Meet our latest VOZWOMAN – Michelle Arévalo-Carpenter. Social entrepreneur and human rights lawyer, Michelle is the CEO and co-founder of IMPAQTO, the first social innovation accelerator and network of co-working spaces in Ecuador, supporting a broader ecosystem of social entrepreneurs from the Andean region.
Michelle is also a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Future Council on Human Rights. Founder, Asylum Access Ecuador, and former COO of Asylum Access Global. MSt (Oxon) MPP (Berkeley). She writes about social entrepreneurship, millennials and telling stories often missed.
How did you come to social entrepreneurship?
After 7 years working in a refugee rights NGO I helped launch, I realized that many of the skills we learn could be applied very well to business. Researching a bit more, I discovered this amazing space that exists firmly between two paradigms - a combination of mission and profit. Social Entrepreneurship offers us the option of harnessing the market to provide solutions to social and environmental problems. For those of us whose relentless work is fueled by purpose, social innovation is more than a career path– it's a choice of lifestyle.
What is your favorite part of doing the work that you do?
I love being surrounded by inspiring people. The IMPAQTO Coworking and Labs space has become this amazing center of gravity, attracting our city's top talent, the creative class, tech gurus and digital nomads. The constant interaction with people who have a passion for what they do full-time is energizing for our entire team.
What have you learned from being a female CEO?
The role of CEO presents an fascinating dual challenge: offering leadership and fueling passion for our team within and representing a vision and a brand for those looking from outside. Within IMPAQTO, our own team is made of powerful, committed women leaders, beginning with my business partner - Daniela Peralvo, who is a fantastic connector and results-based manager. Its become our culture that beyond colleagues, we are mentors and cheerleaders for each others' journeys as we consolidate our own careers as female leaders. Facing outwardly, I have found that Ecuadorians respect female leaders who speak and act out of conviction. When I focus on conviction, external meetings tend to start with skeptical looks about what a young woman can really offer and end with earned confidence.
How did the idea for IMPAQTO start?
Drawing inspiration from the variety of Coworking spaces and social innovation labs that have sprung in dozens of cities around the world, I began searching for like-minded people and was fortunate to find them. When we met, all my business partners had already begun thinking about doing something for our country that would support change agents turn ideas into impactful businesses.
What is special to you about entrepreneurship in Ecuador?
Ecuador is a surprisingly entrepreneurial country - what makes these entrepreneurs special is their solutions-based approach tends to have a social or environmental purpose naturally embedded in its business model. I am convinced that the most transformative social innovations come from unsuspected places- those communities where innovators live close to the frontlines, who live social problems on a day to day basis and who have the humility to observe and learn as part of their design process. If Bangladesh - not Wall Street- gave us Mohammed Yunus, why shouldn't we search for the next one in a place like Quito?
What are some of the challenges you've faced?
Initially, it was hard to gain the trust of entrepreneurs: many had been disappointed with the results of prior initiatives, others, were not entirely convinced of the concept of sharing an open office space or paying for incubation. Our team faced the fears head-on: it was not enough to speak of collaboration, success cases or investors. We needed to show them, get them to interact deeply and see for themselves that becoming a part of IMPAQTO means becoming a part of a community with shared values. In this sense, our networking events, bringing impact business leaders and holding our country's first ever Impact Investing Summit has been key to developing trust and commitment among our change agents.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Spend time with four loves: My husband Matt + prepping for the birth of my twins, my dogs Nena and Frankie and photography.
How have you grown as a person since when you first started Impacto Quito?
I have become a better listener, a more empathetic team member and have understood the importance of decisiveness to bring things forward.
What motivates you socially, creatively, and politically?
What drives my motivation has to do with a deep need to transcend - leave my community, the planet, and those who surround me in a better shape than what I found them in. Socially, that means having a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion in the work and programming we do at IMPAQTO. Creatively, it has brought be closer to supporting artists, chefs and artisans tapping into ancestral knowledge. Politically, it has been important to take a solid stance on gender equality, sometimes directly, some other times, simply showing up as the CEO of an innovation company with a fully pregnant belly. When we stay close to what fuels us, its easier to lead by example, being resilient when crises hit and always remaining kind.
What’s next for you?
The last few months have represented an important transition for me - when I learned I would soon be a mother of twins, I thought my focus would be split and ambitions might change. Yet, the idea of bringing new lives to the world has prompted a more audacious mindset- I want to see IMPAQTO scale and grow regionally across Latin America, focusing on emerging cities and bringing a coworking community of support to change agents to where they are.