I knew that my second day in Charleston (a Wednesday) was going to be long, and of course it starts off as manically as the first day ended because Williams cannot go anywhere on the CofC campus without being approached by multiple students wanting a piece of his time. Even a cup of coffee at a great campus coffee shop turns into a parade of passionate and purposed students wanting to learn how they can make their fortune by solving a problem they care about. And of course, there is the phone, the never-ending vibration that is either a call, or an alert about a call or a meeting.
Even by 8:30am I was starting to be fearful that the pace being set would continue and here is why:
A Williams Wednesday
Coffee at 8am (he has been up since 5)
9am Meetings start in the ImpactX Classroom at CofC, these include meetings with:
· Individual students and student teams from present and past ImpactX cohorts. Each meeting focuses on helping the participants get to the next stage of developing their Impact Innovation.
· Individual participants from the free Community Impact Entrepreneurship class he teaches on Wednesday evenings from 7 – 8:30pm. Williams runs a Fall, Winter and Spring cohort each consisting of 12 weeks of classes where any resident of the Greater Charleston region can come to receive the opportunity to participate in and personally benefit from the creation of a sustainable future. Over 600 people have taken the class and Williams has helped every one of them. By the way, 70% are female, 60% are minority, and 50% live in Charleston’s most marginalized community segments.
· Business owners and leaders wishing to go through In Place Impact’s Corporate Impact Index so that they can make greater profits while making a greater difference
· Individual candidates (via screen share from all over the world) wising to be considered to become Impact Economics Certified, thereafter building their own companies to embed Impact Economics in their communities i.e. In Place
· Community leaders and foundations (via screen share) wanting to know how they can embed Impact Economics in their communities.
· Interns working on many of the projects and events In Place Impact runs
· CofC administration staff about things like Impact CHS Day, the event he designed and donated to CofC to help educate Charleston residents on Impact Investing and all things required to build a community that is economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable for ALL residents of Charleston
· Impact entrepreneurs who have brought their Impact Innovations into the free Impact Incubator he started and still helps run
· Local Impact Investors interested in funding a locally grown Impact focused Innovation
· Lunch – Maybe
· 2:00-3:00pm Reserved for candidates that he mentors who are in CofC’s MBA program
· 3:20 - 4:45pm Help teach the accredited 6 credit ImpactX class he designed for CofC
· 5:00 – 6:15pm Reserved for his weekly meeting with his Impact Scholars (recipients of the Stuart M. Williams Impact Scholars program he launched at CofC)
· 6:15pm Dinner – maybe
· 7:00 – 8:30pm Teach the free Community Impact Entrepreneurship class he designed and runs
· 8:45pm A glass of wine at Halls Chophouse
Once we get into the “quiet” of his office, my fears are confirmed as the whiteboards are already full of diagrams and schematics that were not there when we left the night before. Some of the work had been done by student teams in the ImpactX class, but a great deal of it had been done by Williams himself in prep for this morning’s session, which is a deeper dive into the Multi-Stakeholder Capitalism program Williams has called Impact Economics.
As we work through the details of his program, it becomes clear that no stone has been left unturned. What is good for one ends up being good for all, and it is very easy to see (even though I do not have a degree in economics), that this can truly increase economic vibrancy in every segment of a community. It is also very easy to see that any resident can participate in and personally benefit from the creation of a sustainable future.
Williams’s decision to purely use business and economics in building out his multi-stakeholder capitalism model is a controversial one, especially within the not-for-profit industry. “Of course, there is a need for not-for-profits” Williams states, “however, there are way too many of them, and those that are inefficient and ineffective are the biggest choke points in the flow of top-down capital wishing to fund bottom-up innovation. Furthermore, they are a choke point that is hiding in plain sight. On mass, the not for profit industry is the most dysfunctional, inefficient and ineffective ecosystem I have ever seen. Of course, there are numerous that must be funded and kept alive, but just imagine if you took all of the money that is donated to those that do not drive outcomes and gave it to those that have always demonstrated positive outcomes”.
I enjoyed stirring this pot so I asked him to give me his biggest angst with the not-for-profit industry within his recent memory “well, don’t come asking for money to fund awareness for a problem that we all would have to live under a rock not to know exists. Additionally, at least in Charleston, the seemingly exponential growth in the number of not-for-profits has been accompanied by a similar growth in the number of consultants wanting to charge for raising money for them. This is a small community and they all call the same list”.
Williams further cemented the fact that he will never receive an invite to speak at an annual gathering of not-for- profits when he continued to say “when you give back every day you don’t need a Tuesday to do so. I received over 180 requests to fund things on Facebook on Giving Tuesday last year. I chose not to answer the vast majority and was then slammed on Private Messenger for not donating. I had my team check how well some of them were doing only to find that they either received no donations at all or did not even achieve 10% of what they were asking for”.
Needless to say, Williams saw this as an opportunity and has now challenged some of his students to build an app that allows donors (anonymously or otherwise) to list:
· How much they are prepared to donate each year
· What they care about and the problems they want their money to help solve
· What percentage of their overall donation amount they want to give to each issue they care about
· Financial efficiency metrics they will support i.e. what percentage of donations actually make it to the end user to fix the problem
· The geographic focus of their donations
The app will be made available for free to all not-for-profits that can show tangible outcomes from the deployment of donations they receive and, that can clearly show that 35% or less of the donations they receive are spent on administration and awareness.
I should note here that the not-for-profit industry (as a community stakeholder) clearly has a seat in the Impact Economics multi-capitalism stakeholder circle. I should also note that the innovations that Impact Economics provides for not-for-profits are profound and a huge help with the need for capital and human assets.
Wednesday’s are the best days to visit Williams as you get to see how Impact Economics positively effects so many of the segments of its multi-stakeholder capitalism program i.e.
· Educational institutions
· Community residents
· Impact Entrepreneurs
· Impact Investors
· The Government
· Marginalized community segments
Also, in one day, you get to see how all of them integrate into a new flow of capitalism designed so that when each stakeholder/community segment “wins” and they all win.
My overall assessment of the day was that in each meeting there was a level of excitement in those we met with that I had not seen in some time. Additionally, the feeling of hope for humanity was palpable and the expectations of being able to solve many of our social, economic, and environmental problems were incredibly high.
Like Williams, my favorite piece was the community class as I began to see why he says that the
people who face the problems often have the answers. The class is an omnibus edition of many of the classes (but mainly the ImpactX class) that Williams has been instrumental in embedding at the College of Charleston. It is a $13,000 value that anyone can receive for free because as he says, “inclusion matters”.
The ecosystem Williams has built to help all community residents results in an access to the knowledge, information, tools, contacts, context and even capital required to foster change through business and economics that I have not seen before.
Over a well-earned glass of wine that night, Williams told me that he is tired of the narrative about businesses being bad, as companies are truly an important stakeholder in any community. He says that “It is time that we stop talking about killing off capitalism and instead change the narrative too leveraging it in a more inclusive manner”. I can’t help but draw a parallel between “not at the expense of any segment of humanity and of the planet, then, by driving positive impact to segments of humanity and the planet”.
Tomorrow I get Williams to myself to find out what really makes this person tick. I am hopeful that I can stir the pot a little more because what comes out can be incredibly profound, even if we don’t like hearing it. Oh, and as for the phone, I think it melted.