Neesha Mirchandani -marketing for social good

I’m Neesha. I’m a social entrepreneur, author and a sushi addict.

Welcome to Impact Stars, the home for all my shenanigans!

You are in for a bit of a wild ride.  

***Please be careful as you navigate this site...you might get a wedgie (my son's sense of humor is rubbing off on me - he's eight).  

I hope you enjoy your visit, but please don't be a stranger - say hello before you go! Either send me a hello@impactstars.com or tweet me @neeshamirchi

WHAT DOES IMPACT STARS DO?

​Connect kids in foster care with in-demand skills that pay the bills so that they don't end up homeless or unemployed.

Currently, kids age out of the US foster care system (at 18 or 21) and have to fend for themselves.

It all started when I met a young 19 year old girl on the streets of Raleigh, North Carolina. She found herself homeless after losing her minimum-wage job. Since then, I've met many like her.  40,000 age out every year, and it is estimated that 1 out of 5 will experience homelessness at some point (shelters, streets, sleeping in cars, or couch surfing). 

We are building the most practical directory of in-demand skills that are still relevant in in today's economy. Our entire directory will be crowd-sourced from people who actually make money practicing those skills, and include step-by-step career recipes, and bite-sized stories.

ARE YOU A VIP YET? If you know a hot skill that pays the bills OR you'd like to be notified when we launch, join our VIP List here. For every paying  career seeker who gleefully buys access to our database of money-making skills (launching Spring 2018), we will give one child in foster care FREE ACCESS.  Actually, they agree to pay it forward to one other person who can't afford it. This helps us scale, and also helps our students become teachers and leaders (similar to the "each one, teach one" model pioneered by TROSA). 

We think this type of business model is the best way to make money and make an impact. To test this type of 1:1 idea, we just launched a joke-coloring book - we gift one to a child in need for every one we sell. We'll also use any proceeds from the book to seed fund #HotSkillsPayBills! This way, we don't have to fundraise or get grants for our project.

Now I'm getting so excited, I hope all this works... or I'll have to eat humble pie, and trust me, humble pie tastes DISGUSTING. So buy my book and give it to a child you know and love?

HaHa Color Me! Joke Book by Neesha Mirchandani Approved by 3 - 8 year old certified joke testers using calbrated haha meters. With every book you purchase we gift one in your honor.

SO WHY DOES IMPACT STARS EXIST?

  • Grantmakers give out millions of dollars in grant funding every year. 
  • Nonprofits tirelessly serve people in need with shoestring budgets. 
  • Volunteers and generous citizens donate their time and money. 

But it feels we're putting out an out-of-control forest fire with a piddly garden hose. 

New social impact models are necessary.  

That's why Impact Stars exists.

OUR APPROACH: Apply business and tech innovations to tough social issues. 
We aren't afraid to examine if crowd-sourcing, and network effects can be leveraged in our design process. If LinkedIn, Facebook, and AirBnB can scale this way, we can too. We look to collaborate with as many organizations as possible.
We don't have all the answers.  We ask our smart advisors  questions like:
  • What percentage of homelessness, crime, and unemployment could we reduce if we improved economic prosperity for kids in foster care?
  • Could we actually reduce generational poverty by doing this one thing? 
  • How can kids in foster care drive the design process so whatever we build appeals to them and feel invested in?
  • How can we use a "learn-by-doing" model so our students can earn and learn before they age out of the system?
  • Can we measure success, and if so, how? Randomized control trials? Online learning management systems with built-in data capture?
Our Operating Principles
We believe in calculated risks. 
We love running experiments.
We respect data, but we are not enslaved by it. Sometimes there is no way to quantify things. Like, how in the world do you quantify a kid, whose foster parent locks the fridge so she doesn't get access to food, flying into your arms teary-eyed because you showed her you cared? Or a 16-year old who walks up to you after you catch her dreams and thanks you "for being the first person who ever asked her what she wanted to be/do." We use those things as our rocket fuel... an asset most startups don't have. 
I've have already made many mistakes and HotSkillsPayBills hasn't even launched yet. But I'm learning to be better about what happens AFTER hitting a wall at 180 miles an hour.  
I dust up my jeans and my self-esteem (this is harder), and get back on the horse.  
For example, we created the HaHa Color-Me! Joke Book as a way to seed fund HotSkillsPayBills. It's an experiment inspired by AirBnB's cereal boxes. Can a fun book fund a social enterprise? We'll find out 🙂
Our hypothesis is... if a cereal box can, then why not try?
WHY? #hotskillspaybills.  WHY economic prosperity for kids in foster care? Aren't there bigger problems in the world? 
 2 Reasons.
1. It's a solvable problem, and my brain is as tiny as a peanut. I can't handle HUGE problems. I like do-able. 
2. I have a fire in my belly about it. I get mad about it. Really, really mad. <--- a good thing 'cause this is hard stuff. 
Please note: this is NOT a charitable venture and Impact Stars is not a "do-gooder project" This is a business designed to attract only the most forward-thinking people who want to put their money where their mouth is. Our competitive advantage IS our social mission. We want to be profitable, sustainable and highly successful.
Move over, uber. You're parked in our spot. 

How DARE you Think so BIG? Are You a Witless, Stretch-Mouth Miscreant, Neesha?

Heavens no! Though my knees do creak a bit, and those last 20 pounds never seem to want to leave my mid-section (must be the sushi). I'm no miscreant. 

I grew up in India where I was surrounded by the most horrifying poverty on a daily basis, juxtaposed with equally stunning wealth.  I couldn't reconcile these opposites or ignore them. I've never seemed to be able to "go with the flow" or "look the other way." 

I studied French Literature, then changed fields and got a Master's degree in Marketing from Northwestern University (Go Wildcats!). I paid my dues in Corporate America... before I went rogue. The original plan was to do a PhD in France then become an interpreter at the United Nations. Instead I ended up on Madison Avenue in Don Draper's world (though I promise you, by the time I got there, it wasn't as glamorous). 

Two decades later, I'm ready to lead Impact Stars. Even if my LinkedIn profile makes absolutely no sense - and here's why:

Some careers are straight lines. Mine was not. Along the way, I wrote three books, helped sell a company for $175 million (eye-opening), and met fascinating people.  For years, I apologized for the fact that I didn't fit into a neat little box with a bow on top. Now I understand all my escapades were necessary:

  • Learned how Fortune 50 companies work and how billion-dollar decisions are made before I was 30: I call this my  "Corporate World Bootcamp" at warp speed with no helmet.
  • Hand-wrote 1,000 emails a week for a nonprofit and helped raise millions: This was my "Get-Hands-Dirty" education in how the nonprofit culture is so different from the biz world.
  • Failed at my own startup where consumers trade personal information for cash: I call this my "Entrepreneurship Ain't For the Faint-of-Heart" Crash Course. 

I learn best by doing. It's so much harder. But you can't trade experiences for classroom blah-blah.

If I'm being honest, serendipity had a lot to do with anything good that happened to me. I call it the X factor.

I started a business unit from scratch within the company where I worked that added millions in valuation (a.k.a. made some rich guys even richer). It worked out... because I was a smart cookie because of the dot-com bubble. I had perfect timing! Who could have predicted that? My client work was boring me to tears and I needed intellectual pursuits to keep my grey cells from dying a gentle death. 

I wrote a book that changed the course of my life and my career because I read a tiny paragraph in a news story. 

I had a kid. This totally changed everything. If you have kids, you'll understand what I mean. 

I discovered the secret to world peace (that last one was just to check if you're still paying attention - I'm still working on that one). 

Now that you know what Impact Stars is and who I am, let me show you around this site. 

What Kind of Wedgie-Seeker Are You?

You're a BUDDING SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR/NONPROFIT FOUNDER: You want to be a change maker. But everyone else is doing the corporate 9-5 thing, or the startup-unicorn thing in your circle. Or you're bored at work.

Read this book: I wrote it. The Dalai Lama wrote the Foreword. We were both inspired by this maverick's body of work. You won't be the same if you get all the way to the end. Consider yourself warned - I switched careers because of Baba Amte >>> I want Wisdom Song! 

Wisdom Song the Life of Baba Amte, Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I am sure that... Neesha Mirchandani's biography of Baba Amte will help more people come to understand the life and work of a remarkable human being whose guiding princples are compassion and others before self.

His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama

You're struggling with SERIOUS GROWNUP SYNDROME:  You want kids to think you're fun but then when you're around them you're distracted. Facebook, Instagram, emails... "Stare-at-Your-Phon-itis."

Here's your ticket to becoming the FUN-est grownup ever.  It's a joke-coloring book and it's the cat's meow, even if I say so myself.  When you buy one, we gift one to a kid who can't afford it, in your honor.  This is one of our experiments: we are testing the 1:1 model to see what the unit economics are, and if we have any money left after we gift the companion books, we'll use it to seed our next experiment. Be prepared to wake up your Inner Child and be silly: comes with a 5-Minute Pee-in-Peace Guarantee >>> I want the HaHa Color-Me! Joke Book!

HaHa Color Me! Joke Book by Neesha Mirchandani Approved by 3 - 8 year old certified joke testers using calbrated haha meters. With every book you purchase we gift one in your honor.

Look at this cute video featuring Ashley Alaimo, an Early Childhood Education expert!

IMPACT STAR INVESTOR: You’ve achieved ‘success’ and superficial status symbols and awards don't interest you. Now that you've made enough money, you're ready to build a deep and lasting impact legacy that would make Elon Musk drool. Instead of abdicating to Mars, you'd like to focus on making Planet Earth a better place  >>> This is for you if you answered YES to at least three of the 5 questions below:

  • I'm always asking myself "Is traditional philanthropy really working or are there better ways to make a social impact?
  • I don't just want to leverage my money for social good. I also bring expertise, networks, and experience to the table. 
  • I don't believe the nonprofit sector is set up to leverage marketplaces and crowd-sourced innovation/tech enough. 
  • I'm sick of all the hero-worship. I want to be around people who challenge my brain again. 
  • I'm a connector of people, ideas and assets. There's a lot of latent potential I'm not leveraging. 

Email me if you nodded your head YES to at least 3 out of 5 questions.

Investment by invitation or referral only. Opens in Spring 2018. 

Email impactstars100@gmail.com with the subject line: I'm all yours Neesha

Leave this world better than you found it. It's that simple. 

#HOTSKILLSPAYBILLS: Impact Stars First Sandbox Project (Currently in Validation Stage)

Impact Stars is starting with #hotskillspaybills, a 21st century workforce development program for kids in foster care. Currently, there are 400,000 kids in the U.S. foster care system; around 40,000 age out every year, and 1 out of 5 will end up homeless. 77% earn less than $25,000 per year (around the poverty line).

This... in the richest country in the world.

It's unacceptable.

THE BACKSTORY:

It all started when I met a 19 year old who had aged out of foster care, and found herself living outside on the streets in Raleigh, North Carolina.  No teen should have to fend for herself so I asked this question, "How can we stack the odds so kids in foster care are even better equipped for economic prosperity than the average middle class teen? What would that look like? That's the rabbit hole I'm currently exploring. I called it #hotskillspaybills because a) It's catchy, and 2) I think in a post-automation economy, it's not about degrees as much as it's about skills that cannot be easily automated or replaced.

Why #hotskillspaybills? Because: "No one should be homeless at 19."

Our method is a bit different: we do not create anything FOR kids in foster care. #hotskillspaybills will be youth-informed, and co-created WITH kids currently in foster care or those who have been through the system and aged out. Our role is to listen, empower, and execute. 

IN THIS INITIAL VALIDATION STAGE, HERE'S WHAT WE ARE FOCUSED ON:

  1. Find the skills gaps in the economy (employers/clients unable to find the right talent): a group of East Carolina University students under the leadership of Dr. Karen Mishra are working on this as a class project right now (Fall semester 2017).
  2. Create "career recipes" to map the skills required by candidates to fill those gaps.  We will crowd-source this (I think!). 
  3. Match kids in foster care with the right career recipes using a strengths-framework. Validate if a Buy One-Gift one business model will work? 
  4. Pre-screen candidates for each career gap funnel using the HotSkillsPayBills TRAIN-DO-EARN method. Any training for kids in foster care will be created in partnership with them (and they will be compensated for their work). 

There's a lot more, but I won't bore you with the details: growth mindset, soft skills and the whole business model for this thing. 

COME RIDE IN THE SIDE-CAR WITH US!

If you are really skilled at what you do, and you would like to either recommend your skill to be included in our Skills Gap analysis OR you would like to contribute your talents to #hotskillspaybills, get in touch. This is opportunity to build something bigger than what any one person can do alone.

 As we move forward, we are looking for experts to help us with storytelling, project management, randomized-control trials for social impact, programming, podcasting, SEO, video production. You want to be part of something meaningful and extraordinary, and help kids who didn't win the family lottery, we will return the favor with a beautiful LinkedIn recommendation for your work. 

Send an email to hotskillspaybills@gmail.com with a link to a work product you've created. We don't care what your qualifications are. Just tell us what you do well, and why you want to help us (even though we're not a charity, and we're not able to pay you diddly-squat). 

We respond within 24 hours, unless we are binge-watching Netflix, then it can sometimes take longer.

We can't wait to see the creative ideas you think up!

Jon Stewart eating popcorn
World changing doesn't have to be boring. This is serious stuff but we don't take ourselves too seriously.  

So I'd like to end with the story of one of my biggest failures just in case you think this stuff is easy. It's frickin' hard, and because I give a shit, I ugly cry about once a month. That's why I don't wear makeup. It makes ugly crying uglier!

I got the opportunity to present to social workers and administrators in a child welfare organization. The boss brought me in so I thought "I've got this."

I told them about #hotskillspaybills. They didn't like it. I think they might have been mocking me. They told me all the reasons it would never work: "our youth won't show up, yaddi yadda..." I could tell they weren't going to let me in to work with the youth in foster care in their county. Perhaps it was because their budget had just been cut, and they were in survival mode. Or their job is to stick to what's required by law, and not add risk. Maybe I had spinach between my teeth or they didn't like me or how I presented it? Who knows. 

None of that changed the fact that I was stuck. Rejection is to be expected when you're proposing something new.  I needed to get this irrational rage and fear -- that I had failed before I had started -- out of my system.

So, I created a productivity journal! (of course!)

It's called FosteRevolutionaries: the No-Excuses 90 Day Power Journal. It features foster alumni who beat the odds and made it. I got it designed, printed and launched at the APNC foster alumni conference in 10 days. Want to know how? I channeled Seth Godin the whole ten days.

You Have to Dance With Your Fears - Seth Godin Creative Live

Seth is a mensch. 

He creeps into my brain when I need him most and talks to me. And no, I'm not crazy or delusional. You should invite Seth into your brain too. Let him crack the no-bullshit-get-it-done whip and BOOM! you have a product shipped. If you don't know who Seth Godin is... STOP, go check him out. I'll be here when you're back. 

I also became shamelessly good at asking for help. 

Shalita O'Neale, Rebecca T. Dickson, Shelly Prokop, Merel Elishevah Kriegsman and many other friends came through with ideas, design help, interviews with foster alumni, cover feedback, and edits. 

Rise Above It: the No Excuses 90 Day Power Journal

The journal will eventually become part of the SLAY module in #hotskillspaybills. But it's not just for kids in foster care.

If you have ONE Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound (SMART) Goal you'd like to achieve in 90 days, test out my journal. I bottled up my disappointment, shook it really hard, then used it as a catalyst to create something useful -- albeit in a very low-tech format (a book).

When you procrastinate, this journal makes you think: "If these peeps who've gone through foster care can do it, what crappy excuse am I hiding behind? The stories of foster alumni  are interspersed with planning and daily pages to organize you, and make you a productive ninja. Use your powers responsibly! >>>

IT ALL CAME FULL CIRCLE: That county that rejected #hotskillspaybills? A few months later, I did a DreamCatcher Workshop for ~40 teens from foster care from across North Carolina as part of an event hosted by Eaton Corporation called, "It's My Transition."  After I finished, a teen from that very county that rejected my proposal came up to me and said, "No one else has ever asked me what I want, what MY dreams are. Thank you."

That moment, and the journal... and the DreamCatcher Workshop would not have happened without the earlier moment when #hotskillspaybills was rejected. This is why failure can be the best thing since sliced bread, as long as it helps uplevel your game. 

Want to see some of the dreams I caught that day at the workshop? Look below - we did Hot Seats to break down what could be accomplished in the next 90 days to get started >>> Just because you're in foster care doesn't mean you don't have dreams and goals. 

Some of the big hairy audacious goals I caught during my #dream catcher workshop  for youth experiencing foster care across the state of north carolina (Ages 14-18)
This work will make you cry... and laugh... sometimes at the same time. It will connect you to your own humanity. Just when you think you're making progress, it will cut you at the knees, and break your ego into little bits.
Hey you! Leaving already? Did I scare you? 😉
BEFORE YOU GO>>>SUBSCRIBE TO THE HOTSKILLSPAYBILLS ADVENTURE DIARIES...

AN INVITATION TO WITNESS FREQUENT PIEFACE

Grab a front row seat so as we build #hotskillspaybills. Watch us get pie in our faces. We will send you unpredictably erratic, sometimes tear-jerking, and occasionally hilarious monthly update emails. It's called HotSkillsPayBills Adventure Diaries. I don't have it all automated yet, so send me an email at hotskillspaybills@gmail.com with the subject line: pieface and I'll send you an invite when it launches.  
woman getting pie in face
We won't share your personal information with anyone else, and we don't spam you with crap. And we won't sell you LuLuLaRoe tights either!
Instead, we will be as transparent as possible about our victories and the setbacks. Your job is to reply (yes, this is not a one-way street, it's a conversation). Encourage us, advise us, and sometimes just hold us while we cry like babies because we had a crappy-pukey day (a day when you have both vomit and diahrrea at the same time, i.e., all hell is breaking loose). And yes, when we get pie in our faces, you can laugh. JUST A LITTLE.
If that sounds like a newsletter you just can't wait to sign up for, then ahoy! me mateys!  HotSkillsPayBills Adventure Diaries promises a bumpy ride, free wedgies for all!