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Frustrated by her mother’s resistance to letting her leave in order to fight evil, Diana Prince (A.K.A. Wonder Woman) quips, “It’s our sacred duty to save the world. But my mother won’t let me.” Her mother, who had lived through a war, was understandably afraid. Yet, deep inside of her daughter, there was a flame that would not go out. Instead of worrying what would happen if she left the protected and charmed existence she was raised in to travel to an unknown world run by men who did not always have the best intentions, Diana Prince, still a Wonder Woman in the making, asks herself and her mother the same questions every female entrepreneur has pondered: “Who am I if I stay?” Her connundrum is what many Wonder Women face once they become aware of an injustice that they just can’t ignore: keeping the peace by keeping the status quo or embarking on the unknown of unleashing positive change.
Women donate a greater portion of their time and money to charity than men, and while traditional mindsets may view career success in terms of salary and title, most women, while wanting fair and equitable pay, define their work as driven by mission and impact. In this article, we will take a look at three Wonder Women who have taken the plunge into living life as female philanthropic entrepreneurs: Wendy Foster, CEO and President of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay, Tanya Odom, consultant and leadership coach, and Caroline Kunitz, founder of former non-profit LA Diaper Drive, serial philanthropic entrepreneur, and board member.
Each of these incredible women started from scratch and paved the way to create a better world where all people can thrive. While several common themes and endless lessons learned can be garnered from their work, let’s take a look at the most prominent takeaways to help you be a Wonder Woman of mission-driven work.
Going from technology executive to CEO of a nonprofit on steroids
Wendy Foster spent the first part of her career navigating up the corporate ladder in large publishing and technology companies. “After 20 years, I knew that my next two decades of work would go along a predictable path. I was proud of what I had accomplished but was ready for a more meaningful challenge,” says Foster. She started with Big Brother Big Sister of Massachusetts Bay in 2005 and in 2009 took on the lead executive role. What a ride it has been. “In total, we have served almost 3,000 youth this year. Not only will these youth thrive as a result of having a caring adult friend from the community in their court, the mentors will be changed too,” says Foster.
“Nonprofit work is entrepreneurial on steroids. There are far fewer resources and levers than in the for-profit sector, and you are in an extraordinary space of competing on brand strength, mission, evidence of impact and ability to attract support,” says Foster.
Foster’s advice for unleashing your Wonder Woman energy for the greater good: Don’t lose sight of why you are working so hard. Many days, the work will feel like an uphill battle. “It’s thrilling because the result in terms of positive impact on people’s lives and on the community is real and the need is great,” says Foster, who had no previous CEO experience before joining the nonprofit.
Uncovering and addressing a hidden crisis
Caroline Kunitz was no stranger to facing adversity. At only two years old, she lost her father. Her mother, an inner city special education teacher in Los Angeles, enabled Kunitz to strengthen her empathy muscle, which has since guided her throughout her life. “I was raised with an understanding of loss and need and the realities of what different populations have to face,” says Kunitz.
Kunitz had a big vision and mission when she started LA Diaper Drive. Like other entrepreneurs, she struggled with wanting to solve a thousand problems, getting distracted and wasting a whole lot of time and money. “I am a big-picture thinker, so I stuck to the simple mission of getting diapers to low-income families and using that goal as my focal point incentive,” says Kunitz.
Her entrepreneurial approach worked. LA Diaper Drive merged with Baby Buggy, founded by Jessica Seinfeld. The organization, now named GOOD+ Foundation, is a national nonprofit focused on providing low-income parents with the health and safety tools they need to raise their families. After staying on the board for two years following the transition, she is now working with Foster Nation on programs for foster youth and providing governance to Learning Lab Ventures.
Kunitz’s advice for unleashing your Wonder Woman energy for the greater good: Focus on making a difference — not on fear. “I had the passion for helping babies, mothers and low-income families. I was not afraid to fail; my goal was not to grow a large organization. My goal was to help families,” says Kunitz.
Laying the groundwork of equity for all
Tanya Odom’s “normal” represents so much of what the world is made up of diversity. Growing up around different people from diverse backgrounds and circumstances set the foundation for her life’s work. “We talked openly about issues of equity and compassion,” says Odom.
Working with corporate clients and NGOs such as the United Nations, Odom helps leaders around the world do the hard work of addressing the systematic bias that cultivates racism and sexism. There is no secret-sauce fix. Instead, Odom takes an iterative entrepreneurial approach whereby each coaching and consulting gig hones her approach. Practicing mindfulness enables her to strengthen her listening skills while learning to respond to the ever-changing cultural landscape rather than react.
Odom’s advice for unleashing your Wonder Woman energy for the greater good: Focus on changing content and context — not on alienating people. “We cannot simply blame people for not being in spaces, places, levels or positions. We have to look at the systems and processes that might not be open, fair or equal — including schools, universities, workplaces and boardrooms,” says Odom.
Diana Prince as Wonder Woman remained with the earth’s population to fight for her life’s mission: to ensure love always wins. Staying connected with your life’s purpose, and being open to that purpose changing or evolving, will continue to be your beacon of hope and focus even when no one else can see the future that you can see.