Vicki Saunders is an entrepreneur, award-winning mentor, advisor to the next generation of change-makers and leading advocate for entrepreneurship as a way of creating positive transformation in the world.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I’m an entrepreneur committed to creating a better world. I have always been obsessed with creating environments for people to thrive, to innovate and to care for one another. I love all sectors, especially education and over the past couple of decades I’ve been a student of and experimented with behaviour change, systems change, culture change and financial innovation. I’m highly imaginative. I’ve started a number of businesses and dozens of initiatives and I’ve taken a company public.
I’m currently the Founder of SheEO – a global initiative transforming how we fund and support women entrepreneurs. Our model brings together hundreds of radically generous women called Activators who contribute £850 each (or monthly payments of £71). That money is pooled and loaned out in the form of 0%-interest loans to women entrepreneurs whom the Activators help select. As the money is paid back into the fund, it’s loaned out again to support more women-led Ventures each year.
Since launching in 2015, 4000 SheEO Activators across Canada, the US, New Zealand and Australia have collectively loaned out $4M to support 53 women-led Ventures. And we just launched in the UK: http://www.sheeo.world/
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
When I was just getting started, I was interested in so many things. My uncle who was a mentor to me suggested that I simply write a long list of all the things I was interested in, and then start with something and strike it off the list when it wasn’t right. This permission to “experiment” was something I really didn’t think about at the time – but I’m so happy that was the advice I got versus someone suggesting I go and do a gigantic assessment with some AI platform that would tell me who I was and what I was good at. I really think that we can create ourselves anew everyday. There are some key qualities we have that are our signature strengths but beyond that, I think anything is possible. So the short answer is, no, not really, I continue to “follow the breadcrumbs”.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Haha. Does anyone every answer “no”? Every day I face challenges. I’m extremely curious about my own capacity and creating the conditions so that I can have the biggest possible positive impact while I’m here on this planet. I regularly “jump off cliffs” to try something new without having a parachute. With SheEO I had a bunch of fear around, “what if no one signs up to join me”. I put a pretty big declaration out into the universe – we are going to raise a $1B fund from 1 million women and they are going to do this as an act of radical generosity. That scared me a lot but/and deep down it felt so right – so I had to do it.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I don’t really think that way – biggest, best, most important – for me it’s the little things, the small moves that open up whole new possibilities that weren’t there before. One of the smallest things I do almost every day is to practice radical generosity which I think has the biggest ripple effect you can imagine. When I get a crusty response or email from someone about something, I take a deep breath and ask myself, “what is the radically generous response?”. In the past I was quite hard on myself, and I find that to be depleting. What if I was kinder to myself? And then, a step farther – what if I was radically generous with myself? This whole practice has truly blown my mind over the past few years. I am healthier and happier every day when I practice radical generosity and it’s infectious. Treating ourselves and others better is a thing (and there’s a ton of data on how generosity rewires you). Give it a try.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
“Finding the others” was a game-changer for me. When I found the people who got me, who understood my vision, who supported me – that really helped. I felt alone for most of my life. Thirty + years ago I was creating business models that were about doing good AND making money, and most people thought that was very strange. The dominant paradigm back then was to make money then give it away. I have always been deeply focused on how to blend it all together. I’m totally incapable of just making money without a strong mission. I felt constantly alone until I started to find others who had this elemental commonality. And when I did, I think it helped me flourish as a person. I can’t stress enough the need to find your people, surround yourself with those who understand you and lift you up when the going gets tough (because it always does). It’s way easier doing this work together than doing it alone.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I’ve been a mentor my whole life. As soon as I learn something interesting, I want to share it. I’m a born teacher. I’ve mentored over 1,000 entrepreneurs in my time and continue to do so every day. I respond personally to all the LinkedIn asks I get, the questions over email, etc. I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be able to do that because the flow is growing but I love it. It feeds my soul and anything I can do to support others who are courageously stepping out of their comfort zones to realize a dream they have using their leadership to create a better world – count me in.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
I think our systems are fundamentally flawed and designed for only half the population. The last thing I would want right now is to see people just “add women and stir” and create a 50/50 parity structure. For example, I think making sure you have equal representation of women to men on a corporate board that does evil is not progress for me.
We need to rethink and redesign our world to work for everyone.
One simple first step would be to simply make it illegal to pay men more than women. This is not hard to change.
But the bigger issue is to look at our systemic, structural inequities and design from there. Everything else will just be a bandaid.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
I really love this question. I would say “find the others” so you can be surrounded by support. It’s simple, and not always easy. To give yourself the gift of being part of a community of people who lift you up, is big. That’s why I started SheEO. It’s the one thing that would have lessened the struggle for me. Being surrounded by thousands of radically generous women is absolutely transformational. And, I also don’t think that when I was in my 20’s, I would have joined something like SheEO because I wouldn’t have felt worthy of it. I didn’t feel ready. And the challenge is, to step into something that scares you. To choose yourself. To invest in your potential before you are “ready” so you can get there sooner. It’s a real act of leadership to do that, to choose yourself. And every day when I see young women sign up to activate it brings me to tears and it helps me to heal my younger self that struggled for so long feeling alone.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Right now we are going deep in relationship with women in our community to figure out new ways of self-organizing, of participating together to create the kind of world we all want to live in. Every day we support our SheEO Ventures who are working on the World’s To-Do List and learn from them about the major challenges we are facing on the planet. There is so much work to be done. We get about 40 applications for every Venture we fund so the demand is huge. So growing the community while deepening our relationship with one another is the work.
How can we get involved with SheEO in the UK?
I’d love to invite you to become a SheEO Activator and/or apply as a Venture, and step into a global community of radically generous women who are here to support you.
- Become a SheEO Activator
Becoming an Activator is a simple, practical way to take action to create a better world today. Contribute £850 (or monthly payments of £71) to fund women entrepreneurs working on the World’s To-Do List, vote for which Ventures to support, participate in local events and join a global network of radically generous women you can turn to for help and offer your support. Learn more and Activate here!
- Apply to be a SheEO Venture
Our application is 10 simple questions – no pitch decks, no jargon, no attachments. Selected Ventures receive funding (0% interest loan), coaching, and access to thousands of women who want to support you. Learn more and apply today!