FMS Fellow Feature: Ben Grimmig

Ben Grimmig, MBA ’17

Ben Grimmig (MBA ’17) has worked with Ambassador Corps in the CSIL offices while completing his degree at at the Middlebury Institute. He also participated in the FMS Training as part of the January 2016 cohort, where he found a passion in impact investing. Current Partnerships Associate Christina Lukeman caught up with Mr. Grimmig in Washington, D.C. this summer to hear his thoughts on fair trade, his top mentors in the field (looking at you, Mr. Hildebrand!) and how his love for the environment has optimally affected his trajectory in the impact sector.

Tell us about your current work/position. What are your next steps?

BG: Currently, I am a Mission-MBA intern at Honest Tea. My main responsibility is to write our mission report (kind of like a sustainability report which tracks Honest Tea’s mission-related initiatives over the last 12 months). They use four main metrics: organic purchasing from a pounds-perspective, fair trade purchasing from a pounds-perspective, fair trade premiums generated from a dollar-perspective, and servings sold (this shows scale and scale equals impact—Honest Tea sells more after being bought by Coke). For example: They converted to 100% fair trade sugar (but my role is to demonstrate what that means from a fair trade perspective?)

My next moves are going back to school at MIIS (and working at CSIL!), meanwhile I’ll continue to work at Honest Tea in a project-oriented sense—I’d like to see it my work through to publication of online report and distribution.

In Spring 2017, my plans are to do a FMS placement in Latin America working for an Impact Fund.

What is impact to you?

BG: Impact is giving people the tools so that they can autonomously best improve their community or situations. Obviously, my answer is very influenced by working in fair trade where you pay a premium so that the community can democratically decide what to do with that extra money. In essence, you give people the tools to do what THEY think is best, not necessarily what the money-holder thinks is best for the community.

We are so naïve to think we can step into a new situation and think we can change it, but often times where you can move the needle is not necessarily what is the sexier job position. So, impact from a personal perspective is knowing what you are good and moving [the needle] there. That’s why I love impact funds—you are supporting different grassroots initiatives and letting the community decide how to best allocate capital. Something I would really like to see grow in the impact investing space is improving the lines of communication between the funds and the community so that there is way more community involvement in the decision-making process of allocating funds.

What inspired you into impact? 

BG: My trajectory is heavily influenced by the environmental space because I love the outdoors; I wanted my career to be environmentally focused. I thought the best way to get involved was with CSR. A lot of that can be attributed to Adam Werbach – who was the youngest president of the Sierra Club, but later left controversially and went on to consult both non-profit and for-profit companies (like Walmart) on how to green their business. He gave this speech where he said “While there’s a certain activist romance in the David vs. Goliath story, I began to get more comfortable with the odds of working with Goliath in the spirit of a David.” And I think this idea that you could actually work with big companies really influenced me.  So I went on to do communications consulting, with a focus on CSR, for large companies. My whole belief system when getting into public relations was that company’s could do well by doing good – that consumers actually seek out environmentally or socially conscious brands (i.e. B-Corps!) – but that brands often fail to communicate their initiatives and therefore miss out on a big opportunity. I wanted to help companies tell their sustainability story. I wrote sustainability reports and other communications assets related to brands’ CSR efforts. Ultimately, while I still firmly believe that business can be a force for good, I was frustrated with my role. I was seeing a company’s environmental or social initiative after it had already been implemented – and my job was to communicate. While, telling a story is very important to in engaging stakeholders with your values, I didn’t always find it genuine and I thought I could have more of an impact if I could get involved earlier in the process of formulating an initiative.  That’s what led me back to school. I wanted to get a deeper background in finance and impact investing. I thought if I could get to the source of the money, I could have more influence over social or environmental initiatives in the private sector compared to when I worked in communications and only saw initiatives after they had been implemented. I am now more interested in the finance side – particularly helping smaller enterprises access capital.   

How would you describe your FMS experience?

BG: There was never a dull moment. During the experience you are exposed to people from so many backgrounds. The curriculum covered a wide swath of material; the facilitators presented many problems. My favorite part was getting in my group every day and creatively solving those problems. From a networking perspective it is all the people you could hope to see in that space; it made me feel very much in the inner circle.

What did you learn from working with CSIL?

BG: I’ve learned a lot from the individuals who work there. The staff genuinely care about what they do, even “impact” aside and really how to live a good life. They’ve created a family feel in the office. Jerry is a mentor and great example of what I want my work to feel like: he demonstrates the power of relationship in the workplace. I remember walking into SOCAP the first day and I felt like I was walking in with Brad Pitt—everyone wanted a hug from him and he made everyone feel special. The business we do with Ambassador Corps is so relationship-based, so this is essential. Also, I’ve also learned the back-end on how to run a lean-organization: long hours and how to make choices when resource-constrained.

Ben and Jerry at an Ambassador Corps meeting in Spring 2016.

Who has been a “pillar” mentor to you?

BG: First and foremost, Jerry! Also, due to my interest in the private sector, Yvon Chouinard (Founder of Patagonia). But probably the most influential to me has been Adam Werbach, who has the youngest president of the Sierra Club, quit and went to work for Walmart (a nod to the metaphor of David and Goliath). He found that he had more impact working from within. He went onto found Saatchi & Saatchi S (a Public Relations firm focused on sustainability). He, to me, was a defining person that got me into CSR from a communications-perspective.

 How has your life changed since getting involved in impact?

BG: I’ve become not so idealistic and more into realistically taking a more holistic approach to business. I’ve taken my focus off solely the environment and become more focused on social issues as well, understanding that impact is interconnected.

Tell us something that no one knows about you.

BG: I was prom king!

Editor’s Note: Ben makes the best homemade chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever tasted—and yes, I realize that is a big statement.



Breakfast with the Padrino and other Thoughts on “Impact”

Breakfast with the Padrino and other Thoughts on “Impact”
Slater Matzke shares his thoughts on a life of purpose
Slater Matzke (MPA ’16) shares his thoughts on “impact,” the pursuit of purpose, and the future.

Slater Matzke (MIIS MPA ’16) has worked at a leadership level for the past couple of years in the CSIL offices as Partnerships Associate in conjunction with his graduate studies at the Middlebury Institute. In this capacity, he tripled the number of hiring organizations in the CSIL partner network, strengthening our reach around the globe, and cultivating a robust pipeline of career opportunities with small and growing businesses in the impact sector. Slater also contributed to CSIL on a strategic level by producing a 5-year growth strategy for the award-winning Frontier Market Scouts (co-authored by MIIS graduate Joshua Zimmerman). Current FMS Partnerships Associate Christina Lukeman caught up with Mr. Matzke and got on his take on what it means to pursue purpose-driven work, his favorite regional networking opportunities, and secured a few tips for breaking into to the impact sector. 

What is “impact” to you?

SM: There really is no standard definition; impact means different things to different people. The private sector says that all business is impact, but I would [obviously] argue that. For me impact is shifting away from traditional paradigms, looking deeper at qualitative and quantitative systems…it’s not necessarily about how to make the world better, but how to make systems better in order to have a positive impact.

In a sense, impact is efficiency—it is improvement and evaluation of what we’ve been doing and how to improve it. Impact is never stopping – never thinking there is a finish line and always finding ways to build a better mouse trap.

What inspired you pivot into the “impact” sector?

SM: Working in the private sector for 10 years, I was focused on single bottom line return and improvement of the business was seen solely from a financial standpoint. I found myself continually thinking, “We are making money, but why doesn’t this feel as good as everyone said it was supposed to?” I got this feeling that the single bottom line is not the only way to evaluate for success and it was an itch that I wanted to scratch. Simply increasing revenues and maximizing profits is an archaic way of looking at things in the current, multidimensional world, where single actions can have tertiary effects.  As my awareness grew, I started to ask big questions: What does it mean to really help other people? What is public service? What is ‘civics’? [So I left the private sector] to see what “impact” looked like on the grassroots level: I joined Peace Corps and lived in Latin America for three years. After getting a taste of what it meant to make impact at the base of development, I came back to the United States and tied all of my experiences together in an academic overarch through my MPA, focusing on Social Venture Management.

Tell us about your current work? What are you next steps?

Right now my front burner is politics and working on the 2016 Presidential Campaign for Hillary Clinton; this is the most revolutionary election of our lifetime and the most important thing right now that I can get involved with to make a difference.

You worked primarily in partnerships at CSIL, facilitating placements between participating fellows and organizations around the world. What is the biggest value added you see from FMS training and placement?

SM: The training is unparalleled – there is nothing out there that is like FMS, from a training perspective. [You are] getting not only high-level practitioners who are working in the impact sector, but also a diverse group of participants from around the world. The knowledge-sharing that occurs and the unique perspective that everyone brings is like a primordial soup of where great ideas are born.

The FMS fellowship is not an internship—it is real work. Our hiring partner organizations have been vetted by the program as high-impact, early or growth-stage (and often resource-constrained) enterprises with pressing needs. The fellows are given the opportunity to deploy their acquired knowledge gained from the training in order to make these organizations even better and stronger. As an FMS fellow, you are exercising the tremendous service of getting out there and applying your knowledge and skills  to really helping early-stage enterprises using business as a force for good.

What did you learn from working with CSIL?

SM: Working with CSIL is working for a start-up: putting in long hours and pouring everything you have into [the organization] to further the mission of what the Center is, which is to develop programs and conduct research to advance the impact sector. Every hour that you can allocate is to the benefit of the students at the Institute, and the trainees, fellowship candidates, impact investors, and enterprises that connect to our programs. 

What are your top three tips and tools for those looking to start an impact career (and fellows about to start the training)?

1)     Take the time to reflect and take a values-inventory. The term “social impact” is so loaded and charged right now; it’s so sexy and glamorous. A lot of people want to jump into the sector without understanding what it really means, and without knowing where they fit in. The reality is that impact falls on each individual: you need to know where and how you want to make impact in order to do so.

2)     Field experience is huge and there are plenty of ways to get engaged on any level. Use your own local community to develop your tools and make a change. Jump in the sandbox and start playing around wherever you are, and you’ll see yourself start to build castles.

3)     Don’t discount government; you can create impact through the public sector as well. People may or may not realize it, but the largest driver of social impact in the world is government (and they also have the deepest pockets of anyone). There is so much potential with what can be done—do your part to be engaged on a civic level, pay attention on a policy level, and advocate for law makers that share your values.

What are your favorite regional networking opportunities? 

SM: My absolute favorite are the Peace Corps Conferences as they are a great place to learn about development and they share the same values as me (side note: Nor Cal Peace Corps Association has 5k members). SOCAP is a no-brainer—it is like the Olympics of the social impact sector. Further, ANDE is fantastic—all of the heavy-hitters in the impact sector are part of this network and the association is always has networking events in metropolitan impact hubs domestically (think: Washington, D.C. and San Francisco) as well as internationally—great for the FMS crowd.

A few important personal questions to tap into who the real Slater is…

Who has been a guiding force for you?

SM: I was really inspired by a friend of mine named Tim McCollum (who also did the Peace Corps). Tim used his PeaceCorps service to fill a social gap and came up with the chocolate company MADACASSE. I am just more generally inspired by entrepreneurs… raising capital and taking the risk to leave your job…that’s bold.  Often times the profit model is the trickiest part. Your beneficiaries are not able to pay so you have to get very creative in your business models. It’s inspiring to see people getting out there and generating new business, especially when it’s good business.

Tell us something that no one knows about you:

I make strong impressions on people. I met a couple at a coffee shop in Lima, Peru and 2 weeks later I was the godfather “Padrino” to their daughter.”


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