This post was submitted by SVI Women 2019 alumni Angie Mertens, Jo Fleming, Michelle Thimesch, Carolina Miranda, and Janet Schieferdecker.
The Power of Peers
We were all newbies at SVI Women back in 2019, we barely knew each other after a couple of days. All of us were drawn to the promise of joining a highly curated space for women impact leaders. We heard about the “magical moments,” connections, and collaborations that can happen during the SVI Women experience. Yes, we have to admit, it wasn’t easy to step back from our busy businesses for a couple of days, but we noticed that it was desperately needed, and totally worth it!
Being emerged for 3 days with 150+ badass female CEOs is an experience that is hard to describe. SVIW has truly mastered the secret sauce in convening: every moment feels well spent, every session is different, connections are made, true collaboration happens, and recharging and inspiration is abundant. It is a place where you can share real time business struggles, problem solve with other women leaders, and generate innovative ideas and solutions for your business and the world you want to live in.
During the Peer Circles (you’ll get to experience them at SVI Women 2021 as well), the five of us met to talk about business challenges and provide feedback and ideas. The 1.5 hour circle flew by quickly, and by the end we decided to simply continue meeting with each other. Real time email exchange and the first zoom call was blocked in our calendar. Every four to six weeks for the past two years the five of us – Jo, Carolina, Angie, Michelle and Janet – have met and continued in the spirit of the SVI Women Peer Circle.
Our circles start off with a check-in round, and then we dive into challenges and talk about business goals and sustainability. When 2020 hit, our topics changed. This group kept us – and still keeps us – sane. We supported each other through the pandemic and a contentious election with sanity checks and simply being there for each other. From thinking big moves, celebrating an adoption and family highlights, to mourning pandemic deaths and corona infections, and celebrating the first vaccine in our group. We supported each other through the election, sharing resources and ways to get involved, cheered each other on, sharing fears and dreams for what was possible for us, our businesses, and society.
Tips for 2021 SVI Women Participants
Here’s our thoughts on how to make the most out of your conference experience:
- Commit: We know it’s hard to step away from your own business for a while, but fully immersing yourself into the SVI experience will definitely open your horizon as a business leader. Turn off your phone, turn on your OOO, and dive into the badass women entrepreneur gathering of 2021!
- Be Brave: This is a space where you can let your guard down, meet like-minded women, and ask the questions you’ve been afraid to ask.
- Be Vulnerable: If there are women in a breakout room that you connect with, take initiative and be open for possibilities: exchange your contact information, continue your peer circle, connect, and collaborate. So much is possible when hundreds of rockstar women come together :)!
- Schedule It: Get something on the calendar immediately. If it’s vague it probably won’t happen.
Our Work & Insights
We all have different backgrounds and different businesses, which is helpful for gaining different perspectives. What unites us is being fantastic sounding boards for each other. Below we share a bit about our work and our testimonials on our peer circle experience over the last 2 years:
Angie Mertens (she/her) is the Program Director of ONE WORLD Training, a for-profit public benefit corporation based in Palo Alto, CA that provides training and investment capital to social impact companies across all industries in the San Francisco Bay Area. ONE WORLD also manages an early stage impact fund, with a portfolio of over 20 companies. Angie is also a co-founder of Reel Impact Festival.
“Being part of our Peer Circle is like getting a supercharged business-therapy session every 4-6 weeks. I leave feeling refreshed, inspired, with action-oriented guidance and feedback from others who are really traveling a similar, but different path. Being a female impact leader can be isolating at times – “lonely at the top” as they say – but with this group, I feel more connected than ever and have great counterparts to reach out for. I highly recommend joining SVI Women if you’re looking to build a community of female CEOs who are navigating (and thriving) in an environment dedicated to positively impacting the world around them.” – Angie Mertens
Jo Fleming (she/her) is the Executive Director of the California Green Business Network, which helps local governments, non-profits, and corporations deploy broad brushstroke sustainability solutions that yield measurable results and gain recognition. Any business in California and sister programs across the nation can benefit from joining the Network. She is also an Environmental Scientist & Owner of Environmental Innovations, Inc., a public benefit corporation and B Corp.
When you meet and strategize with a group of women, there is a blending of the importance of the quality of life, the social benefit of our work, and strategizing to reach our goals. We have coached each other through early stage ideas, overworking, life changes, big moves, and a pandemic. We’ve shared our organizational and planning tactics with each other. Sometimes a few of us will come to the group with a question when we meet. We don’t pretend to have all the answers but we share what we believe and what we have experienced. Meeting this strong group of leaders at SVI Women paid dividends and it has been inspiring to see my peers evolve and to learn from them.” – Jo Fleming
Michelle Thimesch (she/her) is a business and securities lawyer with over two decades of experience assisting small businesses secure the capital they need to grow in alignment with their values and mission. She also founded Crowdfund Mainstreet, an Investment Crowdfunding platform. She currently focuses on the use of Investment Crowdfunding as an economic development tool.
“As someone who spends the bulk of her time up in her head, I cherish the opportunity to meet with our Peer Circle. These women are my ankle weights. I am so grateful that I met them at SVI in 2019. They laugh with me at the absurd realities of life and of running a business. They listen when I need to share. They brainstorm like nobody’s business! Because we all share a deep commitment to our social ventures, we all appreciate what is at stake. This is an example of women in sisterhood. It is hard to beat.” – Michelle Thimesh
Janet Schieferdecker (she/her) is the Founder & Principal of Choice Point Leadership, providing Career and Leadership Development for Mid-career Professionals in Transition. She helps experienced professionals to clarify their “personal why”, create and communicate boundaries around what really matters, and teaches the art, practice, and skill of asking for, understanding, and giving feedback. And she does all that with the help of horses!
“The peer circle was one of the best parts of the SVI-W conference at the time and definitely has had the most lasting impact since we have kept meeting. We have met just to connect and share our growth, have met to help one another brainstorm business solutions, and have even met to take action together to create change. This small group continues to motivate and inspire me and keeps me connected to the larger SVI movement.” – Janet Schieferdecker
Carolina Miranda (she/her) is the Founder and CEO of Cultivating Capital, a Certified B Corp since 2012 that works with small businesses to implement sustainable business practices. As a Green Business, Sustainability, and B Corp Consultant, she has worked with hundreds of organizations to implement social and environmental initiatives, get certified, and establish 5-year sustainability action plans.
“Sometimes you go to a conference and get back home without anything meaningful happening. SVI Women 2019 was not like that. At the end of the conference, a group of us randomly came together to form a peer group for an afternoon session. We stayed in touch, and two years later, we still meet regularly. Many times we talk about our businesses – our challenges & ideas – tapping into the brain trust of sharp, talented women who can advise us on navigating the vicissitudes of business life. Other times we talk about our lives – our triumphs and struggles – leaning into a community that helps us to stay grounded and maintain our sanity in the midst of turmoil around us. I’m grateful for our peer group and appreciate the opportunity that SVI Women created to bring us together.” – Carolina Miranda