Listening Between the Lines – Takeaways From Awardees: PwC, Lockheed, UN Foundation, DBL Investors

“Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says it can’t be done.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Listening between the lines to the awardees at two recent nonprofit galas, it is clear that having the moxie to do things completely differently can drive powerful results  – and an invigorating career.  Earth Day Network advocates for and organizes environmental activism and Inroads provides leadership training for students of color to nurture generations of diverse corporate leadership. Here are my six takeaways from their 2018 galas:
  1. It’s never too late to pivot. Instead of relaxing in retirement after decades at the World Bank and in the Somaliland government (including as Foreign Minister), Dr. Edna Adan Ismail built and manages a hospital for women and children in her native Somaliland, the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital. Similarly, Dan Bates of Impact PPA – who partnered with Dr. Edna to protect the hospital’s vulnerable patients from power outages by bringing it renewable energy – had spent decades in audio engineering for the entertainment industry, when he took a completely different turn into renewable energy systems.

    “I’ve never done it before” is no excuse, regardless of your age.

(l to r) Dr. Edna Ismail, Dan Bates and Kathleen Rogers at the 2018 Earth Day Network Gala (Photo: Earth Day Network, Riccardo Savi)


  1. Breakthroughs come from addressing what’s uncomfortable – out loud. “You have to have the willingness to address uncomfortable issues,” PwC’s Senior Partner and U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan told the Inroads gala accepting his award for Excellence in Leadership, adding, “We are all leaders,” no matter what level you’re at.Lee-Anne Walters, a top community  organizer in the Flint, Michigan water crisis who won the Goldman Environmental Prize, told me at the Earth Day Network gala that seeing the brown water coming out of her tap, she knew she had to do something to protect her family, even though she has never been “an activist.” Their movement is forcing Michigan to replace all of Flint’s water pipes, holding officials accountable for poisoning their community, and driving water system improvements across the nation.
Rainia Washington, Inroads Gala, photo by Inroads

3. Doing something very different can make you more creative, and help you discover new skills and more courage.  Dr. Edna, Dan Bates, and Lee-Anne, told me they feel more creative, inspired and energized embarking on their completely new careers, and discovering skills they didn’t know they had.  Rainia Washington, Vice President, Global Diversity & Inclusion at Lockheed Martin, told the Inroads gala that, “You get questioned (when you’re trying new solutions). People will look at you differently. Some are supportive, and some are asking ‘why’.…and that’s what brings out the courage” you need to succeed.

  1. If they think you can do it, trust them and go for it. Even when – especially when! – you doubt yourself, if your boss asks you do something, they believe you can do it. When I ask anyone on my team to tackle something new and they reply, “but I’ve never done that before,” I encourage them to try it anyway and usually they can do it.

Caleb Tacuri, the Inroads student who was awarded their 2018 “Rising Star” award, talked about his surprising journey from being expelled from high school to securing an internship at the Pentagon.  He said: “Don’t doubt yourself for who you are; believe in yourself for who you can become.”
Nancy Pfund of DBL Investors, who was awarded the Earth Day Network Climate Leadership Award at their Gala, pushes founders and teams of “embryonic companies” to think bigger and differently to solve challenges – and she’s as invigorated as they are by the results.

        PwC Senior Partner Tim Ryan in Irish America magazine 2017

  1. Bleak times inspire those on the sidelines to act and force us to try new solutions. PwC ‘s Ryan told the Inroads gala he thinks the extreme views in the current political discourse have inspired the private sector to be more proactive, inspiring them to come up with creative solutions to against immigration, diversity and climate change.
  2. Find support and resources in unexpected places. Lee-Anne Walters started organizing her community by talking to other Flint, Michigan mothers at PTA meetings. PwC’s Ryan and Lockheed’s Washington both suggested seeking support and resources outside as well as inside your organization. I would add that sometimes the budget to support your initiative is not obvious at first. Look in new places and find an internal champion.


Kathy Calvin, President and CEO of the U.N. Foundation, received the 2018 Earth Day Network Women and the Green Economy (WAGE) Leadership Award for their tireless efforts “mobilizing the energy and expertise of business and non-governmental organizations” to address “climate change, global health,…women’s empowerment, poverty eradication, energy access,” which are being ignored by the sitting U.S. administration. Her quote from Eleanor Roosevelt (the first UN Representative) in her acceptance speech is a sentiment we all should remember every day: “Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says it can’t be done.
In these awardees’ stories, we see that when we set aside our insecurities and just go for it, applying our best selves to the challenge at hand, we discover surprising support, resources, creative solutions and new talents, with breakthrough results.
And, a quick shout-out to the team of three teenage girls from Banneker High School in Washington, DC on being finalists in the 2018 NASA STEM contest with their innovative school water fountain filtration system. Bravo!

Earth Day Gala. (l to r) Lee-Anne Walters, NASA award girls, photo by Leigh Vogel_with permmision from EDN


Read the full blog on Forbes, where it was first published.