We believe doing good work in our community builds our skills, strengthens our spirits, and energizes the work we do for Clemson Road.
A Year of Service
The way the story was told for most of the year was that the Small Business Administration came to me and Katherine Swartz-Hilton separately and asked us if we’d like to build the South Carolina Women’s Business Center. The previous grant awardee was not renewing. Katherine headed the McNair Center at Columbia College, an initiative focused on fostering entrepreneurship in students. I was leading 1 Million Cups Columbia, a Kaufman Foundation entrepreneurial meet-up, every Wednesday at the Richland Library.
Together, we were wildly passionate about women’s entrepreneurship. If we could grow more women-owned businesses, then workplace conditions would change for all women. More women CEOs, more women founders, more women recognizing the futility of the 8-to-5 Industrial Standard lie. More women putting families and communities first.
Separately, both Katherine and I said no. But together, over coffee at a woman-owned coffee shop, we agreed to give it a try. In January 2018, I started working through the McNair Center at Columbia College to establish the Women’s Business Center of South Carolina.
On May 4th, funded by Google and a grant from the South Carolina Department of Commerce, we cut the ribbon on the WBC of SC and began the extraordinary work of fostering, supporting, and connected women business owners.
You can learn more about the WBC of SC and its programming here. Subscribe to the weekly email for updates on events and valuable takeaways.
In February 2019, I resigned and came back to Clemson Road Creative to build CRC Academy and share The R.O.A.D. Methodology© with independt consultants -- women, primarily -- who need operational support in order to scale their businesses. After a year in service to others, I’d found the niche CRC needs to fill. We are actively building the shared services model we were always meant to be.
International Women’s Day
According to the website, International Women’s Day is about forging a better working world, “a more inclusive, gender-equal world.”
We believe our work model is a new feminine model of work. We work when we want, where we want and we get paid a reliable salary to do it. We judge performance on results, not attendance, and we organize our work to enable family, community, and political participation in healthy, fulfilling ways.
March 8, 2017 was also A Day Without a Woman, an international boycott intended to show the economic consequences of not having women in the workforce.
According to the Womens March organizers, International Women’s Day was the perfect opportunity to show the economic impact of women on the world. As employees, leaders, consumers, and builders. Whether you’re in research or medicine, construction or media, your unique contribution is yours alone. And you should be recognized for it. Our company is woman-owned and our consultants are all women. So we took the day off.
Kasie was seen at the S.C. Statehouse grounds with some other rabble-rousers urging protection of reproductive rights and equal wages for equal work.
As a company, we disconnected, tabled work for another day. Jodie spent the day with her family and Heather and Kasie hung out in a woman-owned coffee shop, The Local Buzz, to show solidarity with other female entrepreneurs.
Our work model allows us to shift work to before or after non-work circumstances. It’s more than flexibility, it’s total autonomy. Each day we choose how and when to contribute. We’re writing a book about our work model because it’s what people ask us about first every time we give a workshop regardless of what the workshop is on.
Our contribution to “a more inclusive, gender-equal world,” is a work model that encourages people to be their true selves, contribute to their best capacity, and celebrate the family-ness and care-giving that has been “women’s work” and treated as corporate poison for too long.
Want to learn more about the work model or the book? Email
If companies employ people, those people will not become terrorists.
Her two case studies revealed that Western companies, when investing in terrorist recruiting hotbeds, use trust as their main weapon.
“The companies were trusting the locals to keep the enterprise safe and profitable. That kind of trust had to have an impact on the community,” she says.
Dr. Whitener is not the only person who believes in trusting local employees and employers to keep a community safe. She found her perfect outreach partner in Bpeace, an international organization whose tagline is “More Jobs Means Less Violence.”
When Dr. Whitener first started supporting Bpeace in 2012, all she had available was a silent cheer from afar. She kept up with Bpeace updates and followed the work the organization was doing in Afghanistan, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
“I love the Bpeace mission and it is supported fully by the findings of my research,” she says. “I just wasn’t sure what I could do to help.”
Then, in the fall of 2015, Bpeace announced it would be looking to adopt a new software platform. They needed a digital way to manage the hundreds of Fast Runner companies and Bpeace members.
When Dr. Whitener saw the announcement, she knew she had found her mission, her way to help. She and her consultancy, Clemson Road Creative, have assisted with multiple customer relationship management (CRM) adoptions. So, she stepped forward and offered to help Bpeace through the process.
“It was the opportunity I’d been waiting for,” she says. “I jumped right in.”
Dr. Whitener worked with Marla Gitterman, Chief Program Officer for Bpeace, to establish the organization’s needs and requirements. Then Dr. Whitener researched solutions and lined up demonstrations for Gitterman. Once a solution was selected, Dr. Whitener and another volunteer, Luis Gonzalez, helped to establish operational standards and customize the product.
“Figuring out exactly how to use the out-of-the-box functionality was a challenge,” she says. “We adapted it to Bpeace’s specific needs and then wrote operating procedures and training documents to get the team up and running.”
The total commitment was about six months and over 100 hours. Dr. Whitener was honored at the Bpeace annual meeting in October 2016 with a Volunteer Excellence Recognition Award (VERA). Work continues with Bpeace into 2017 as Clemson Road Creative helps the organization figure out how to capture its impact stories in the new system and how to make them easily accessible.
Change Your Corner of the World: The first Mobile Literary Festival
“Change your corner of the world” is a motto Jodie Cain Smith lives by. She also believes that if you are unwilling to take action, you are unworthy of complaining. So, when she moved home to Mobile, Alabama, in April 2016 and learned that Mobile did not have an annual literary festival she knew she had to take action or keep her complaints to herself.
As an author of the modern publishing age, Jodie knows it is her duty to further and promote her craft. Daily, she is bombarded by the idea that no one reads anymore and that fiction publishing especially is a dying industry. But, she refuses to believe she is the only person who needs to escape reality through the written word every now and then. Armed with her values, beliefs, and a tiny helping of street cred, thanks to good reviews and a couple of awards, she set out to found the first Mobile Literary Festival.
Her first challenge was buy in from contemporaries and community organizations.
She first pitched the idea to the Mobile Public Library as a way to further creative writing and reading while attracting new visitors to their facility. Their response, “If the Mobile Writers’ Guild agrees, we’re in.” Over pastries and coffee at Panera Bread, Jodie convinced MWG to join the wild, fast ride.
In five months, Jodie led her small team to plan the daylong event. They found a keynote speaker and industry experts to sit on a discussion panel for the publishing industry. They vetted fifteen local authors and publishers to participate in a local author showcase and book sale, and brought in Barnes & Noble Booksellers to sell books of local interest. They found four instructors to teach creative writing workshops. And they convinced everyone to do so for free.
Most of Jodie’s efforts went to publicity. From distributing posters and flyers to writing and delivering press releases to designing and delivering a social media plan which called for daily posts to social sites, community bloggers, online event calendars, and email blasts, Jodie was hands-on with every publicity measure.
The task was exhausting but worth the effort.
“Our goal for a first-year festival was 100 attendees. We welcomed 144. Success,” Jodie said at the end of the exhilarating day before rattling off several ideas for the 2017 festival.
When asked what advice she has for others looking to change their corner of the world, she responded, “Don’t wait. Don’t accept ‘no.’ And don’t expect others to change the world for you.”
The hypothesis seemed true enough and the findings did not surprise Dr. Kasie Whitener.
Finding New on an Old Stage
So, yeah, I’m the oldest person here. And no, it’s not a bar. It’s not a kindergarten class. It’s a stage. Sixteen years ago, with all the ego and self-righteousness a college senior could muster, I thought I took my final bow with the University of South Alabama Theatre Department.
As a student, I considered that stage to be my home. It was my safe space to explore and create, where I placed my faith in my directors and acting coaches to ensure I didn’t make a fool of myself on that stage. A very intimate space, it is one of those theaters where the actors can hear the crinkling of plastic as an audience member unwraps a peppermint. Even with the blinding effects of a hot spot light, it is as if the “fourth wall” never exists. Even after a decade and a half, I remember that final bow. And, I remember thinking, “I’ve done it. I’ve learned everything this place and these people could possibly teach me.”
But, on January 3, 2017, I was not a student. For this first rehearsal, I stepped back on that stage to direct a production of The Fabulous Fable Factory by Joseph Robinette, a one-act musical of Aesop’s Fables.
Why Aesop’s Fables? Why look to this Ancient Greek slave and storyteller? I’ve studied his fables and learned his moral lessons time and again. When first offered the opportunity to return to my alma mater as a guest director, I secretly wished for more challenging material. After all, I’ve directed two other versions of Aesop’s Fables and used his stories in youth improvisational acting exercises. I thought I had extracted every last bit of excitement I could from the old tales.
But, Aesop’s Fables are classic stories and an excellent way to teach life lessons to children. Fortunately, my hard-fought adulthood has taught me to keep my ego in check. Still, I feared my interpretation would be tired and lack inspiration. Would I be able to direct another fables-based show with enthusiasm and authenticity?
When I stepped on that stage my doubts washed away under a rush of longing, the longing to be somewhere familiar, longing for that space, for the spotlight of my youth. Those doubts were replaced with the awesome responsibility of directing. To my mind, I was charged to not only direct the nine Millennial actors, but to instill in them a love of higher art and the understanding that through art we can become better human beings.
Mostly, what I did not expect with that first step was the duty I felt to protect this stage, my stage. In that first step, I became aware of a debt I owed. I knew the great work, the provocative one-acts, cathartic full-length plays, and uplifting musicals, which this stage had housed in its twenty years. I knew what it did for my development as a theatre artist. Would my work as a director prove worthy of this stage? Had I learned enough to do my job and do it well? I had five weeks to prove myself and knew I didn’t have a minute to waste. I had to find enthusiasm for this script and share that enthusiasm with my cast. Pronto.
Two weeks in, after leading nine newbie actors through blocking rehearsals, I discovered the moral of this particular fable show. “Get ahold of new” is repeated throughout the script and became our rallying cry. The stories were old. The stage is old. The constant anger on social media was really getting old. But this moral, this was new.
“Get a hold on new.”
The concept seems so simple. Be optimistic. Reject stagnation. Push forward. Hope. As a child of the 80s, I naively thought my reservoir of hope was bottomless. As an adult, replenishing that reservoir has been a challenge. In contrast, Millennials have never been allowed to be complacent. They have grown up in a world of constant and swift change. Their lives move as a high-speed train through technological, social, and political change. They already knew how to “Get a hold on new.” I didn’t, but they showed me how through their energy, courage, and eagerness.
These nine newbies renewed my resolve to welcome new adventures, face new challenges, and always be hopeful. That old stage reminded me that even in the most familiar of environments, just when things seem to be getting old and tired and frustrating, life can and will become new again. For this lesson, this fable, I am so grateful.
Rediscovering Purpose-Driven Work at TogetherSC’s Annual Summit
I’m constantly amazed by the small-pondness of the city I live in; the ease with which I’m able to connect with six-degrees-of-separation anyone I meet with someone I already know. What amazes me more than this uncanny sense we all know each other, is the recurring instance of people being surprised by something that’s happening here.
As an entrepreneur and a business leader, I was thrilled to learn of the great work being done by SC non-profits and that, perhaps, Clemson Road Creative could assist that good work. Despite this year’s South Carolina Association of Non-Profit Organization’s (SCANPO) annual conference drawing hundreds of attendees from all over the state, I was one of only three people in my local business network to know about it. I dropped in at the conference and was excited by the energy and dedication I could felt emanating off the attendees and organizers.
As Clemson Road Creative has just brought on a few non-profit clients, I thought it best to immerse myself in their world. I learned a great deal from SCANPO, now TogetherSC, in terms of the non-profit market (for more on the name change, click here).The conference offered six tracks of breakout sessions on community impact, operations and finance, healthier together, fundraising, leadership and governance, and communications and advocacy. That’s six tracks of six breakouts, or 36 sessions, of learning for SC non-profit professionals.
In one session on impact, the discussion around the table I happened to be sitting at was about using program evaluations to determine what to stop spending time and money on. Non-profits are bootstrapping it, for the most part, and must do more with fewer resources. Knowing what to stop doing is invaluable information.
The science of program evaluation seems daunting, the presenters said, so much so that only 6% of non-profits have regular evaluation practices. Clemson Road Creative has worked with consultancies and software companies to conduct post-project evaluations, so we know the complexities of the process and the hard honesty that such evaluation requires. With all a non-profit tries to do, often with few resources, evaluation is often pushed to the back burner. We can completely understand how that happens. However, we also know how post-mortem examination can evaluate efficacy and how the results can save non-profits valuable and scarce resources.
In another session, led by a foundation’s communications director, the message was: Your goal of social change should be at the center of everything you do. Knowing what your organization is doing to address the issue upon which you were founded is the first step. Building that message into every communication, program, and effort is the second step.
Here again, a consultancy that specializes in research and writing for businesses and organizations can help, if a non-profit is unable to conduct a methodology themselves. With a defined methodology, a non-profit, like any other business, can work within documented processes, fully educate team members, volunteers, and stakeholders of services, and then communicate those definitions to grant writers, funders, and donors who help non-profits sustain their activities. Some of the work we are currently doing with Bpeace is around these organizational management factors.
Getting to Know All About You
Conferences have a way of shrinking a pond to the size of a wedding reception. On the first day, attendees may not necessarily know one another or know what to expect from the experience. By the end, though, they’re hugging goodbye and sending a flurry of LinkedIn invites. A common experience like conference attendance can bond people, engage their sense of community, illuminate the common ground between them. Even if, when it’s over, they’ll be back on the hunt for the same donors and competing for the same grants and in need of the same assistance.
In a small city like Columbia, knowing what the others are working on at least provides us all with a sense that good work is being done. We know that issues are being addressed and that the passionate individuals, be they non-profit leaders or entrepreneurs, are hard at work.
What would you pay for a customized workout playlist?
This is one of the many questions our Junior Achievement company needs answered before we decide how much we will charge for our services. We need answers to other questions, too, like How do you watch TV? How do you listen to music? And how do you choose which movies to see?
We are Entertainment Counseling Group of Westwood High School in Blythewood, S.C. and our mission is to curate personalized entertainment menus for individuals who are too busy or too overwhelmed by all of the options in media today.
The company is part of the Junior Achievement (JA) entrepreneur curriculum and I am the class’s volunteer mentor. The curriculum teaches the students how businesses are founded, how they are organized, funded, run, and dissolved. It is a 13-week program that pairs business leaders in the community with high school students who are curious about entrepreneurship.
I was recruited by a friend who works for JA. She paired me with a veteran teacher, Pam Davis, whose Westwood High School resource class is filled with non-traditional students. These are kids still enrolled in high school but unlikely to pass the exit exam; they are working, almost-adults who are searching for what their future might hold.
Our sessions are every Thursday. We spent weeks brainstorming what kind of business we could have. Their ideas were a spectrum from selling hot dogs to cutting grass, babysitting to courier services. We talked through the kinds of resources it would take to print t-shirts and whether anyone had any money to invest. We decided on a services business wherein we could trade our knowledge and time for money.
The idea for the playlist service came from Zaydra, our only female team member besides me. Zaydra said she would ask questions about the style of music someone likes and what they plan to be doing while listening and then she would look for artists and performers that would introduce the listener to new music.
Our playlists would be like the streaming services except not using an algorithm to match music, using a human being’s understanding of similar and complementary sounds. The advantage, we think, is that the human can transverse genre where the algorithm can’t. The human can also access entertainment across multiple platforms and many of the algorithms are proprietary to the service and therefore limited to the music the service has access to.
From there we named the company and set about conducting market research. We have to develop the service offering, design how we will do what we plan to do, create branding and social media, and then start selling. In all, we will spend four months on this experiment.
Getting to know the students at Westwood has been the best part of the experience for me. They are unique individuals with specific challenges and aspirations. Their experiences are so different from mine that we initially struggled for common ground. Now, though, we are committed to this venture and curious to see how it will turn out.
Entrepreneurs in the classroom:
Figure Out: Nudity in Art and Sexuality in South Carolina
“The education side of Planned Parenthood is what drew me into being a supporter,” she says. “There is a gap between the reality of sexuality and what we’re taught.”
So, Dr. Whitener attended the Figure Out luncheon at the Tapp’s Arts Center in Columbia, S.C. on September 14, 2016 in support of Planned Parenthood.
One of Dr. Whitener’s core values is that through education, we make better decisions. A particularly vulnerable area where poor decision-making can be catastrophic is sexual and reproductive health.
It’s Not Just About the Clothes
Shortly before her son was born, Heather Holt was to invited one of those in-home clothing shows for the girls’ and women’s clothing brand, Matilda Jane Clothing. She was hooked – the silhouettes, soft fabrics, vintage colors and prints, and eclectic styling were beautiful. The price points on the garments were a touch more than she was used to paying, so she mostly window shopped, but she did buy a few pieces for her daughter, Parker.
Heather didn’t have a very active “social media life” prior to the birth of her son in 2010, but that changed during her maternity leave. She logged in to Facebook and set to work exploring.
To her surprise, Heather found a page that was dedicated to buying, selling, and trading Matilda Jane Clothing. Moms, much like Heather, shopping for clothes, but also making friendship connections here and there.
Over the past six years, this group of women has grown to a Facebook Community of over 40,000 including a small group of original members – around 20 of them – that have developed relationships that extend far, far beyond social media. This Matilda Jane community’s members not only have a passion for those cute clothes that brought them together, but for the company and the values behind it.
Dr. Whitener believes the gap between the sanitized public education and the practical knowledge teens and young adults need, can be filled by civic organizations such as Planned Parenthood.
The Figure Out (#figureout) event was an art exhibit celebrating the nude figure. The gallery at Tapp’s Art Center displayed dozens of portraits, photographs, drawings, paintings, and sculptures of the nude human form, male and female. In a special Planned Parenthood luncheon held on site, a panel convened to discuss the exhibit and the greater implications of sexual conversations that do or do not occur.
To an audience of around 30 people, many of whom were artists whose work was part of the exhibit, the panel spoke of stigma and repression, ignorance and danger. Then they pivoted easily to beauty and sensuality, to a natural state and the refusal to feel shame.
“I felt like the event should have been bigger. More people should have known about it, attended it, and been part of the discussion,” Dr. Whitener said. She live-tweeted the intercourse between artists and community activists as each speaker brought a unique slate of experience and perspective to both the art and the social implications of the exhibit.
Dr. Whitener’s tweets captured artists’ statements and panelists’ assertions:
There are many ways to tell impact stories. Clemson Road Creative specializes in capturing and crafting impact stories for non-profits like Planned Parenthood.
Dr. Whitener’s values include making use of civic organizations to fill the gaps between what the government can offer and what needs must be met. The dialogue between artists and activists at Tapp’s in September and the work that continues to be done through Planned Parenthood in the Midlands was a story worth telling.
"Be of service. Whether you make yourself available to a friend or co-worker, or you make time every month to do volunteer work, there is nothing that harvests more of a feeling of empowerment than being of service to someone in need."
-- Gillian Anderson
The founder of Matilda Jane Clothing, Denise DeMarchis and her husband David, through the success of their business, knew they had the opportunity to give back to the community around them. Eventually, their generosity extended around the world to Kitale, Kenya, where they created the Mighty Acorn Foundation to fund the Seeds Academy for homeless orphans. The DeMarchis family demonstrated that giving support is done not only through monetary donations, but through action.
In June 2013, the Matilda Jane community learned that Denise had cancer; the disease eventually took her life in June 2015. After Denise’s initial diagnosis, the group of moms from all around the country decided that the friendship they had found in one another would not have been possible had it not been for Denise’s vision years before. They took it upon themselves to continue her work. They decided to give back to the communities and causes that were important to Denise.
Each year, the Matilda Jane community makes an effort to travel to Ft. Wayne, Indiana to volunteer for one of the causes important to Denise and David. Heather and her Matilda Jane friends have volunteered at a local rescue mission, a women and children’s shelter, a non-profit organization that sends clothing to refugees from countries around the world, and a sexual trauma services organization. Additionally, as a group they have sponsored three children from the orphanage in Kitale, and three of the women in the group have traveled to Kenya and worked there for the past two years.