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A Modest Manifesto – How I’m Embracing Ethics, Politics and Economics Going Forward

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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “manifesto” as a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer. Manifestos have a reputation of providing big, radical, even incendiary ideas about society, economics, art, politics and more. In these pivotal times when global converging crises call us to reimagine the world we live in, I’d like to offer a modest manifesto that centers on my next move but that hopefully provides some inspiration beyond my own personal aspirations for our nation and the planet we all share.

First some news: I am shifting gears in this brand new decade, so new that we haven’t even given it a name yet. While I will continue to be involved with Do Big Things and remain committed to and active in the progressive movement, I’ve also taken a senior leadership role as Chief Innovation Officer at The Impact Seat. This groundbreaking venture capital and philanthropic fund was founded by Barbara Clarke, one of the most prolific investors in women, especially women of color-led innovative tech startups. She and I share a vision of an economy that emerges from the pandemic that provides greater opportunity and prosperity for all. The Impact Seat team and I believe that when we democratize access to capital and put women in positions of power in partnership with men, we can solve big problems faster and with better outcomes. When incredible ideas, fantastic founders and cutting-edge companies get the resources they need to succeed — no matter what they look like — we can build a better future, together. Barbara’s clarity of purpose is truly electric. Working with her team and our Chief Investment Officer, Terence Craig, is energizing.

I’m eager to use my experience as a groundbreaking, impact-oriented entrepreneur who happens to be a woman of color to help kick open the doors of success at scale to more people, especially women. As Lisa Frusztajer of the Portfolia Enterprise Fund (in which The Impact Seat has investments) so eloquently put it: “Impact investing is one of many tools that is needed to address the complex social and environmental problems we face…Harnessing capital markets can have a huge societal benefit and will help change happen so much faster and at scale then waiting on philanthropic and government solutions alone.” 

However, recent statistics show that only 2% of all venture capital goes to female founded companies and for women of color, that number remains statistically speaking close to zero, although things are improving. That’s not innovation and that’s not efficient, especially given that women in America control 85% of consumer spending. It’s not only ossified,19th century thinking but it’s also just bad business strategy. Studies consistently show that diverse companies outperform on innovation, productivity and profitability. The Impact Seat is committed to investing only in startups that include a woman on the leadership team with no tolerance for “bolt-ons” with a fancy title yet microscopic percentage stake.  

Creating greater economic power for women will benefit society at all levels. At Yale, my major was Ethics, Politics and Economics and my campus work-study job was working at the campus library computer help desk. I tell younger people today that my job didn’t exist back when I was in college – I was part of a cohort that invented my job and those of others in our field of cause-focused technologists. That’s especially true of Gen Z in my opinion and I’m excited to weave a stronger emphasis on Economics into the movement-building work I’ve done for so many years.

I’m walking across a new threshold and holding the door open for others to walk into a new beginning with me. I am joining forces with a visionary team to go fight this fight on a new front that still has far too few people in it who look like me and who share our values. I believe that governments, schools and companies must incorporate new principles like JEDI (justice, ecocentrism, decolonization and innovation) in order to be successful in the 21st century. 

At the same time, I am thrilled to continue my work with Do Big Things in my new role as Founder and Chair. I’m also excited about the fortified leadership team at DBT. Henri Makembe has stepped up as the new CEO of Do Big Things to work side by side with me alongside the stellar senior leaders at DBT (including Rachel Martin, Ryanne Brown, Jennifer O’Reilly Mott & Dionna Humphrey) whose work never ceases to amaze and inspire. 

I am beyond happy that Henri is bringing his broad experience and talents to lead our team into a new decade. As the nation is shifting to new leadership, we believe this is a golden time to break through the next barriers to victories for our clients as they blaze into a new era. In my new role as Chair of the DBT board, I’m pumped to work strategically at a high level with key clients and support the expansion of the DBT leadership team. I’ve been delighted to see Jeff Bezos following my lead!

In closing, I want to express my deep gratitude to all my family, friends, clients and colleagues who have so generously linked arms with me over the years to create positive change together. I cannot tell you how inspired I have been — especially in recent years when our world darkened in ways most of us could never have imagined — by the example you have set for me with your work to make the world a better place for all, not just yourself. Thank you for supporting me and as always, please never hesitate to reach out to me on any channel on which you find me so that I can continue to support you. Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope to see you again (maybe even in person!) someday soon…

Cheryl Contee is the Chief Innovation Officer at The Impact Seat, which invests in women-led, especially women-of-color-led, innovative tech startups. She is also the award-winning Founder and Chair of Do Big Things, a progressive digital agency that creates new narrative and new tech for a new era focused on causes and campaigns. She is the author of the Amazon bestseller Mechanical Bull: How You Can Achieve Startup Success. Cheryl was a co-founder of social marketing software at Blackbaud, the first tech startup with a black female founder to be acquired by a NASDAQ-traded company.

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