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How the women leaders whose stories we tell are making history

Sandra Stewart | March 24, 2021

Photo by Edu Lauton/Unsplash

Many of the enterprises we work with are led by women, and we write about their accomplishments all the time in our newsletter, but we rarely talk about who they are and why they’re poised to achieve big visions. So in honor of women’s history month, here are sketches of women we work with who are elbow-deep in making history—and why we think they’ll succeed.

Catherine Berman & Yuliya Tarasava, CNote

Cat and Yuliya founded CNote, a fintech platform for impact investing, with the goal of closing the wealth gap in the U.S. for women and people of color. With backgrounds in the upper echelons of conventional finance, they know the faults of that system inside-out. They also have a keen sense of the value of open doors.

Cat is an idea cannon who’s on her third startup. Yuliya immigrated to the U.S. from Belarus at age 20 with $300 in her backpack and limited English, and proceeded to work her way to Wall Street. Together they’re creating systems and products that allow investors to seamlessly shift capital to the community development financial institutions that finance entrepreneurs and infrastructure in places big banks ignore. Right now they’re eyeing the big piles of cash corporations are sitting on—they have good homes in mind for those dollars.

Laura Deaton, Multiplier

Laura has little patience for “that’s the way we’ve always done things” thinking, which helps her see possibilities where others see barriers. We also love—and share—her conviction that nonprofits deserve a place at the policy table and need to walk in and take a seat.

As executive director of Multiplier, Laura is building a new model for turning big ideas into smart, often collaborative, solutions to environmental and social challenges. She led her organization’s transformation from a respected but low-key fiscal sponsor with a focus on conservation into something new: a cross-sector nonprofit accelerator that gives scientists, advocates and social entrepreneurs the infrastructure they need to make rapid progress.

Kristin Hull, Nia Impact Capital

Kristin built her investment firm, Nia Impact Capital, to model gender and racial equity in everything: the way the firm operates, the companies in the Nia Global Solutions Equity portfolio and its activist approach.

Nia invests in public companies that have positive social and environmental impact, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Kristin’s response is to lead a new approach to shareholder advocacy: instead of banging her head against the wall trying to change companies that truly do not care about the damage they wreak (looking at you, oil industry), she is pushing companies that are doing good things to do better, starting with diversity, equity and inclusion practices.

And she’s scoring successes: Nia won a rare 70% of the vote on a shareholder resolution requiring Fortinet to improve equity practices, and rang alarm bells at Tesla with an almost 30% vote on its first try at a similar resolution.

Kristin is also funny, a quality that really comes through in her Money Doula blog, where she recently wrote about giving up the patriarchy for Lent (it does not spark joy).

Kris Kepler and Doniece Sandoval, LavaMaex

Kris Kepler led LavaMaex, which pioneered mobile shower and care services for unhoused people, through a major shift in its primary focus—from providing direct service to teaching people around the world to launch LavaMaex-inspired programs. That shift began right before the pandemic hit, but Kris and her team rolled with it. She nurtured their foundational “let’s fix this problem” spirit, resulting in practical and ingenious human-centered design solutions, such as a DIY handwashing station made from a trash can.

Kris took over leadership from LavaMaex’s deservedly much-honored founder Doniece Sandoval. In addition to conceiving of mobile showers and making the idea happen, Doniece defined the organization’s distinctive Radical Hospitality® approach. That ethos—which calls for meeting people wherever they are with extraordinary care—is the hope-restoring magic that LavaMaex is working to spread around the world.

Deb Nelson, RSF Social Finance

Deb has been an equity and justice activist since she marched for the Equal Rights Amendment as a preteen. She led the creation of RSF Social Finance’s Women’s Capital Collaborative, a first-of-its-kind philanthropic fund that provides integrated capital—loans, grants and other support—to women-led social enterprises that serve women and girls. She is also the driving force behind the Integrated Capital Institute, a fellowship program dedicated to training financial activists: people working to shift growing amounts of financial and social capital—along with control of those resources—to communities that have faced persistent exclusion and discrimination.

The ICI has graduated more than 73 fellows in three cohorts, and will reach nearly 100 with the current cohort. The fellows have formed an active support network and are moving hundreds of millions of dollars. The initiative has been so successful so that Deb is spinning it off from RSF this year as the independent Just Economy Institute.

These women are just some of the powerhouses we’ve worked with over the years, and we expect to work with many more in the years ahead. They inspire us every day to think of creative new ways to tell their stories and spread their ideas.

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