Episode 18: Dreami.io approaches mentorship by democratizing career guidance

Featured in Business Insider, Thrive Global, 500 Startups and recently selected for Cox Enterprises Social Impact Accelerator powered by Techstars, California-based Dreami.io is well on its way to fulfilling its mission of democratizing career guidance. “Mentorship is a powerful tool to attract, develop, and retain,” says its founder and first-time entrepreneur Ashima Sharma. But mentorship was the very thing she lacked after leaving a successful chemical engineering career in the male-dominated oil and gas industry (where she felt like a “diversity hire”) and pivoting into the tech industry..

Positive Planet sat down with Ashima Sharma to listen to her story of how lack of professional support, surviving a Sri Lanka tsunami when she was only 10, and doing a bit of soul-searching on a wilderness backpack trip gave her much of what she needed to start Dreami.io.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen to episode 18 on Apple Podcast
Listen on Spotify
Listen to episode 18 on Spotify

Interview of Ingrid Gonzalez President and chairwoman of Positive Planet

When did you first become aware of Positive Planet?

Two years ago, I met Jacques Attali and he shared his passion for the French organization he had created, Positive Planet. It is devoted to “making the world more positive,” economically, socially, environmentally, and democratically. He has long been committed to making a difference, and he shared his vision of launching Positive Planet in the U.S. We had a fascinating conversation, followed by another… and then he asked me if I would be interested in leading the launch in the U.S., which I thought about for a bit. Ultimately, his idea resonated with me because I have always been driven by a desire to give back. I was the first U.S. volunteer. I am proud to say that now there are over 60 of us.

Why do you think you had that drive to give back?

I was born and raised in Southern France by an immigrant family from Spain and Italy. My family was quite poor, yet I was fortunate since in Europe access to education is less expensive than it is in the U.S. If you study hard as I did, you can get a high-quality education. I was very blessed all along my journey. I had wonderful mentors who encouraged me to think big, be bold, and value my education.

When I was a student, I worked a lot of jobs to stay in school. I studied business because I felt like an entrepreneur at heart. I graduated with a Master’s degree in entrepreneurship, though I have never launched a business myself. I got lucky at the beginning of my career as I was hired by IBM, where I fell in love with the world of technology. From the start, I told myself that one day, when I found my voice, I would try to change lives as my own life had been changed by the people who mentored me.

Several people gave me a chance, and that is what inspired me to come forward now and say – I want to give back. And that is what drew me to Positive Planet’s mission. Its focus is on extending a helping hand to people with the ambition to better their lives who do not have access to the education, connections, or funding for the support they need. We want to teach entrepreneurs “how to fish”, as the expression goes. We focus on giving them tools to help themselves and their communities. There is obviously a big need in America – so many people have big dreams, they have the desire and the drive, they just need a little help to make their dreams come true.

What support does Positive Planet need in the U.S. to ensure its core idea of “helping people help themselves” is effective?

In Europe, Positive Planet is supported by local governments. It is a credible and reputable non-profit organization with a long track record of success in transforming lives and their related communities. They have impacted millions of lives.

In America, we are early in our organization’s journey. We are seeking critical partnerships to enable us to scale and create a real impact. We launched a marquee program with the goal of helping entrepreneurs create sustainable businesses. We take them through a three-year journey, which starts with our 10-week Accelerator Hub program, focusing on helping entrepreneurs in underserved communities build their business plans and launch their businesses. After the Accelerator Hub, they embark on a journey of continuous learning, sharing, and networking, with the support of our communities of corporate partners, coaches, volunteers, and other entrepreneurs. Through the whole journey, we provide entrepreneurs with access to the knowledge, capital, and connections they need to thrive and make an impact.

We are looking for corporate partners that know what it takes to launch and grow businesses in the U.S. and have a corporate social responsibility imperative to create an impact for socially and economically underserved communities. We have already run three cohorts of entrepreneurs through our initial program in partnership with Genpact and CapGemini, with fantastic feedback from the entrepreneurs. The amazing professionals at our partners, be they coaches or subject matter experts, have been able to make a real difference in collaboration with the Positive Planet volunteers. We are looking to expand our partnerships with other corporations that share our values and priorities.

Do you feel that in some way society and businesses are only now catching up with where Positive Planet has been concentrating its efforts for so many years? There is a renewed emphasis all around us on proactively trying to address some of the inequities that are the result of years of entrenched economic and social challenges. There is a recognition that the playing field is not even, that meritocracy alone cannot solve such deep inequalities.

Absolutely, at Positive Planet we meet budding entrepreneurs where they are. If they have an idea, they can reach out to us, and we will give them access to a pool of coaches, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, industry subject matter experts, and topical mentors. We will help these aspiring business owners refine their business plans and develop three-year outlook and operating plans. Then during those three years, we will check in regularly with them to learn what outcomes they have achieved. We will provide them with support in coordination with our four communities: corporate partners, coaches, subject matter experts, Positive Planet volunteers, and the other entrepreneurs going through our program. The program will also be agile so we can improve it to better help future entrepreneurs. For example, our current Accelerator Hub graduates shared their desire for support with financing and networking, and we are adding to our curriculum and securing partnerships in these areas.

Our target entrepreneurs are those truly in the start-up phase: businesses that have between zero and one year of activity and business owners with income of less than $30,000 per year. We are also open to people who have ideas and just do not know how or where to start. Our coaches will work with them on how to pitch their ideas to investors, how to distill their ideas into a business model, and help them identify actions to materialize their ideas into sustainable companies.

What is the greatest challenge you face in terms of scaling the programs, especially as an organization that stands on the shoulders of international giants but is still mostly unknown in this country?

Right now, our organization is made up entirely of volunteers. I am so grateful to the volunteers who are supporting us, giving their hearts, time, and skills to make a difference and support our growth. Our biggest challenge is to build a model that can scale up rapidly because we believe the need in front of us is immense. For that, we have to secure and retain the best talent. We also have to find corporations and other organizations that are ready to invest in the continued development of Positive Planet. All this so that we can grow our programs and impact many more lives. Our goal is that at least 85% of every penny we receive going forward, from the generous gifts from our Board of Directors to every individual and corporate contribution, goes to support our entrepreneurs. Ideally, we would also like to have the funding in place to hire a core dedicated operational team solely focused on our growth and program delivery. Our mission aligns with the values of so many companies: we have the same goals and interests regarding sustainable development and promoting and encouraging gender equality and equal opportunity and inclusion for all. We just need to get the word out there more.

What has been most rewarding for you in your own journey?

Without a doubt, it is seeing the participants in our Accelerator Hub program graduate. Then hearing from them how their personal lives have changed, how we gave them hope and the tools to change their lives and have an impact in their communities. It is very emotional witnessing actual impacts in such personal and tangible ways. We need more support from organizations to be able to expand this opportunity for transformation to many more lives.

Running an all-volunteer organization is a daunting task: you need to keep everyone engaged and inspired, constantly. How do you stay energized and inspired?

I have been extraordinarily lucky in the two years that Positive Planet US has been in existence. All the volunteers keep me inspired, at every level of the organization, from an incredibly dedicated leadership team to the dozens of people around the country and around the world who choose to give their very best to such an important cause, without being obligated to do so. They are so loyal to their beliefs and values. We are building something together – we graduated over 38 entrepreneurs in one year, in some ways that is just a start, but that is also a large number of lives that have been transformed. To hear how they are actively creating a more positive world, how they are changing the future, one step at a time, is deeply rewarding and it keeps me energized – it is extraordinary to see their journeys. I cannot wait to see what our graduates and future entrepreneurs create, and how they in turn pay it forward in their communities!


Episode 17: Social Impact Strategies Group talk impact investing to democratize wealth

In a country still very much divided by socioeconomic class and race, equal opportunity for all is far from being fully realized in the United States. Certainly people of color know this better than anyone, still grappling with the brunt of inequity in all sectors of life.

As an African-American woman raised in a Los Angeles working-class neighborhood, Elaine Rasmussen knows first-hand the challenges many people of color face trying to prosper. After years working in finance, marketing, and philanthropy, in 2015 she founded Social Impact Strategies Consulting, a Minnesota-based financial advising and strategizing organization that works to democratize wealth, financial services, and access to capital by and for women and communities of color. Elaine spoke with Positive Planet to discuss her path to and presence in the burgeoning field called “impact investing.”

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen to episode 17 on Apple Podcast
Listen on Spotify
Listen to episode 17 on Spotify

US applications extended until January 31

Accelerator Hub for Minority Women Entrepreneurs
Positive Planet US is excited to announce we have opened applications for minority entrepreneurs across the U.S. to get exclusive high-level coaching sessions. These applications will be extended until January 31, 2022.

Positive Planet US has partnered with senior leaders at Capgemini to provide this 12-week “Accelerator Hub” program that will support 50 minority businesses through weekly coaching sessions.

The entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to learn how to start and grow a business, sell their product or service, leverage social media and other marketing tools, apply for a business loan, and get information customized for small-business owners. Participants will also be offered access to special bonus sessions presented by key industry experts from exclusive partnerships.

As a U.S. nonprofit helping underserved communities succeed through entrepreneurship, Positive Planet is looking for companies that are:

* Located in the U.S.
* Incorporated or not
* Have $0-1 million in funding
* Are currently raising or not raising funds
* In the following categories: Economic Development, Women Entrepreneurship, Sustainability, Small Business, Community, Commerce, E-Commerce, Women Founders, Women Start-up, Financial Inclusion, NGOs, Business, Entrepreneurship

For more information, to apply, or to watch a video of our president Ingrid Gonzalez, please use your LinkedIn account or Facebook account to log in to F6S.

Episode 16: Apovo uses innovative education to empower African youth

Mathias Apovo has been a dedicated educator and a passionate youth capacity builder for more than eight years.

In this sixteenth episode of A Positive Voice, Apovo shares his personal journey, including failed business ideas, persistence, and chasing a dream that have led him to where he is now: as the founder of a young company, Blue Diamond Leading Solutions (BDLS).

With BDLS, Apovo sees education as a means to empower and positively influence youth in Africa. The organization is equipping youths in Burkina Faso for the modern, international world, through English-language proficiency. Listen to his story on Apple Podcasts.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen to Episode 16 on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Spotify
Listen to Episode 16 on Spotify

Episode 15: Trigg-Jones shows us how magic happens when women create together

Cathlees Trigg-Jones founded iWoman TV, a digital streaming platform by women, about women, and for everyone.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re feeling, there’s a community for you,” says our latest interviewee, Cathleen Trigg-Jones. With 25 years as an award-winning journalist and producer, Trigg-Jones has experienced the lack of representation in media firsthand and felt compelled to address it, not just for herself, but for the wider community. So, she founded iWoman TV—a digital streaming platform by women, about women, f or everyone.

In this episode of A Positive Voice, Trigg-Jones shares her mission for the platform, what she needs to make it successful, and why she is so passionate about it. We also welcome Christine Matovich as co-host. You might recognize Christine from an earlier podcast: she and Cathleen got to know each other in Positive Planet US‘s most recent Accelerator Hub, from which they are among our recent graduate cohorts. Tune in to the conversation on Apple Podcast, Audible, and more.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen to Episode 15 on Apple Podcasts


Episode 14: Market Express connects local farmers to grocers in Ghana

Originally a grad school project, the concept for Market Express almost didn’t see the light of day. But, Ebenezer Lazar saw so much potential in it that he felt it deserved a chance as a real business. The result? An ecommerce platform for Ghanaian grocery retailers, connecting farmers with a market directly.

The goals and benefits of Market Express extend beyond simple convenience. Tune in to hear Ebenzer explain how the online ordering system aims to improve the quality of life for everyday Ghanaians: saving time, improving stock management, opening doors to micro-financing, and even reducing the congested streets filled with traffic.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen to Episode 14 on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Spotify
Listen to Episode 14 on Spotify

Episode 13: CommonTime provides global access to arts education

In 2020, Christine Matovich founded CommonTime, an online platform providing global access to the arts. With the onset of the pandemic, countless artists were unemployed, museums and performing arts centers closed, and educators teaching online were in need of new material to connect with their students.

Mission statement CommonTime

Christine responded by building a digital platform to connect students and educators to teaching artists; private art teachers to individual learners; and arts organizations to educational institutions—regardless of location. And so, CommonTime’s existence is proof that out of necessity, creative solutions are born.

In this episode, we chat with Christine about the role of the arts as a vital, integrated, and accessible part of the education curriculum, the industry’s contribution to the global economy, and how to surround yourself with great people to build a successful business. She also gives us a tip on where to find a thriving creative community in New York (hint: it’s not Manhattan).

A graduate of Positive Planet US’s most recent Accelerator Hub, Christine is a multi-hyphenate (opera singer, cellist, and artist manager are just some hats she has worn) who has described herself as “never comfortable with just a single track with my craft.”

Tune in to hear her speak passionately about entrepreneurship and creativity and all the most relevant in 2021, the year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, as declared by the UN.

Listen on Spotify
Listen to Episode 13 on Spotify.
Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen to Apple Podcasts on Spotify.

Episode 12: Zouaoui and Harrak challenge cultural norms in Morocco’s first ridesharing app

Co-Founders and childhood friends, Hicham Zouaoui and Otman Harrak, came back to Casablanca after spending high school and college apart, experiencing different cultures and realities. Once back together, they had the idea to build out a new business model and the first ridesharing app in Morocco.

Otman Harrak (gauche) et Hicham Zouaoui (Droite), fondateurs de l’application Pip Pip Yallah. Image courtesy of We Love Buzz.

Now they’re working together in a big, beautiful office overlooking the cinematic backdrop of Casablanca. “It’s been a wonderful adventure,” says Harrak. Carpooling isn’t a new concept for a culture that already has sharing as a big part of its values. This is what made it challenging for people to understand that it was ok to exchange money for something that is usually considered simply neighborly ⥖ even among strangers.

Zouaoui started Pip Pip Yalah through a Facebook group, just connecting people wanting to travel between universities and their hometowns. Ridesharing. They started talking about the new concept just among friends. They got all the way up to 100 users before reconnecting again with Harrak, coming back from studying in the London School of Business and the Grenoble École de Management.

Pip Pip Yalah now has recorded over 26 million kilometers in shared rides, reducing CO2 emission by 6,500 tons as people shared their rides and did not use their own cars.

Zouaoui and Harrak talk us through serial-entrepreneurship, battling “against” cultural norms, user experience and driving social, economic, and ecological impacts by facilitating and incentivizing ridesharing throughout Morocco.

Their pure friendship and excitement to conquer their mission together really comes out clearly in this very light and joyful conversation. “It challenged us to battle through interpreting  English and French context together at the same time,” they agree. Their story of beating the odds is certainly inspiring and we know they are only at the beginning of their journey.

Learn more about Pip Pip Yalah downloading their app or visiting their website.

Listen on Spotify
Listen to Episode 12 on Spotify.
Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen to Episode 12 on Apple Podcasts.

Episode 11: Nobox Lab uses design thinking and social innovation to prepare Morocco’s next generation

Sophia el Bahja comes from an entrepreneurial family, but she realized that fact only years later when she learned more about her mother’s work. It was this legacy which most likely led her to build a Moroccan social enterprise with education at its core. Nobox Lab focuses on experiential programs for adolescents.

Sophia El Bahja Noblox

In our interview, Sophia walks us through the three main forms of learning that Nobox Lab is currently implementing. She also shares with us how she leverages design thinking and a unique innovation lab to introduce these new curricula for the Moroccan youth to express themselves differently. 

Sophia reminds us how the traditional education system gives the same learning experience to every child, expecting the same result. However, we know now that everyone learns differently, especially at a younger age when the brain is still developing. 

By providing  a human-centric platform, Nobox Lab helps develop important social-emotional skills, such as empathy and love, avoiding hateful narratives so present on today’s web.

Born out of social innovation, Nobox Lab is paving the way in Morocco with a growth strategy that revolves around key partnerships and a digital experience (with in-person training once it becomes available again) for a truly hybrid model.

Listen on Spotify
Listen to Episode 11 on Spotify
Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen to Episode 11 on Apple Podcasts