"I want to celebrate and uplift the women that help shape me and who, in their own rights, are brilliant innovators, writing their own beautiful stories and doing epic things to make their own marks on history."
Time is one of the most complex concepts of the human experience. It is, simultaneously, a constant and constantly changing. It is a mental construct, yet it dictates everything we do as human beings and is the measure by which we mentally organize our experiences and memories. As an unabashed sci-fi geek, I have long been a fan of time travel movies. They allow us to follow our heroes on great adventures in a future not yet in existence and, sometimes, back to a past where they hope to undo some wrong in order to set something right in the present. Think “Back to the Future'' or my most guilty pleasure, “The Adam Project.”
Why do we enjoy the idea of time-travel so much? It isn’t hard to understand. As human beings, we live our lives moving in one direction - forward. Once something happens, we believe it to be done, beyond our reach and beyond our ability to change. Yet, we yearn to turn back the clock. Similarly, the present can feel limiting; we want the certainty and comfort of knowing what lies ahead, but know that all we can do is hope that what we are doing will set us on the right path forward. But imagine if we looked at time a bit differently.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the practice of ecosystem building is that it is both strategic and relational. That also means that, in terms of career development, we grow both through work and through the relationships that we choose to cultivate. Because entrepreneurial ecosystem building is an emerging field, I have been challenged to find experienced mentors; As a result, my professional development has been - and continues to be - a product of my direct experiences and the colleagues I choose to surround myself with. We learn together through our individual and shared experiences. We support each other by sensemaking together and helping one another gain perspective and clarity.
So, when I thought about writing a blog for Women’s History Month, I immediately thought of approaching it from a unique lens. Rather than looking back and extolling the virtues of random - yet certainly accomplished - women in American or world history, I decided to take this opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of the women that have served as peer mentors to me in my career as an entrepreneurial ecosystem builder. I want to celebrate and uplift the women that help shape me and who, in their own rights, are brilliant innovators, writing their own beautiful stories and doing epic things to make their own marks on history. Put simply, they are badass.
One should probably be able to sense that someone is going to have a significant impact on one’s time when someone else you admire tells you that you ‘must’ meet that person. But I didn’t see it coming. My colleague, Andy Stoll, told me that I should definitely meet Cecilia Wessinger. Well, that meeting in Portland almost exactly three years ago, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with this badass woman who has been, in many ways, my people-barometer. Everybody needs someone in their life that can help them slow down, unpack situations, and see events and people as they really are, not as our sometimes emotionally cloudy brains can make them out to be. Most importantly, she listens and never judges. She also kicks sense into me when I need it; which is, I would hope, becoming less often.
Beyond the personal, Cecilia is a natural ecosystem builder, Ever since the day I met her I have witnessed her special gift for recognizing the talents of others. However, she doesn’t stop there. She intentionally leans in to connecting those people to each other to spark fantastic new partnerships and collaborations. She is a deep thinker that connects at the individual level, yet sees her environment through her global lens, understanding the many ways in which culture impacts actions and how we engage with others. As a result, I was thrilled (but not at all surprised) to learn that she had recently been hired by the Global Entrepreneurship Network as its new Director for Global Community - a title that embodies both her professional and personal philosophies. I have no doubt that this is a mere stepping stone to the phenomenal accomplishments ahead for Cecelia and am eager to watch the legacy she will give to the world.
I am extremely grateful that, over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to develop a peer mentor relationship with another accomplished ecosystem builder, Kristin Leutz, founder of Petra Impact Partners. The very first time I met Kristin was at a dinner with a group of fellow ecosystem builders, also in Portland three years ago. I still remember how impressed I was in that moment with her elevated understanding of the vast opportunities that lie at the intersection of philanthropy and ecosystem building - unmatched by anyone else I knew at the time or have encountered since. It is by no accident that she has been, over the years I have known her, a fantastic sounding board and creative thinking partner on all matters related to funding, finance and philanthropy.
She also has a deep understanding of organizational development and dynamics and has helped me process and navigate any number of related complex issues. Along the way, she keeps me grounded, reminds me of the importance of self-care and laughs with me - a small but simple, yet beautiful thing that cannot be underestimated in our personal wellness. Kristin also shares my love of innovative frameworks. So I was very excited, yet not surprised by, the latest chapter in her professional journey, serving as a Co-Founder for Colmena Consulting, a cooperative of uber-talented women professionals. I am excited to watch the amazing outgrowth of this new cooperative and the impact she will spark as time marches forward.
Two different women making history - and making a difference in my professional life - in their own, unique ways. Yet, they have one thing in common. I met both these women at my very first Startup Champions Network (SCN) Summit in Portland Oregon, three years ago this month. I made an intentional decision to join and get connected to a community of peers. As a result of that one commitment, that one decision in my own personal history, I am now forever changed through these two relationships and the many others that I have gained through my membership in SCN. As ecosystem builders, we are all stronger together. As women ecosystem builders, these relationships can also serve a deeper purpose - a healing of the soul and a support system that feeds us on many levels.
I have gained so much as a result of my membership with SCN. It is for that reason that I stepped up to host this spring’s summit in Forward Cities’ hometown of Durham and the surrounding Triangle region. We are excited to welcome fellow ecosystem builders from around the country and from across the region together to build new connections, forge new relationships, and spark unlimited opportunities for collaboration. It is my greatest hope that this summit will, someday, be a topic of a similar blog written by another woman ecosystem builder reflecting on the life-giving relationships that were born out of first meetings here in the Triangle.
Let’s make history!
About the Author
Fay serves as the President of Forward Cities, where she oversees organizational strategy and serves as the executive lead of the ESHIP Communities initiative. In addition, Fay is a dedicated advocate for the emerging profession of ecosystem building, and as a founding member of Ecosystems Unite. Beyond her formal roles, she is a sought after presenter, trainer, and thought leader on the topic of equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem building. Never one to be content with status quo, Fay has also recently begun addressing a new need in local communities: ecosystem healing–helping pivot ecosystems and institutions in this time of the dual COVID-19 and systemic racial injustice pandemics.