Interviews with purpose-driven business leaders who have dedicated their work to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Jesus Salazar, I’m the co-founder and CEO of Prosono which means, “let your purpose echo.” Our mission is to accelerate the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Prosono provides professional services to for-profits, nonprofits, foundations, and the public sector. Those services range from strategic planning to operationalizing a strategy. We call that “organizational agility,” making your organization agile enough to navigate unforeseen challenges. We also focus on social impact evaluation, which is a measurement of the efficacy of social impact initiatives and programs.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
We were founded by three people with very diverse backgrounds. My background has been in the for-profit sector, really focused on helping companies be innovative in highly disruptive industries. This involves helping them come up with the latest and greatest technology products, getting into markets, and then testing those products and changing them until you have a good thing within the marketplace. Sean VanBerschot was the president of Teach for America – Colorado and New Mexico and brought to Prosano a slew of nonprofit executives and entrepreneurs. The third leg of our stool is Jean Galloway who did a lot of CSR (corporate social responsibility) consulting on the PR side.
We decided to bring innovation and a fast-moving, agile mindset to social impact from disciplines that are reasonably common in the for-profit space and linking those to nonprofit executives who have done a lot of their own hyper-growth initiatives and to help their organizations grow. Then we added someone who really deeply understands corporate social responsibility, and brought together a really interesting, diverse set of backgrounds to solve social problems.
The idea five years ago was to really ask the hard questions, like why are social impact challenges so hard to address? Why do nonprofits and foundations work so hard and not make the progress they hope? And why do for-profits put resources into social impact challenges, and a lot of times, with all the best intentions, not derive the impact that they want? How can we solve all of those various sides of the equation to ultimately help each organization whether you’re a for-profit, whether you’re a CSR department within a for-profit, or a nonprofit or a foundation? How can we help them unlock their social impact potential?
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
It all ties to our mission to accelerate the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We think the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are relevant, both on a global scale and on a hyper-local scale, and believe whether you are halfway across the world or in your own backyard there are better ways for us to collaborate. That all starts by being aligned on what’s important. For us, it’s through the work that we do and the work that clients pay us to do. We feel that we are contributing to addressing things like poverty, hunger, access to health care, gender inequity, and all of those issues on the Sustainable Development Goals. We’re doing our part as both local and global citizens and every time we can help a client get aligned to those, we feel we’re helping to contribute to a broad, cohesive strategy that will drive a better world that we all want to be part of. That’s really what we stand for, why we exist, and why this work is so important to us.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
Our impact is pretty wide and broad. When COVID hit and schools were shut down, there was a pretty acute need out there for students. Within a 10-day period, we were able to engineer a school supply drive with 180 volunteers to build 7,500 school supply kits that were delivered to families when they came to pick up meals within their school district. We helped set up a statewide mentorship program for Energize Colorado to help smaller businesses navigate the pandemic and the crises they were facing. Some brick-and-mortar retail stores couldn’t open and had to figure out how to convert to digital so we brought together a wide network to provide help and services to those companies, even if it was just a shoulder to cry on. We were able to provide those services and connect 1,300 small businesses with help.
When the COVID relief funds came out last year, we wanted to target underserved and underrepresented businesses. The access issues are real, whether it’s the mistrust in federal and lending programs to not even having access to the internet in the first place to fill out the applications. So we built a technical assistance hotline that supported nine languages and fielded about 10,000 calls. We went so far as to help a visually-impaired cash-based business owner to get paired up with an individual at Mi Casa Resource Center, who was authorized to fill out applications for funding. That’s just a flavor of the type of impact that we’ve been able to drive last year.
That’s part of what pushes us into innovating and finding creative ways to drive more and more impact and ultimately unlock more resources. At the end of the day, the way we think about the impact that we’ve drawn is we’ve helped countless companies further their missions. It’s really hard to tie it to a specific metric. We’re currently working on an internal research project to measure the social return on investment we make through our work so hopefully moving forward, we will be able to quantify the results.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I think the folks that inspire us are just people who at the end of the day are feeling safe. I think what everybody wants in this world is to be able to lay your head down on your pillow and not feel like the world is crashing down on top of you. There are a lot of reasons for that; that could mean physical safety, mental health, so many issues, and country to country, community to community it’s different. But for us, just knowing that there are people out there in that situation is really what motivates us and drives us. That’s why we believe in the UN SDGs. So much work in India was done on those and the world came together recognizing if we’re able to solve and meet these goals by 2030 we will have a much, much more prosperous world.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
Our goal is tied to the SDGs. At the end of the day, we want to be known as the company that helps for-profits find business-savvy ways to really address those goals. It’s kind of difficult for them to put in the level of resources needed to drive that. We want to be known as the folks who figured out how to structure deals and de-risk social impact endeavors, so it makes perfect business sense, not just with money but the talent that for-profits have acquired through their teams and the assets that they have. That’s how we know we’ve done a good job.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
A lot of people don’t know what to do with us. For instance, as a for-profit, we don’t receive funding from foundations. We have to earn our way. Everything has to have a sustainable revenue stream underneath it, which is not a bad thing in our minds. We believe that social impact solutions that do have responsible revenue streams tied to them, frankly, can scale and have a scalable model underneath. For us, it’s a never-ending challenge to try and figure out creative ways to do that with impact. It’s hard to make money, it’s really hard to drive social impact, and it’s really, really hard to do both at the same time. The good news is macro trends are leading us in that direction. Our job as a company is to figure it out before everyone else does and be the experts in that space.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
I think one of the things that I hoped for that has been realized, is that we are really good at driving social impact outcomes regardless of what the cause is. Going back to taking new products to market and figuring out things that have never been done before, then coupling that with nonprofit entrepreneurs, like Shawn, who understand how the for-profit world works, understanding how social impact in the nonprofit sector works. Then taking that group and pointing them at a challenge and just letting our innovations frameworks do their jobs. This has resulted in absolutely fantastic customer service. We’ve taken on amazing things with crazy success, like those examples last year, and I never thought we’d be as good as we are at actually hitting outcomes basically every single time. It’s really exciting. Taking on these big challenges is scary for lots of reasons, nobody wants to fail. We have found a way to hit home runs basically every time.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
I think my favorite quote, and something we really take to heart here at Prosono is that “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.” We have lots of lofty goals, but it’s less about that and more about having the patience and the resolve to build the systems that will catapult you to meeting your goals.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
At the end of the day, we’re really interested in being asked to jump in even on a voluntary basis for large, complex societal challenges. We’ve shown over time that we can jump in on a volunteer basis and usually find a creative way to scale solutions when we find them. If people do have big audacious social impact goals and the organization is struggling to really innovate their way to figure out what the solution could be, just reach out to us. We’d love to share our perspective and how we would go about tackling that with them.
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