How to Make a Difference in the World: Lessons Learned from Our Top 10 Podcast Episodes of 2020

by | Dec 22, 2020

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I’ve become a student in ‘making a difference in the world’ as a product of hosting The Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast for nearly two years now. 

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with CEOs of some of the most successful sustainable businesses, Executive Directors of incredibly innovative high-impact nonprofits, as well as many authors and thought-leaders who are artfully depicting and documenting the space of ‘social good.’ 

Year two of hosting the podcast came with different guests and unique insight, but, like year one, we’re all walking away with valuable lessons on how to make a difference from those leading the way.

If you listen back, you’ll find that each episode in 2020 comes with takeaways and principles to lean on as it relates to making an impact. To jumpstart that review, I want to recount big lessons for how to make a difference in the world from our 10 most listened to episodes of 2020 from the podcast.

1. Build a Community that Inspires You.

From our #1 most listened to episode in 2020: 50 Social Entrepreneurs & Change-Makers Share Advice & Lessons Learned to Inspire You to Change the World (Pt. 1)

Published: 1/7/20

making-a-difference-community-graphicChange and making a difference may start with you, but it surely cannot sustain with you alone. 

At the start of 2020, we released a two-part podcast series, featuring ‘best of’ clips from 50 different guest episodes of the podcast. 

Compiling this episode took a lot of work, but it was well worth it. I went back and listened through all of them to extract what seemed to be the most important lesson from each and every episode. I wanted that lesson reflected in the clip I added to the compilation.  

And, as a product of that, while the lessons differed from episode to episode, guest to guest, I felt appreciative of what felt like the “community” that I had begun to build. As a result of playing host, I’ve been connected to so many incredible people all over the world, all of which I look up to and admire greatly. 

More important than anything, is to place yourself in a position to be inspired by those around you. SO thankful I’ve been incredibly inspired each and every time I fire up the podcast mic. 

This exact lesson is repeated both explicitly and implicitly by our guests—find others to connect with, collaborate with, and learn from. 

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” -African proverb

Be sure to listen in to this episode, sharing lessons & insights from 50 of the world’s most inspiring social entrepreneurs, here.

2. Share in Your Successes

From our #2 most listened to episode in 2020: What Makes for a (Truly) Socially Responsible Company?

Published: 7/16/20

In this solo episode, I discussed who and what are “socially responsible companies.” We covered questions like, how do we know which companies are/are not socially conscious and community-minded? Who are some specific examples? 

I introduced some no-brainer examples as guideposts like an exceptionally conscious business like All Good Products, and Aspiration, an online financial institution redefining ethical banking. But, what seems core to all these businesses (and most importantly the people running them), is that they are fully determined to share in their success. 

Generosity and a giving-nature that is at the core of all of our guests’ business models these business and business people exist to do good. 

These truly socially responsible companies, members of the Certified B Corporation or the 1% for the Planet community, are in business to create a more inclusive economy for all, and that means collaboration and support of others.

“Socially responsible companies use their position and resources for something more than pleasing their shareholders and increasing their bottom line. They operate on a business model that focuses on social change, sharing its success with their local and global communities.”

And so for you, if you are wondering what’s one of the simplest ways to start making a difference in the world? 

Share in your wins. Embody altruism. Defer to generosity. Begin being incredibly generous. 

Find this episode on what makes a socially responsible company, here.

3. Don’t Think You Need to Reinvent the Wheel

From our #3 most listened to episode in 2020: The Benefits of Volunteering You Might Have Not Considered

Published: 7/2/20

Volunteering-make-a-differenceIf you are like me, I’m sure you’ve spent a good bit of time in existential peril wondering how it is you make a meaningful life. A paralysis by analysis, asking questions like…

What’s the right thing for me to do? 

What’s the most impactful thing I could be doing RIGHT at this moment?

What’s the best, most effective way for me to help others? 

The great thing about seeking out volunteer opportunities is that you are getting yourself plugged into organizations that are already doing meaningful work in the world. While you may have the urge to invent something anew, learning from those who are already out in the world doing their thing is a great place to start. 

We recognize this philosophy in contexts outside of impact all the time. Before starting Grow Ensemble I worked my way up in a digital marketing agency. I learned everything I could about entrepreneurship, marketing, and effectively building an organization. And while the substance of the work wasn’t exactly what I imagined myself doing, I’m eternally grateful for the skills I developed and lessons I learned. 

That experience made starting a company for the first time much easier. 

Get started making a positive difference yourself by seeking out volunteer opportunities that pique your interest or reaching out to companies whose work inspires you—see if they have any internships or job openings available so you can make an impact while you learn. 

Plainly, to start making an impact, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel right now. 

Listen here, to learn why volunteering is important, and why it’s a great way to get started ‘making a difference in the world’ now

4. There’s No Overnight Success Story 

From our #4 most listened to episode in 2020: From Nonprofit to Social Enterprise: Insights & Lessons Learned on a 15 Year Entrepreneurial Journey with Rahama Wright, Shea Yeleen

Published: 1/28/20

Our most listened to guest episode of 2020 was with Rahama Wright, the Founder & CEO of Shea Yeleen. 

rahama-wright-shea-yeleen-logoIn this episode, Rahama shared the 15-year trajectory of her company. What started as a nonprofit turned into a social enterprise business model about 6 or 7 years in. Since then, Shea Yeleen has been featured in O Magazine, her products are in Whole Foods, MGM Resorts, and more. 

However, I was extremely grateful to Rahama for coming on the podcast and very candidly sharing the realities of social entrepreneurship. In short, it’s not easy. 

We tend to glorify shining examples of the ‘rockstar entrepreneur,’ the overnight success stories, and that then becomes what, in our minds, we deem standard as opposed to an exception. If we are to ‘gear up’ for the journey that is social entrepreneurship, starting a nonprofit, or challenging ourselves to make a tangible difference in the world, we should be prepared…it might be a long haul. 

This isn’t to scare you. This is to advise you to be patient. Commit to playing the long game in whatever you decided to do. Positive change and meaningful impact don’t happen overnight. Progress we make doesn’t result in linear growth, it’s compounding.

compounding-chart-growth

Just ask Annie and me with our work here at Grow Ensemble. 😅

Click here to listen to Rahama Wright and her candid discussion of the nonprofit vs. social enterprise models and the challenges of social entrepreneurship.

5. Amplify the Work of Others

From our #5 most listened to episode in 2020: Social Enterprise Marketing: The 6-Step Framework to Marketing a Mission-Driven Business Online

Published: 2/11/20

For a long while, I discounted the skills we had and work that we did at Grow Ensemble when I thought about how we make a difference. Interviewing well over 100 of these truly inspiring action-takers and change-makers, I always felt they were just being polite when they’d concluded a recording by complimenting the work we did.

However, with time and a painful period of forcing ourselves to be something we weren’t…Annie and I decided to stop resisting and take stock of our skills, efforts, and impact. We looked at everything that we were doing and thought through:

  • What are we good at?
  • What do we like doing? 
  • Can that be used to make a positive difference?

As a result of those…where can we leverage our resources to make the most impact? 

For us, that came down to amplifying & highlighting the work of others. We are good at creating content and getting others to see it. So, we thought, if that’s what we can do, we should be creating and sharing content that grows community engagement with better-for-the-world companies, people, and decision making.

That’s why we’ve been able to grow our Grow Ensemble blog to see near 100,000 single-month views in just 14 months. 

And so the lesson here is:

make-a-difference-venn-diagram

1) If your skill is innovation, get out there and create. If your skill is in a supporting or complementary realm, don’t resist that either. Accept it. That’s a critical role in the entire social impact network

2) Find the skills you have, the things you like doing, and how by combining those two things you feel you can make the most impact.

It’s often the things that feel like play to us that become the best ways to occupy our time and pursue making a difference. 

I was very happy to see this episode do so well in the last year, and we look forward to doing more and sharing more of what we do and how we do it to help the greater effort.

Listen here to catch our full social enterprise marketing plan—the same strategy we’ve used to grow our Grow Ensemble community here.

6. Add by Subtracting & Go Back to the Basics

From our #6 most listened to episode in 2020: How Regenerative Organic Certification is the Future of Agriculture & Farming with Elizabeth Whitlow, Regenerative Organic Alliance

Published: 10/15/20

My own personal experience with regenerative agriculture kicked off with a viewing of the documentary The Biggest Little Farm and a visit to the farm that was the subject of the film, Apricot Lanes. 

I called Annie later that night describing Apricot Lanes as an Eden. A literal heaven on Earth. The air felt different there. The animals seemed more ‘at home,’ and the dirt under my feet had something of a different quality to it. 

Elizabeth-Whitlow-ROA-logo-1This experience connected me with the Regenerative Organic Alliance and its Executive Director, Elizabeth Whitlow—of course, we had to have her on the podcast to share more about their work, and she generously accepted the invite. 

Since then we’ve been drinking from the firehose! Kiss the Ground came out (another great doc), and we ended up partnering on a Cause Campaign with Tablas Creek Vineyard, a pilot program participant for the Regenerative Organic Certification™️ and the world’s first vineyard to become certified. 

I think the thing that’s been most appealing to me about regenerative agriculture, is that it’s a return to simplicity. This isn’t to say that changing the world’s agricultural systems to save the planet is simple. It isn’t! Rather, everything with regenerative ag and its ability to address climate change all comes back to what seems to make sense for the Earth.  

In changing the interplay between climate change and agriculture, we aren’t doing anything new. Instead, we are subtracting the industrial farming practices from the equation. Take away the chemicals, take away the herbicides and insecticides, and help the land return to what it had been doing long before we arrived. 

Self-regulating, self-regenerating, operating in equilibrium. 

And so, it’s worth considering, where can we make a big difference by subtracting or reducing things we’ve introduced to natural processes instead of just meddling more? 

Listen here to Elizabeth and I discuss regenerative agriculture and how the future of agriculture is born in the past.

7. Align What You Do with Who You Are

From our #7 most listened to episode in 2020: From Wall Street to B Corp: The Transition from CPA to CEO of a Thriving Conscious Company with David Kahl, Fully

Published: 2/4/20

david-kahl-fully-logoI had been a fan of Fully for sometime before getting the chance to interview its Founder & CEO, David Kahl. You can even catch a glimpse of my Fully Standing Desk Converter in our post on tips for working remotely

What I appreciated most about David and his story of starting and building Fully from the ground up was the process of how he arrived at coming to the idea in the first place. 

Like many others living in New York at the time, 9/11 shook David to the core. So much so, he left his post as a CPA on Wall Street to find some silence and space to reflect on who he was and how he thought he should spend his time. 

It was this experience, in the silence of meditation retreats and some reflection of years working hunched over a desk, David thought… 

  1. He was more of a creative person than he thought. He wanted to design things. 
  2. What he wanted to design was a chair that allowed workplaces to feel more natural

Just a short 15 years later (😉), Fully, a thriving Certified B Corporation and conscious business was acquired as a coveted asset for an internationally-known furniture distributor. 

I have to believe that David wouldn’t have had the success that he has with Fully if he didn’t ensure that from the beginning this was something he felt the authentic and intentional drive to do. 

And for me, this stressed the importance of seeking the same in my own life and work, and our work here at Grow Ensemble (resonant of a lesson we learned with Rahama Wright, above).

We’ve asked ourselves… 

How can what we do and build with Grow Ensemble be most in alignment with who we are and how we see the world should (and could) be? 

Hear more from David himself, on his story of taking Fully to a thriving conscious company.

8. Take Action, Purposefully (with Help).

From our #8 most listened to episode in 2020: How to Start, Fund, & Grow a Social Enterprise with Tom Dawkins, Start Some Good

Published: 7/14/20

Start Some Good, a crowdfunding platform for social impact projects, is almost the definition of purposeful action. The platform exists to help support budding social entrepreneurs shape and launch their impact projects to a community who would be ready to fund their mission. 

Tom-Dawkins-start-some-good-logoIn our podcast recording, Tom and I talked a lot about uncertainty. Uncertainty is unavoidable (a lesson forced upon us all in 2020). From Tom’s perspective, the only way forward through uncertainty is to act, and act purposefully. 

How can we do that? With the support of knowledgeable and like-minded mentors and community. 

To paraphrase what Tom shared in our podcast, you can give a person all the tools in the world to do or build something, but if they don’t know how to use them, what’s the use?

And so perhaps the lesson for us is:

1) Take action.

2) Ensure it’s meaningful by enlisting the support of those who know what to do. 

Resources, tools, and skills are nice. But using them correctly and purposefully often requires mentors. Seek them out. 

Listen in here for what Tom shared are the keys to starting a social enterprise successfully.

9. Don’t Underestimate Small, Daily Changes

From our #9 most listened to episode in 2020: A Sustainable Vision for the Future of Fashion with Alex Husted, Helpsy

Published: 12/17/19

alex-husted-helpsy-logoHave you ever wondered what to do with old clothes? Alex Husted has. Alex is the Founder & CEO of Helpsy, a Certified B Corporation company on a mission to reduce textile waste. 

I think we might underestimate the significance of some of our ‘habitual’ actions and decisions. I know I do. We want to launch a new social enterprise, found our own nonprofit, but…

What kind of positive impact can we make during spring cleaning? 

Something as simple as what you decide to do with the clothes you don’t wear anymore can make a significant difference. And not just from the action you yourself are taking. If you become determined to see that your clothes see a ‘second life’ in one way or another, that will most certainly encourage others around you to do the same. 

That’s something core to our theory of how to change the world here at Grow Ensemble: 

Small daily actions add up and have a ripple effect on the world around you. 

helpsy-bins

Don’t be afraid to start small. Helpsy is partnering with the City of Boston to support them in their commitment to becoming a zero-waste city. Institutionalizing change often starts with day-to-day actions.

Listen to Alex’s both big and small vision for reducing textile waste and changing the future of fashion. 

10. Learn, Learn, Learn

From our #10 most listened to episode in 2020: The Past, Present, & Future of Positive Social Change with Eric Nee, The Stanford Social Innovation Review

Published: 8/4/20

eric nee SSIR logoEric Nee is the Editor-in-Chief of The Stanford Social Innovation Review—one of the longest-running publications in the social change arena. At this post for some time, he’s been in a unique position to observe and chronicle the trajectory of the impact space. 

One of the most notable takeaways from our chat together was what Eric believed is a critical component of positively changing the society we live in—  And that’s, to learn from what we’ve done in the past…novel concept huh? 😅

Obvious or not, this reminder is important and may be a perfect one for us to end on here.

To make the difference we hope to in the world, we must forever be students. Always learning from our individual and collective past and using that information to determine how we proceed into the future. 

Check out this episode with Eric Nee, on the past, present, and future of positive social change.

Get Started Making a Difference, Whatever Way You Can 

Don’t overthink it. Seriously. Just get started. 

If you feel driven to be a force for good in the world,

the best time for you to start doing so is today

It doesn’t have to be something completely new. It doesn’t have to be something you dedicate every single waking moment to. Small actions can make a real difference in the world. Not to mention, the more small actions you take, the more creative you’ll get with your impact over time. 

Get going. Get connected with others who encourage and inspire you. Bring positive energy. You (or it) doesn’t have to look perfect. 

To a world-changing 2021! 

-Cory Ames, Grow Ensemble 

Cory Ames

Cory Ames

Founder & CEO, Grow Ensemble

Cory is the Co-Founder & CEO of Grow Ensemble, as well as the Host of The Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast. From Washington State, Cory now resides in San Antonio, TX with his brilliant fiancée and their rescue pup. Cory is deeply passionate about using his creative and cognitive capacities for doing good. 

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