#149 New Season of The Impact Podcast Starts Here!

Recapping the past year, when there were no new podcast episodes! While the majority of the past nearly 150 episodes have featured stories of thinkers and doers more holistically, there is an opportunity to now focus on themes. This season’s theme is on social impact ecosystems and systems-thinking. And the “why” behind focusing on a systems lens this season.

You can listen to the entire season, and subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud, Stitcher.

The Impact Podcast is celebrating 50K+ downloads and listens! You can become a champion of the podcast and Innov8social by becoming a member on our Patreon page.


This is the third post in a series on social impact ecosystem building. The first post, “What is a Social Impact Ecosystem Builder?” and second post, “How The Social Impact Sector Can Become More Transformative” are available on LinkedIn and Innov8social.com.

What are the criteria for identifying social impact ecosystem builders?

Social impact ecosystem builders represent an emerging ‘meta’ role within the impact sector. They are part convener, part content creator, part consultant or coach, all with an eye on co-creating a better and robust system for social impact.

In this post, we get down to the brass tacks of articulating, sharing, and inviting discussion about the criteria that define impact ecosystem builders.

I find that I focus on 4 key factors: (1) does the individual or organization provide coaching, consulting, speaking; (2) does it create content; (3) does it convene at least some gatherings open to anyone?; (4) and, is social impact a driving focus of #1-3

However, when thinking about creating a list of impact ecosystem builders that could fit the bill, a few questions related to additional criteria came to mind:

  • Must the individual or organization necessarily have a level of autonomy within the broader impact sector (i.e. does not have loyalties or duties of care limiting acting in the best interest of the system as a whole)?
  • Does the individual or organization need to work with a variety of ‘nodes’ within the system (i.e. does not only work with a single client or type of client)
  • Does the business model matter? Does an impact ecosystem builder need to value key contributors (i.e. business model is not based on volunteers, unpaid leadership, etc.)

The science and art for this new categorization are evolving and iterative. I invite you to be part of the discussion. Fill out the questionnaire, comment below, and connect on social media to further delve into and contribute to this exploration.

What criteria do you attribute to an impact ecosystem builder?

Your input is valuable as we work to create actionable resources to make it easier for companies, universities, leaders, cities, and governments to engage with impact ecosystem builders.

I’m Neetal Parekh, the founder of Innov8social, author of 51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship, and convener of Impactathon®. I work with social entrepreneurs, foundations, and universities to help build ecosystems for social impact through designing convenings, content, and communication strategies. To learn more, schedule a call and follow @innov8social.

**Our new Patreon page is now live. Become a champion with your support.

This is the second post in a series on social impact ecosystem building. The first post, “What is a Social Impact Ecosystem Builder?” and third post, “How to Know if you are a Social Impact Ecosystem Builder” are available on LinkedIn and Innov8social.com.

Transformation is often defined as metamorphosis. It involves radical change. The transformed state is distinct from the prior forms and the process involves adaptation, time, and sudden emergence.

Transformation is also the highest potential for the social impact sector. This article highlights some of the transformative qualities and intentions behind this sector and how those changes have unfolded. It offers a perspective on ways in which the transformation has been imperfect and the opportunities the sector has to become more transformative.

Social enterprise was intended to be transformative

The social impact sector was intended to be transformative. It is the ‘third sector’ between the well-worn for-profit and nonprofit sectors. In this new imagining, impact would be hitched to the rocketship of entrepreneurship to allow incremental and exponential growth of impact. It would cultivate a deeper sense of responsibility to communities and the environment, especially as social impact companies or initiatives scale. Perhaps most transformative is that social enterprise wasn’t intended to be just a version of business or nonprofit, but was envisioned as a new space, a new system to better fit the changing needs of our surroundings and the changing need to bring our ‘whole selves’ to the work we do. It would be a system that would embed radical collaboration, triple bottom-line thinking, an expanded definition of stakeholders, and shared value creation to its distributed nodes into the DNA of business.

As a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed law school graduate with a passion for social impact, I was fascinated by the emergence of this space and accompanying transformation mindset associated with it. I am grateful to then-B Lab Director of Policy, Erik Trojian, for inviting me into the fold of the movement in 2011. My introduction to B Lab and benefit corporations was through attending state hearings on the benefit corporation legal structure in California, participating in meaningful conversations on the potential for the sector, and learning about policy change at the state and federal level. That invitation, for me, was a ‘seat at the table’ to understanding the transformative potential of social enterprise.

It was also a chance to meet, learn from, and engage with experienced impact-driven attorneys like John Montgomery, Jonathan Storper, and Donald Simon; pioneering social entrepreneurs like Priya Haji and Ryan Williams, progressive investors like Don Shaffer, and B-Lab co-founders Jay Coen Gilbert and Andrew Kassoy.

It forged a new path for me. One in which I could serve the space by connecting dots, creating content, cross-pollinating ideas and methodologies, and inviting and including new perspectives into the space.

There has been transformative growth, but also signs of systemic problems

Fast forward about eight years. The social enterprise sector has continued to spring from its cocoon and has been transformative in notable ways, including significant growth in companies identifying as social enterprises, further expansion of legal structures, milestones in impact investing growth, and an emerging universal framework for impact measurement. Transformative progress.

The growth has also revealed hairline fractures in systemic growth, mindset limitations, inefficiencies, that are many things, but not transformative. Critiques of the sector have emerged. Some say the impact sector is elitist, self-serving, and only accessible to a few. A number of the attorneys, social entrepreneurs, and creatives I interviewed early on as part of Innov8social or The Impact Podcast, haven’t been able to build sustainable careers or businesses in the sector.

I have experienced the fissures too. Much of the decade has been spent building Innov8social, from a blog focused on emerging legal structures to a platform featuring content, resources, tools, and convenings on social entrepreneurship. The focus has always been making the space accessible and actionable, inviting and including new voices––much like Erik’s invitation and inclusion served to bring me into the fold. And that has shifted my work from content creator, convener, connector, or consultant to a meta role of social impact ecosystem builder. But, what was first surprising has become banal, the work is often expected to be done pro bono.

This is a problem. And it points to normative, pre-transformation thinking.

Problems are solvable when we can see them, acknowledge their existence, and understand them deeply

I can count the number of times I have been asked to speak, mentor, create content, and/or convene for free. In one sense, I am honored to be approached as a valued thought leader experienced in the sector; and in the same instance cognizant that the work is not seen as valuable enough to actually be valued. And in this, I know I am not alone.

In the past few months, I have had conversations with dozens of social impact ecosystem builders including conveners, human-centered design experts, impact funding consultants, impact coaches, systemic architects, impact communications consultants, conveners of conveners, corporate social responsibility specialists, conveners of regenerative agriculture, and more. Many of them, like me, are enthusiastic about their work and ability to contribute to creating more robust ecosystems. Partnerships with various sizes and types of institutions and organizations are welcomed, only to find out that there isn’t a budget, they were not expecting to compensate, they have never valued these services with payment in the past, or that they are a nonprofit organization.

What I thought that I alone was facing, I have heard reverberated in the experiences of colleagues. There are so many good things happening in the social impact space, but there must also be space to recognize and shed light on the challenges. Challenges that are absolutely solvable.

You cannot build a transformative new ecosystem with prior, limited mindsets

On one side, universities, foundations, and institutions are creating new programming, courses of study, touch points to build the next generation of successful social entrepreneurs, impact consultants, and ecosystem builders. On the other, they are sending mixed messages to their future graduates by often sourcing judges, mentors, creators, speakers in the space without valuing them.

In the pre-transformation mindset, that made total sense. There was a for-profit sector and a nonprofit sector, and if you chose to work in the former, it would make complete sense to ‘give back’ to the latter. But we are in the post-transformation phase, where there is a middle, hybrid road. Individuals operating in the middle path have built our work with the belief that there is a place for us to stand, serve the impact sector, and be able to create sustainable, abundant lives and livelihoods. There was a rising tide that was going to lift all ships. It most definitely lifted our ship in terms of meaningful, abundant work and opportunities to engage; but, in my experience, the accompanying valuation of doing that work has been slower to be recognized and championed.

This is not just an individual problem, but is a systemic one too. There is an active effort to educate and matriculate professionals to serve the social impact sector, but is it all a facade if the system as a whole is not ready to value them once there?

As social impact ecosystem builders, we have a unique view of what is working and what can be improved within the system. We are connected to various nodes, without representing any single perspective. Our autonomy is irreplicable and invaluable within the system. But how can a system as a whole acknowledge and value this perspective? Who, within the system, can see, hear, and champion these ‘meta’ insights so the system doesn’t need to break or implode before it has the chance to live up to its transformative potential.

We need a mindset shift

There is no shortage of abundance or value within the impact sector, and beyond it. A mindset shift is what we need.

Instead of using pre-transformation models of depending on volunteers or unpaid ‘impact ecosystem builders,’ is there a way that institutions and organizations can create models of shared value?

How can those who contribute their skills and expertise be valued as assets rather than costs?

How might the system champion social impact ecosystem builders and work synergistically to build a better, robust, and more resilient social impact system?

These questions are meant to catalyze conversation and deeper understanding. Organizations, social enterprises, companies of all sizes can use queries like these to better understand what isn’t working and isn’t serving the system as a whole. They can also be kept in mind as you attend events, serve on Boards, and consider investing or donating to initiatives or institutions.

Impact ecosystem builders, we must be our own champions

Impact ecosystem builders also have a role to play.

We can bring mutual value to the front of a conversation when engaging. It means framing how an engagement or time spent can be a win-win. It also means being ready to be told no, or for conversations to go quiet after the question is posed. And, being ready to bow out of opportunities that are not a fit with the vision we have for our work.

Something changes when we are valued. We feel acknowledged and seen. We are empowered to do more. We benefit from that feeling of abundance and unlimited potential and are inspired to keep asking, “how might we” take the impact sector to the next level.

To the impact sector, with love and authenticity

I have been working on how to articulate this perspective for months and do not take it lightly. I don’t write this to complain about a sector that has given me a great deal of purpose and deep fulfillment over the years. I have worked on a dozen drafts and considered not publishing this at all.

Receiving notes from past students in my social enterprise courses, attendees and Impactathon co-collaborators, and aspiring social impact ecosystem builders has inspired me to share this, with love and authenticity. True to the mission of my work, I feel I owe them a chance to fly higher, soar further, and meaningfully shape the future of the social impact sector by being able to be valued for their contributions and perspectives. By sharing this post and series, I want to ensure that they never feel like they are asking an unearned favor for attempting to do what hasn’t been done, while creating a life and career of meaning and abundance.

I’m Neetal Parekh, the founder of Innov8social, author of 51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship, and convener of Impactathon®. I work with social entrepreneurs, foundations, and universities to help build ecosystems for social impact through designing convenings, content, and communication strategies. To learn more, schedule a call and follow @innov8social.

**Our new Patreon page is now live!

Why We Created a Patreon Page

Why We Created a Patreon PageIt was two years ago when a friend, social entrepreneur, and Impactathon Impact Talk speaker said, “Innov8social should make a page.” Well, Nathan, it took a second, but we created a Patreon page!


What is Patreon?

For the uninitiated, Patreon is a platform where readers, listeners, and fans can support their content creators through memberships and subscriptions. It’s a way to value the work of content creators while creating a community of engaged fans and supporters. Content creators––ranging indie musicians, graphic artists, writers, podcast hosts––have been seen, heard, validated, and enabled to continue creating content.


Why we created a Patreon page

For the past eight years, through blog posts, podcast episodes, online resources, and convenings, we have been creating content and experiences with the mission of making social entrepreneurship more actionable and accessible. We have avoided including ads on the website, blog or in the podcast.

The timing felt right to create a way to both validate and value our work and create a new way to connect with our community–our tribe.

“Fail fast,” they say. And they usually say “fail forward” within the same sentence. In the spirit of those tenets of lean entrepreneurship, the Patreon page is also a way to receive a response to the overarching question. is it working? I.e. are we making meaningful strides in the direction of our mission. Are we creating content that matters to anyone.

There is a goal of 500 subscribers which will lead to the creation of a “Where are they now” type of series with past podcast guests. It is a goal post that seems football yards away today, but is an objective measure by which to track validation.

Just as many of us are becoming informed consumers or conscious consumers by voting with our dollars for the goods, services, and foods we choose to use, engage, eat, and champion; so too do we ‘vote’ when we chose to spend time reading, listening, liking and sharing online content. Supporting a content creator on a platform like Patreon, takes ‘mission-driven content consumption’ one step further, by giving value to content.

Value and valuation, as we know, are terms of art to some degree. A share price, a consulting fee, worth of currency or cryptocurrency all involve our belief in the worth of something.

In the social impact sector, content creators, conveners, and ‘social impact ecosystem builders’ (of which we include ourselves) are often asked to work for free. I.e., sending the message that we do not have value within the system. We cannot create a place to stand, and for future social impact leaders to stand, unless we see our work as valuable. And while the first step is seeing value in our work, it can only be validated by others. By you.

All of that to say, the reason we created a Patreon page is because we believe what we do is valuable. And, whether you are taking your first step within the social impact sector or have been in the space for decades, we invite you to become our champion.

We are grateful to Patreon, to our community, and you for taking the time to read this. Thank you!


This is the first post in a series on social impact ecosystem building. The second post is “How The Social Impact Sector Can Become More Transformative” and third post, “How to Know if you are a Social Impact Ecosystem Builder” are published on LinkedIn and Innov8social.com.


What is a Social Impact Ecosystem BuilderThe social impact sector is growing and shifting. Over the past decade, I have seen the expansion of social enterprise in the US and abroad, spanning new business models, legal structures, impact metrics, types of funding and investment, and interactive events, experiences, and education informing and inviting new voices into the space. One unique marker of growth has been the expanding number of ‘social impact ecosystem builders’, of which I include my work with Innov8social.

What is a social impact ecosystem builder? In this blog series, we will explore what this ‘meta’ role is, challenges faced when trying to serve the impact sector as a system, examples of who impact ecosystem builders are, and ways to become a champion the role.

The social impact sector is growing.

However you quantitatively or qualitatively measure it, the impact sector has been unmistakably bullish in the past decade. When I shared an article on SSIR about emerging legal structures in 2011, California was looking to become the 6th state to pass benefit corporation legislation. Fast forward to today when well over half of states and jurisdictions, namely thirty-four, have passed benefit corporation legislation at the state level. Another four have passed a version of social purpose legislation that also champions legal pathways for for-profit and for-impact entities. All of this to a tune of about 5,000 benefit corporations, according to co-founder of organizing body B Lab, Jay Coen Gilbert in a 2018 article.

Additionally, there are nearly 2800 B corp certified companies globally– again, according to B Lab statistics–– that have proactively and successfully engaged in a certification process that underscores their commitment to social impact. These are companies that have elected to take a comprehensive assessment to show a double or triple bottom line, i.e. that they are companies that are pursuing multiple masters, not only profit; but also society and the environment. This certification is a pay-to-play model, much like Fair Trade certification, LEED, Cradle-to-Cradle, and numerous other sustainability certifications, a few of which are identified in this article by Forbes business journalist, Anne Field, who specializes in impact investing and social enterprise reporting.

As the number of companies proactively and publicly aligning themselves with social impact is growing, so too are the investors that may support them. Social impact thought leader and journalist, Devin Thorpe cited a statistic by The Global Impact Investing Network in a Forbes article, that estimated that funding to tune of $228 billion had been invested in social impact in 2018, which was double the amount from 2017.

Ok, so legal structures expanding: check. Certified and self-identifying social enterprises increasing: check. Impact investing growth: check. What about impact measurement?

In the past few years, I have often shared my view of the opportunity in the space for a commonly-held, universal way of measuring social impact. I believe that with the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, we are on that path. Passed in 2015, these broad goals, and the accompanying 169 targets are giving us a common language, measurable milestones, and key interrelationships. Through the lens of SDG’s conversations around impact and measurement have the potential to go deeper and become more nuanced.

Qualitatively, as a convener of an interactive impact event called Impactathon, I also have seen the welcome expansion of opportunities to engage new voices in the social impact sector. Be it through conferences, unconferences, curriculum, hackathons, courses of study, or professional organizations––there are more touch points and ways to engage than ever before. Perhaps most significant is that the social impact that past generations thought was ‘nice to have’ in addition to firm bottom-line profit is becoming a ‘non-negotiable’ for current and emerging generations as they plan for a sustainable future for a global population approaching nine billion, sharing finite resources.

What is a social impact ecosystem builder?

Even if you agree the space is growing, what does that have to do with social impact ecosystem builders?

Well, it may help to map out participants and enablers in the sector. There are social entrepreneurs. There are impact investors and funders. There are government and quasi-government agencies. There are universities and learning institutions. There are impact measurement services and standards, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals. There are the publications and journalists.

And, then there are ‘meta’ participants, who don’t fit solidly into just one of the categories, but which seek to address gaps and optimize the impact sector as a whole. This group has been identifying as social impact ecosystem builders.

While many may rightfully count themselves in this category, I am particularly referring to a hybrid of conveners, consultants, coaches, and creators who form the interstitial scaffolding to help social impact actors tell betters stories, collaborate radically, scale meaningfully, and who play a vital role in inviting new individuals to the space, across sector, age, background, geography, education, and socio-economic background.

Speaking as an impact ecosystem builder, we know there are gaps in the system, because we have seen it from working with various clients, initiatives, and organizations. We champion a systemic view of social enterprise and take it upon ourselves to be ‘cross pollinators’ and connectors of ideas, people and institutions. We wear multiple hats and use multiple tools to effectuate impact that is possible–– including convening and co-convening individuals in live settings, online settings, creating and co-creating content and media, designing and co-designing curriculum and experiences to empower ‘nodes’ within the sector; so that we can shift the impact sector from tendencies toward ‘heropreneurship’ to success by inclusive design.

I have come to this role organically. First, primarily as a blogger, then a podcaster, author, coach, curriculum designer, instructor, convener, intrapraneur, consultant and collaborator––all with an eye and focus on social impact.

Do you identify as a social impact ecosystem builder? How do you define the role?


This post is part of our #30daychallenge of new content. Support this challenge and our website and podcast episodes via our new Patreon page. Enjoy special perks by becoming a member today.


I’m Neetal Parekh, the founder of Innov8social, author of 51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship, and convener of Impactathon®. I work with social entrepreneurs, foundations, and universities to help build ecosystems for social impact through designing convenings, content, and communication strategies. To learn more, schedule a quick call and follow @innov8social.

In his book, When, Daniel Pink explores the importance of timing. He uses an evidence-based approach to suggest times of day that have been proven to be better for pitch meetings and interviews (hint: mornings), why starting the school day an hour later could have incredibly positive results for student learning, when it might be the right time to make a big change, achieve big goals, and the importance of ending strong.

As we plant our stakes into the new year, 2019, I found myself remembering a part of Pink’s observation that people whose ages end in a ‘9’ tended to be more likely to take a risk, achieve an audacious goal… and even run a marathon. According to his research, “someone who’s forty-nine is about three times more likely to run a marathon than someone who’s just a year older.”

T-1 year to 2020

With a significant “9” upon us collectively, we have an opportunity to leverage any peaks in motivation to move ourselves and our work further this year.

Pink purports that one of the reasons that 19, 29, 39, 49, 59, etc. ages are especially significant is because as humans, we tend to judge and recall experiences disproportionately by their endings. You can have had a fantastic year, but if it ended on a slump or downturn–it is more likely to impact your assessment of the entire year.

Even beginning to understand this psychology can help us frame this new year differently. Instead of thinking of resolutions, we can focus on what we want to finish, achieve, overcome, and accomplish so that we end this decade strong.

How can we make the most of 2019 as a capstone to the decade? Here are 5 ways to achieve big goals this year.

1. Visualize clearly and greatly

Study upon study has shown the power of visualization. With that in mind, we should first think about something impossible, improbable, that we can make inevitable this year. It may be something we have been putting off or have been avoiding or haven’t committed to. We can spend some time scoping out our audacious goals, and then visualizing with specificity. How will it feel to achieve that goal? What will it look like? Who will be there to celebrate? What doors will achieving that goal open? Who will it positively impact? How will it change our daily lives?


2. Believing we are almost there

Pink cites studies have shown that we will work harder when we believe we are just a little behind in a goal. If you have ever completed a crowdfunding campaign, you may have experienced this with the relative ease of trying to raise the last 10–20% versus the middle 25%. We should take careful stock and reflect magnanimously on how we might be closer to our goal than on first blush. Maybe we already have the equipment, gear, or training to achieve the goal. Perhaps someone who attained what you hope to was not much further than we are at this time or stage.

3. Boldly remove barriers

What could have seemed like a barrier in 2018, is no match for our renewed will to finish this decade on a high note. With this focus in mind, we can dissolve the digital, mental, physical clutter distracting and impeding our paths. Instead of being active on a half-dozen social media channels, we might choose one or two and bow out from the rest. This digital decluttering may make it easier to focus. I engaged in this bold step just over six weeks ago and have been taking more online courses and setting new learning goals that felt out of reach before. This approach can also be used to declutter your physical space and relationships. With a goal in mind, we can find ways to make it easier to achieve it and finish strong.

4. Find a community, IRL first

Even though we are on the path to achieving our greatest goals, if it is a lonely journey we may lose our will or desire to see it through along the way. While online communities may be helpful in the long run, I issue the challenge of first finding a live convening or gathering to meaningfully begin building community. This can look different based on different goals. And when in doubt, organizing an impromptu hike, brunch, or happy hour might do wonders to attract the right people (even if a small group) who are similarly aligned, focused, and motivated to finish the decade strong with a shared goal in mind.

From an Impactathon® live convening in 2018

5. Celebrate milestones

In the insightful online Coursera course “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects,” instructors, Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, explain the importance of creating positive neurological cravings for new behaviors and habits we are trying to set. We can create positive cravings for achieving success when we break down our big goal and celebrate our small wins.

I share these observations not as a one-way directive but to co-inspire completion of a couple of audacious goals that I would love to achieve in this decade.

It’s our new year, in all good things let’s #goanddo!




Interested in learning more about how Innov8social can help you achieve your impact goals?  Schedule a quick call and follow @innov8social.


What is your relationship with your email? If you are like me—it is complicated.

I love email

I love email. I can love receiving it. There is still a small rush in seeing the number in parentheses increase on the tab hosting my email. Could there be something unexpected—a friend reaching out from out of the blue, a new social impact opportunity, or collaboration idea from an unlikely source. I can love sending email, too. Writing is one of my favorite ways of articulating ideas, and so crafting an email can create a special kind of satisfaction and fulfillment.

I get overwhelmed by email

That being said, I can feel weighted down by an overload of email—I think of all of the people who I haven’t gotten back to, the emails I am behind on, many messages I haven’t had a chance to open. As an entrepreneur, these emails can range from requests for podcast interviews to marketing opportunities to offers to feature sponsored content to cold emails from service providers, and everything in between. The emails are important to process, but can create a serious feeling of overwhelm. And, instead of getting through more email, I notice my mind shifts focus to other projects completely.

And then there are the email newsletters

Increasingly prevalent in my stream of email have been email newsletters. Oh, the newsletters. I have spent a good part of my professional career writing, strategizing, and distributing content, including email newsletters. It is an incredible way to connect with people who are in our ‘tribes’ through direct notes and updates. At Innov8social, we have the #goanddo guide, an email listserv that has updates on Innov8social and a smattering of event postings and job and internship opportunities in social impact. Newsletters have been a way to connect with our tribe.

However, I am afforded another view as an email newsletter recipient.

Along my social entrepreneurship journey, I have subscribed to an email newsletter, or two, or over a hundred. It happens innocently enough, you attend an event or engage with a website and think “sure, why not subscribe—at least I’ll know the latest news. And delivered right to my inbox! What could be better?!” The convenience and feeling of connection of being part of a community and receiving news is thrilling. Each newsletter arrival is like a small tap on the shoulder, “psst, this just in” or “oh hello there, I have something to say” or “excuse me, I know you are doing that, but look at me,” or “no rush, I’ll just be hanging out here in bold font until you have a chance to check me out.” What started as a feeling of being part of an inner crowd of a website or initiative, when scaled, can feel like a futile attempt to win at Tetris when pieces are piling up faster than you can put them away.

And many listservs can be a bit deceiving—because they come in the form of follow-ups to a place you visit, something you purchased, or related to an event you attended. They may feel like account-related updates, but actually work like a listserv. Over time, these messages come to the inbox on equal footing with and often adjacent to business and client messages and can dilute focus.

Overwhelm is real for entrepreneurs

We may not agree on everything related to entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship, but news stories, anecdotes, and studies show us that entrepreneurial overwhelm is real. We knew that finding a viable business model, finding partners, and scaling were all par for the course for entrepreneurs. But now, we can add fighting overwhelm.

And feelings of overwhelm don’t happen at just one stage in the entrepreneurial journey—but they pivot and scale too. We have to be vigilant about actively taking steps to reduce feelings of overwhelm so we can focus on the things that matter most—including our work, physical and mental health, and our loved ones.

Hacking email overwhelm: how might we make email better

As an avid communicator-a-la writing, I noticed that one of the key sources of overwhelm is my email. And, I decided to try to hack it.

Over the past year I have polled my social media communities, asked friends, and tried different techniques to create a new strategy for organizing email. This has included incredibly helpful new practices and tools such as customizing labels and tabs in Google email, adding Streak as a CRM overlay to Google mail, and using Boomerang to help re-surface important messages.

These steps have been helpful as post-inbox measures. But if you forget to organize for a few days, your inbox can again fall into disarray, giving path for overwhelm to creep up once more. I realized, that the next level of ‘hacking’ would come from exploring pre-inbox solutions.

From all of this, I recently tried a radical life experiment

So, just as I created a practice around decluttering physical belongings which helped me reduce the things I own, store, and carry by over 70% last year (more on that in another post : ), I decided to unsubscribe. Radically.

Save a few key email newsletters, I have been unsubscribing, to the tune of over 100 email newsletters.

Why and how I unsubscribed

This experiment has included email newsletters from individuals and organizations I adore, respect, and value. I know as an email newsletter sender, we take newsletter unsubscribes incredibly seriously. Beyond the slight heart palpitations that (still) occur each time an edition of the #goanddo guide newsletter is sent out, the next wave of anxiety comes when checking how many unsubscribes followed the mailing—and then second-guessing why a person unsubscribed.

I didn’t want my attempt to reduce overwhelm to create overwhelm or anxiety for content creators, nor make it feel like I don’t value their work.

So, when possible and appropriate, I unsubscribe and then under “reason” I select “other” and write a brief note such as the following:

“I value your work and content. Am simplifying my inbox to sidestep overwhelm : ) If there are any ways to collaborate or co-create, please don’t hesitate to reach out directly. Warm Regards, Neetal, www.innov8social.com

I hope that giving an honest reason may provide the contextual explanation that being a mere statistic of an unsubscriber cannot convey.

What I learned from unsubscribing from 100+ newsletters

I have learned a lot from this process and wanted to share while the observations are fresh and in case they can be helpful to you.

1. Email can be a form of digital clutter

Even when filtered, archived, and labeled, email newsletter can still be clutter

It’s like having a storage unit. You store things and you feel better because you’re organized. But you are paying for that space–not just with your pocketbook, but with the mental energy of still owning and taking care of things that you might not even need.

2. It’s okay to unsubscribe

In this process of simplifying, I had to give myself permission to unsubscribe. In first part, it was a major change in operating procedure to see new newsletters and instead of thinking, “okay, mental note that I need to get to that” to thinking “let me unsubscribe for right now.” In order to focus on what matters most and become better versions of ourselves, it’s okay to unsubscribe. I think a calmer and more focused mind can also help connect us more meaningfully to other content creators, thinkers and doers in our space. I have made it okay to unsubscribe from newsletters, and also okay for subscribers to unsubscribe from Innov8social’s.

3. No one will unsubscribe for you

When I recently spent time at our family home I realized that my Mom was still receiving snail mail—twelve years after she passed away. Maybe I secretly thought there was a special alert system that would automatically let agencies, companies, marketing organizations of someone’s passing—especially after a number of years. The tough part was thinking that all of these years my dad regularly receives these mailings addressed to my mom.

Similarly, I realized that no one is going to magically unsubscribe us from our digital listservs when we are not around to receive them. Some listservs regularly prune and preen their lists, removing subscribers who do not open or who “don’t respond to this email”— but those that do are few and far between.

And that started weighing on me. If I feel overwhelmed with email clutter in my living days, it’s definitely not something I want to continue receiving after.

4. You can request/find the information in other ways

One of the tenets that guides my social media strategy to this day, and is something I focus on with my clients, came from Gary Vaynerchuk in his famous 2008 TED Talk. He iterated and reiterated that we, as content creators, need to be where our audience is—and not the other way around.

Extend that to email newsletters, and best practices would mean that web versions of email newsletters are also being distributed via social media—a practice that enables us to view, read, share, and enjoy—but not store, these important updates.

5. You might feel mentally and physically lighter, and ‘new’ again

I kid you not when I say I have felt mentally clearer and even subconsciously lighter from a cleaner inbox experience. Also, the simplified inbox makes me feel the kind of excitement and curiosity I felt when I first launched Innov8social—and I have noticed that I have had new ideas around content and partnerships.

6. Less email = more focus

This clarity has allowed me to focus on clients, potential opportunities, and following up with greater ease, and even more joy. Just as negative or white space can make graphic design more appealing and call to actions more pronounced, so too can negative email space help to create a sense of calm and renewed focus.

7. You can always re-subscribe

Another thing I have seen is just like every part of a Business Model Canvas is essentially a ‘hypothesis’ to be proven or disproven as an entrepreneur– so is unsubscribing.

In case you miss a newsletter, you can always re-subscribe. For me, I have a feeling that once I create a system in which I can regularly zero out my inbox, I can re-incorporate a few email newsletters without overwhelm.

8. There has to be a better way 

This deep dive into hacking email has made me think of technology-based solutions.

Gmail introduced the concept of ‘snoozing’ emails which is a positive start. But, what about being able to automatically delete emails after a period of time?

For example, I would love the ability to tag email newsletters to automatically delete after a specified time. Though a post-inbox solution, the automatic deletion would ensure that they would not go the path of becoming digital clutter.

Additionally, this would be excellent for calendar reminder emails too—which are incredibly important prior to an event, but can lose nearly all value after the scheduled event.

We are evolving. So too can our communication solutions.

Using an innovation mindset, I have to believe that just as email and email newsletters originally came to be, presumably as communication solutions, we are merely at the next stage where they have become incredibly powerful tools that are now in need of solutions to continue to reach their impact potential.

Curious to learn how you streamlined your inbox, create processes to reduce overwhelm, and zero out your inbox!


Tips from the community (updated)

  • Tash Jeffries of HireKind mentioned unroll.me
  • David of Innative mentioned using Slack or Asana for project and team communications + quickly assessing emails as soon as they come in (versus letting them sit in inbox)


what I have learned about courage

We don’t always connect the dots between our personal lives and career, even when things can make much more sense when we do.

On this occasion of what would have been my Mom’s 65th birthday, I want to connect a few dots.

Dubbed the “Indian Martha Stewart” by her friends, my Mom was always experimenting with new ways to do things, prepare recipes, and innovate. She loved and sought to excel in nearly every part of life. Her diagnosis of cancer, fight, and passing 12 years ago impacted nearly every aspect of our family’s lives.

And it also gave me a new relationship to fear and courage. I learned that courage is made easier when you have little to fear. Saying goodbye to one of the most important people in our lives forced me to confront one of my greatest fears. When we come face-to-face with a fear and must find a way through it, one of the unintended consequences is the neutralizing of that fear.

what I have learned about courage


I have spent the better part of my professional life striving to create and co-create a meaningful career in social impact — a space that wasn’t even a known term when I was in college and graduate school. It has, at times, been the source of uncertainty and challenge, and an opportunity to face fear and find courage.

As I think back to my Mom confronting the fear of fighting a disease she could not see — I feel her courage. In thinking through more than a decade in the lives of our family, extended family, and friends in which we had to accept the finality of her loss and find ways to move forward — I feel our collective courage. In thinking back just six months to the unexpected lymphoma diagnosis of my sweet 8-year-old pup and the numerous rounds of chemo she endured and the uncanny similarities between her journey and passing and my Mom’s — I feel her courage, and mine.

And then if I look, with the same lens, at my increasingly unwavering belief that I can serve best when partnering with mission-driven initiatives and institutions and collaborating to help make social entrepreneurship more accessible and actionable to individuals, teams, and especially students — I find that my fear of taking a less-traveled path subsides, leaving my courage intact.

With this lens, as I look to see unthinkable, unimaginable, unexpected challenges, fears, and setbacks that those around us have faced and found ways to keep moving forward, I find that accepting fear’s role in our lives can become one of our greatest strengths and eventual sources of courage.

We remember my Mom on her birthday and recall her incredible gifts, talents, and the lessons she taught us.

And I am reminded that in our observation of the world around us, and our own lives, we can choose to find reasons to fear or examples of courage. I hope to, at least mostly, choose the latter. Recognizing courage in others tends to help me find and realize my own.

I know my incredible network negotiate fear and courage regularly too. Would love to hear what gives you courage.

Mom collage (from "what I have learned about courage")
photos: L (my Mom), R top (nephews, siblings, Dad), R middle and lower (celebrating Mom at one of her favorite spots)


Mom surprise party (from "what I have learned about courage")

photo: surprise party for Mom

Mom with friends (from "what I have learned about courage")photo: summer picnic with friends


The Innov8social website has been updated. You may enjoy taking a look.

Listen to a Conversation Between a Series A Funder and Founder

What does a conversation about Series A funding sound like between an impact funder and founder? What stage does a social entrepreneur typically have to be in to seek in the range of $1M in funding? What are the key criteria an impact investor may be looking for to continue the conversation? How important is fit when looking for funding?

If you have ever wondered these questions as you contemplate and progress social impact initiatives, this podcast episode was designed for you. Tune in to hear Julie Abrams, long time impact investor and co-founder of a new fund, Luminar Brasil converse with Sujay Santra, founder and CEO of social enterprise iKure.

The conversation, captured at Opportunity Collaboration, provides critical insight to learn more about what impact investors are ‘screening for’ and how social entrepreneurs can focus on the right investors.

You can find all of the episodes recorded at Opportunity Collaboration here.



Listen to the Episode


Meet Julie Abrams, Impact Investor and C0-Founder of Luminar Brasil Impact Investing

Julie is currently working on direct and fund investments in Brazil with Luminar Brasil, a high impact venture-style fund investing in scalable companies serving the base of the pyramid, emerging middle class, and the environment in Brazil. The fund targets market returns and measurable impact, with a long-range goal to address Brazil’s income inequality. She has worked and lived in Brazil, and is fluent in Portuguese.

Julie is an impact investing pioneer with longstanding expertise and passion focused on deploying commercial investment capital for poverty elimination and needed goods, services, and resources in underserved markets globally, including over $US 360 million invested to date. She has served on impact investment committees for MicroBuild Fund and Calvert Impact Capital, and previously worked for PwC. Julie was a Fellow at the Lauder Institute, where she earned an MBA from Wharton, and an MA from University of Pennsylvania.


Meet Sujay Santra, Ashoka Fellow and Founder and CEO of iKure


Realizing that there will never be sufficient doctors to treat patients in India individually, Sujay is completely changing the healthcare system from an individualized curative model to a community-based preventive healthcare system to ensure the holistic well-being of communities. He is doing this through ICT for low-cost diagnosis and data analysis of a community’s health indicators, and implementing behavior change programs for the communities in partnership with academic institutions, locals NGOs and businesses.

Sujay founded iKure to address “last mile” health care. It is a unique social enterprise with the mission to provide affordable, accessible, and quality primary health care services to the rural population of India. He was selected as an Ashoka Fellow for his ongoing work in creating initiatives to provide healthcare to millions.


Check out this episode!

Is Impact Investing Right for yours impact enterprise? A perspective from Ayush Khanna, Co-Founder of LaborVoices

Is Impact Investing The Right Fit?

In this season of The Impact Podcast, we have been featuring episodes that delve deep into questions of funding for social impact. if you compared the evolution of social entrepreneurship to the stages of a person, it would be fair to say that the sector has reached an adolescence. It is no longer in its infancy but is negotiating the next range of questions and issues as it has matured. If that is the case for social enterprise, it may be said that the impact investment sector is somewhere in toddlerhood. It is growing, learning, and pivoting at an exponential pace; but is not fully developed and formed.

In this episode, you can hear how this still-developing form of investment may be a good fit or not a good fit for impact entrepreneurs. We are fortunate to be joined by Ayush Khanna, a savvy entrepreneur, recent 500 Startups graduate, and someone who has thought about these topics deeply.


Listen to the Episode


Meet Ayush Khanna

Is Impact Investing Right for yours impact enterprise? A perspective from Ayush Khanna, Co-Founder of LaborVoicesAyush is passionate about developing products that delight users while also creating social impact. At LaborVoices, he is building a platform that guides workers to the best jobs and global brands to the best suppliers. His work has been recognized by prominent organizations like USAID and Humanity United, and covered in media organizations like The Huffington Post, BBC and Reuters.

Previously, Ayush has held analytics and research roles at PayPal, Wikimedia Foundation, and Duke University. At PayPal, he worked with several Product teams to successfully launch mobile and web products in multiple regions. At Wikimedia, he developed the seminal Wikipedia reader and editor study, which revealed a signifiaAyush has a Masters degree in Information Science from UC Berkeley and a Bachelors degree in Computer Science from Mumbai University.



Check out this episode!