Founding Partner, Aligned4Good
Rachel is an experienced partnership-builder and social entrepreneur who leads Aligned4Good’s program design, sales, and strategy. She is passionate about developing initiatives that simultaneously drive clients’ business outcomes and broader social change. With a decade of experience tracking the evolution of corporate social responsibility, she has worked both for and with nonprofits, Fortune 500 companies, government, and startups across the country, from the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank to the City of New York. Prior to launching Aligned4Good, she cofounded Nesterly, a civic tech startup that garnered an array of awards and international press coverage. Rachel holds a BA from Tufts University and a Master’s in City Planning from MIT.
How did you get involved with social entrepreneurship?
I had toyed around with launching a couple different social ventures earlier in my career, but this most recent leg of the journey started while I was in grad school for City Planning at MIT. The School of Architecture and Planning launched their own startup accelerator program, and a classmate and I decided to apply. We threw around ideas for a month or two before seizing upon the one we decided to pursue. Everything essentially snowballed from there; we ended up being accepted into the accelerator, and went on to win multiple other competitions and accolades while still in school.
We went full-time immediately after graduation, and the company is still thriving today. We were extremely lucky to receive international attention and press as we were focused on the two hot button issues of housing and aging, and that really boosted our progress. It was really hard in a lot of ways but ultimately it was a great experience. I think I learned more lessons about myself in those couple of years than I had during the entire rest of my life up to that point.
What are some of the biggest opportunities and challenges for social entrepreneurship today?
Social entrepreneurship is entering a really exciting phase at the moment. Investors and entrepreneurs alike are really beginning to wake up to the vast untapped potential of ventures that generate both profits and social impact. These outcomes have historically been siloed so that companies could either be for-profits focused solely on the bottom line or nonprofits dedicated wholly to social good with strict revenue limitations. A hybrid model that prioritizes both outcomes is finally starting to come into its own, so it’s a great time to be in the space.
Unfortunately, this paradigm shift has only taken hold in certain circles. While the movement is growing, there are still many who see profit and purpose as being at odds, so public perception continues to be a challenge in getting a social good venture off the ground. Additionally, since there are only a handful of especially successful double and triple bottom line companies to look towards for examples at this point, social entrepreneurs have to be comfortable working with a much murkier roadmap, which is a difficulty that’s not found in many other industries today. In the end though, it’s absolutely worth it.
What was the inspiration for your business, and what is your vision?
I had been interested in corporate social responsibility (CSR) since my teens, but it always seemed too stale and ineffective to inspire me to pursue it as a career. During the years I spent building my previous company though, I wound up having literally hundreds of conversations with fellow founders and their team members in which they mentioned wanting to do more to give back. At the same time, consumers are increasingly shifting towards rewarding socially responsible brands, so it seemed like a potential convergence of factors that would make my dream of agile, innovative CSR possible.
Ultimately, I hope to play a small role in helping catalyze a new era of data-driven corporate social responsibility. I want to make it really easy for companies to leverage social impact to achieve their business goals, and forever put to rest the debate of whether CSR is a smart investment for early and mid-stage enterprises. Business as usual is no longer cutting it, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to pretend otherwise; Aligned4Good aims to offer an alternative.
What’s next for your business in the near future?
As we’re still a very new company, the near future is pretty much make-or-break for us. We’ll be continuing to prospect and onboard our first clients, refine our processes and key value proposition, and ensure that we’ve got really strong product-market fit. We’ll be doing all of this manually while we collect data to plug into the technology product we’re building, which will make it possible to algorithmically predict the most effective social impact strategies for a given company based on a series of inputs. We’ll also be expanding the team to enable us to achieve these ambitious goals.
What advice would you give someone considering getting into social entrepreneurship?
I would encourage people to explore what the actual day-to-day of a social entrepreneur looks like first, and fully understand the risks and rewards. The second you know it’s what you want to do though, do not hesitate to jump in. Social entrepreneurship is not easy. You effectively have to hold two sometimes-conflicting core ideals in your head at all times: make money, and prioritize social impact. It’s also a lot of work, and if you start off by yourself, it can be lonely at times. At the end of the day though, if you’ve got an idea you just can’t stop thinking about, one that makes you smile when you envision yourself working on it, you have no choice but to go after it. If it doesn’t succeed, or doesn’t succeed the first time, you can rest easy knowing that you took the chance rather than always wondering what could have been. There’s also a really incredible community within the social entrepreneurship field, so at the very least, you will have learned a lot and met a ton of great people.