and talked about some of the things that we were psyched about, but also struggling with. And that has always proven to be a really good sounding board. And we’ve done some of that kind of stuff here among our communities with rally founded. But sometimes it’s, you know, you’re paying it forward to somebody else while you’re receiving it from somebody. But the whole concept is how do we create a positive network effect? Where we’re all in this together? Yes, give people the benefit of the doubt, give them some grace, pull them along. We have all had tremendous opportunities and privileges, and some of us had have had more privileged than others. But I think it’s our income and responsibility to knock down the barriers and help make sure that everybody feels like they can live to their greatest potential and have the greatest amount of impact they can.
Alisa Herr: Your book “Life Entrepreneurs” came out in 2008. Now that is 2022. If you were going to update it, what would be different?
Christopher Gergen: Yeah, that’s a great question. So the first thing I would say is that many of the lessons that we learn from life entrepreneurs are more applicable today than they ever have been before. In that, I think in the world of COVID, it had been a litmus test to determine what kind of life do we want to be living and leading? Who do we want to be surrounded by? What do we want to be doing? Where do we want to be living? Like these are important and profound questions that I think COVID has confronted us with some from that vantage point, I think life entrepreneurs, the lessons from life entrepreneurs are more valid than ever. That said, when we wrote the book, we were drawing on our networks, and our perception of people who are doing really interesting things in their lives and that’s true. Everybody who interviewed were amazing. And we were not as diverse in our perspectives as I would like us to be. So I’ve actually talked to people said, would anybody be interested in actually doing another version of life entrepreneurs, and taking some of the same questions. And I would love to be a collaborator on this focus on women, and only interviewing women, because I think women do have a fundamentally different perspective on things. People who have come from very different backgrounds, we had some interesting international entrepreneurs that we interviewed for the book. But I would love to go further than that, and really look at people who have lived completely different, and very extraordinary lives. But often under very different contexts and circumstances, we’re recording this, for example, as a Russia’s invading Ukraine, like invariably, the resilience that we’re seeing already from people coming out of Ukraine, those stories are going to, I think, resonate for generations to come. And we’ve seen that in terms of people who have lived through tremendous tests, and being able to capture and understand that in a more profound way. And we’ve already talked about communities of color. Again, we captured some of the really interesting stories of people who had come from very different backgrounds and tried to understand their, how they had made decisions along the way. But I would love to do much more with a much more diverse community of entrepreneurs that we would interview. So similar lessons with love, a different curated approach to the people that we would have interviewed.
Alisa Herr: That makes sense, thanks. I think that segues really well into my next question, how do you balance drive and equanimity? And can you define equanimity for us?
Christopher Gergen: So this is one of these great, profound questions. And this is one of the ones that I have spent a lot of time with recently. So drive is fairly clear, what are we driven to do? And at the end of the day, I think it’s about being able to have aspiration, but the key piece of this is not necessarily be attached to aspiration. And in Buddhism, they talk about this idea of trying to not be attached, be able to live with a peacefulness and groundedness in the way that we approach our relationships and the world and to let things go. I have been very driven for over the course of my life, I am working hard on equanimity and it is not easy. And so I think it’s this idea of can you get to that? Is there an upper right corner on that one, where you can continue to have aspiration, continue to make want to make a difference in the world, continue to find a sense of purposefulness, continued to be out and trying to do things that hopefully will have a real impact? And do it in a way that you are not so attached to the result, and feel a sense of peacefulness and groundedness that comes along with that. I am nowhere near to get into that upper right corner. But I have discovered people along the way who are. And I really admire that and something that I’m aspiring to in my own in that process.
Alisa Herr: Anybody in particular.
Christopher Gergen: So I think that there, what I have discovered there, the teachers, the Buddhism, teachers, I think, are really helpful on that. But I will say I had a real mentor, I had the privilege of having a real mentor got him, Warren Bennis, who, you know, by his own right have all sorts of challenges. And in his own path in terms of being really attached to results like you become university president, he taught leadership, the art of leadership at USC wrote some amazing books on leadership, including a classic called on becoming a leader. And yet, as he got older, you could see that he had come to greater peace with himself. And he emanated a sense of calmness, and gratitude for those around him. While continuing to do some really interesting work, it’s that kind of balance that I’m looking for. If you’re looking at the combination between my parents, my parents, or my, what I talked about my roots and my wings, my mom’s a family therapist, she is deeply grounded, she really has helped to create a sense of groundedness with my sister and me, and doesn’t care at all about the trappings of professional success. My dad had a very successful career in public service in journalism and politics. And he’s done some remarkable stuff had some real impact in the in the kind of work that he’s done, and has continued to inspire my sister and I to take big swings, and to try to have a real impact to the world. That combination between having roots and wings is really helpful. Now, I think my dad’s getting a little bit more grounded, I think my mom started to like, grow her wings a little bit more. And that, again, I think, is age and perspective. And just coming to appreciate the beauty of the world around us and appreciating it for what it is.
Alisa Herr: So my final question is what person or company doing good has had the biggest impact on you?
Christopher Gergen: So biggest is a big word. And so rather than sort of have a superlative to say, it is the end all be all is this person. Early in my professional life, I had a chance to write when I was had sold the bar as coming back to DC for graduate school. And I read a great book called “Revolution to the Heart” by a guy named Billy shore, Billy shore, it started something called Share Our Strength. And it was the first time I’d heard really heard articulated this idea of being able to use business for good. And he had a nonprofit organization, a nonprofit organization called shear strength, which is really focused on trying to address hunger issues. But he was the one of the early pioneers in the idea of being able to create revenue generating models to be able to support that. And when I read that, that’s when I decided to go to business school, because I was doing a PhD in public policy. So I had started on a completely different path. And I said, oh, timeout, I want to actually do this in a much more applied way. And I got a Master’s in Public Policy and an MBA. And I think, going off and getting an MBA and pursuing this for benefit career and life has been has changed the trajectory of where I’m trying to take things, and it continues to have an impact today.
Alisa Herr: That’s amazing. Well, so thank you again, for joining me today, Christopher. If people want to learn more about you and what you’re doing, how can they connect with you?
Christopher Gergen: So it’s probably the easiest way is just go to forwardimpact.solutions to learn more about what we’re doing with forward impact. LinkedIn is obviously another place Twitter @CGergan. There’s lots of places to find me. And one other quick thing just because we’re having a podcast here is that we’re getting ready to launch our own path guide podcast called “Moving the Needle”, which I’m co-hosting with this amazing guy named Jonathan Hollifield, who wrote a book on inclusive competitiveness and has had his own extraordinary career and who really great guy that we’re looking to launch this spring, so be on the lookout for that too.
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Alisa Herr: Thank you so much to Christopher Gergen for coming on the “Inside Impact” podcast. For more information on what he’s doing with forward impact solutions, head on over to forwardimpact.solutions. And thank you for listening to Inside Impact. If you liked the show, we’d love it if you would give us a rating and review on whatever podcast app you’re using right now. For all of you making an impact in your communities, let’s hear about it. Send us an email to email@example.com and we’ll be sure to mention what you’re doing on the show or even have you on. This podcast was edited and produced by Earfluence.. I’m Alisa Herr and we’ll talk to you again soon on Inside Impact.
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