An innovative business serving small enterprises and non-profits: My Change Agent

“My Change Agent” founders Carolyn Naseer (right) and Erin Spencer

One very cool part of my consulting practice is getting to network with a diverse set of interesting professionals who are doing innovative and impactful work in a variety of ways. And I continue to enjoy publishing “interview blogs” to highlight these cool people and their work.

In this blog, I interview Carolyn Naseer, co-founder of “My Change Agent,” which is serving non-profits and small businesses that normally don’t have access to this level of excellent strategic and operational management resources.

STAN: Could you tell me a little bit about “My Change Agent?” What is your business all about?

CAROLYN: My Change Agent is a management consulting firm. Our entire mission is to help solve problems for small businesses, nonprofits, and universities. Our teams work across a variety of divisions – everything from Human Resource operations to Public Health Administration, but most recently, our focus has been on supporting nonprofits on diversifying donor streams, building equity and inclusion into their HR policies, and creating business infrastructure.

STAN: I know in the past you’ve worked in academia, as well as in industry – everything from start-ups to large organizations like me (both of us at IBM). What motivated you to now strike out on your own?

CAROLYN: My Change Agent was launched in April 2018 and my business partner, Erin Spencer, and I joke that it was our “brain child”. We realized that we had an opportunity to really impact our communities through a model called a flash organization (also referred to as a “pop-up employer”). Basically, teams are assembled to work on projects, and then disband after a project is completed. We really believe in the power of collaboration and thought that if we could apply this model to organizations that don’t have access to big business resources, we could have a much larger impact (in many ways).

STAN: You are now offering this innovative Capacity Building Consortium. Can you tell me more about what this is?

CAROLYN: The Capacity Building Consortium is a membership-based model for nonprofits of any size and is designed to: 1.) create more efficient business processes; 2.) increase staff health and well being, and 3.) offer training and development opportunities. Examples of what members actively work on include: creating an action plan to diversify donor streams, a documented succession plan, a process for managing volunteers, and compliance with Human Resource regulations. Most importantly though, we are freeing up more time for to proactively serve their mission.

STAN: Why did you decide to offer this Capacity Building Consortium? Is it filling a particular niche or unaddressed need?

CAROLYN: Sound business infrastructure is necessary for any nonprofit to be sustainable. Over time, however, we saw there was a huge gap in affordable resources for nonprofits to continuously work on capacity building. The Capacity Building Consortium grew out of this need, and is a low-commitment, low-cost option. We enroll cohorts quarterly, membership is a month-to-month basis, and members walk away with tangible processes every month.

Carolyn Naseer visiting with the staff of The Farm at Penny Lane, one of the many non-profits Carolyn is involved with. Link to my blog about the farm.

STAN: I also know you are quite an active person. What else are you involved in besides your “My Change Agent” business?

CAROLYN: I’m smiling as my community work is so meaningful to me personally! First, my business partner and I do a lot of philanthropy through our business. We donate time and resources to organizations who we strongly believe in their mission. In addition, I sit on multiple Boards, and am currently the President of the Triangle Society for Human Resource Management and also am on the Board of Directors for CommunityWorx (formerly PTA Thrift Shop in Carrboro, NC). In addition, I am an active volunteer for the American Red Cross and am trained in Disaster Relief Services as well as volunteer in their Services to the Armed Forces Division.

STAN: Thank you, Carolyn. I continue to enjoy our periodic lunches sharing about how our business lives and other pursuits are going. And I wish you and Erin the very best of success in this business venture!

To contact Carolyn and to learn more about My Change Agent:
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 919-729-6106

Let’s Include People with Mental Illness in the Diversity and Inclusion Discussion

Carolyn Naseer (middle) from “My Change Agent” introduced me to the team at the Farm at Penny Lane

As a diversity consultant and trainer, I enjoy how much the diversity and inclusion field continues to evolve and expand into new areas (link to blog.) One of the key constituencies that many organization and companies now focus on is full inclusion of people with disabilities. But so often left out of the discussion are those with severe and persistent mental illness. Can they have a productive place in our society? And are they even employable?

A thoughtful and innovative program which can become a model for efforts worldwide is the Farm at Penny Lane in rural Chatham County, North Carolina, but still within 30 minutes of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. I recently visited the facility to explore and witness their outstanding work.

I was introduced to the Farm at Penny Lane by a consulting colleague, Carolyn Naseer from “My Change Agent,” (link), a boutique management consulting firm with a focus on making a positive impact through collaboration. She is currently assisting the Farm at Penny Lane through XDS, Inc., the non-profit with which the Farm at Penny Lane as one of their initiatives.

Thava Mahadevam and Matt Ballard proudly showing off their “small home” model.

During my visit to their beautiful peaceful 40 acres just north of Pittsboro, I met Director Thava Mahadevam, Social Worker Matt Ballard, and Farmer Jessamine Hyatt. They all passionately shared about their work with me. Some of the current efforts around “whole person health” that are helping people with mental illness gain self-worth include:
• Utilizing people with mental illness to assist with farming and packaging efforts, including growing healthy food and caring for egg-laying chickens.
• Training emotional support dogs, which can often even more therapeutic than meeting with a human counselor.
• Building of small homes in a cluster community environment to provide space for people to productively live on their own.

So often there is negative stigma around suffering with a mental illness, and we all need to be more understanding and caring, providing pathways for recovery and enhanced quality of life. And providing employment, which many of us admittedly dislike and would prefer vacations and holidays instead, is actually a great way of engaging people with mental illness to provide them purpose and meaning. And the staff even refer to those with mental illness serving in these jobs as “volunteers” instead of “patients.”

The colorful building where volunteers train emotional support dogs

The vision of the farm, established through a partnership with the non-profit XDS Inc and the University of North Carolina Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health, is for “our community members with severe mental illness to live longer, healthier, inclusive, and more self-sufficient lives. And their mission: “The Farm at Penny Lane partners with individuals with mental illness to grow nutritious food for themselves and others and offers integrated, community-based, therapeutic programs in an inclusive farm setting.”

I inspect the tomato plants with social worker Matt and farmer Jessamine

Perhaps in the future, industry may even be able to learn from this model to provide meaningful employment for people with mental illness, which will benefit the individuals, the companies, society and our economy!

To schedule a visit and learn more about this uplifting work, do peruse The Farm at Penny Lane’s website. And volunteers and financial support are truly welcomed, check out their “get involved” page.