We spoke to Rima about her journey from corporate consultancy to establishing impact strategy agency – Impactful.
What is your ethnic and professional background?
I’m second generation gujarati, hindu, born in London. I started my career at PwC, in a client facing audit role. Looking back, I walked blindly into that role in many ways, not thinking particularly hard about what I wanted to do. I decided I wanted to be in a more people focused role and moved internally to the Learning and Development team, designing leadership training for the firm’s staff.
I left the corporate world after 4.5yrs and moved into startups, working for Escape the City and then Remote Year in community management and operational roles, which I loved and found suited how I like to work. But, in 2018 I found myself looking for a more purposeful career and really wanting to learn how to create effective positive change, so I joined the social innovation and entrepreneurship fellowship Year Here which is where I met my co-founders and we developed the idea for Impactful.
What is Impactful and how did it come about?
We’re an impact strategy agency. We support businesses to come up with sustainable ideas to increase their positive social and environmental impact, through a process of systemic design.
On Year Here, me and my soon to be co-founders worked on a consulting brief to support a commercial business to think about how they could put their purpose as a business on par with their profit.
We immediately saw the potential of supporting businesses and realised that the impact and innovation skills we’d developed on Year Here were really valuable in taking businesses on that journey in an inclusive and ambitious way.
What are your main values and aims as an organisation?
Our approach is based on four key ideas:
Life-centered design – using systems design frameworks and processes to create ideas which are good for people, planet and the business.
Holistic impact – looking at both social and environmental impact, as the two are inextricably interconnected.
Commercial alignment – developing strategies that work with business priorities, so that they are truly sustainable and not tokenistic.Bespoke strategies – partnering with organisations to develop strategies that fit their organisation, as there is no one-size-fits-all way to have more positive impact.
What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable, ethical practice?
I love solving problems and trying to make things better. When I joined Year Here, I was looking for a way to channel that energy into a specific idea or venture and Impactful became such a brilliant vehicle for that.
I really believe that business has huge potential to be a force for good in the world and to catalyse change – it feels like the potential is so huge. Both because many of our biggest challenges have been caused by business in the first place, but also because really ambitious, effective businesses are also great problem solving machines.
Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about this career choice from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?
I think in general my family aren’t too sure what I do. They are broadly supportive thankfully, but it’s really hard to engage and share the passion and excitement for what I’m working on as often, it takes a lot of careful explanation to help them understand.
I also still get a lot of throwaway comments about going back into accounting and probing questions about how I’m doing financially, as I suppose in many ways they don’t consider what I’m doing to be sustainable and/or stable for my future. I think those kinds of comments can chip away at my confidence, making me doubt if what I’m doing is actually the right thing or actually pretty reckless!
Overcoming that, I generally end up being conscious and careful around money, making sure I’m able to live independently, taking part time work, so that I don’t find myself in a tight spot.
How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?
I do what I can at home, recycling, composting, keeping meat down to a minimum. I don’t have a car and use public transport to get around. Though, I recognise that this is a privileged position to be in in many ways, as I can work from home and live in a big city with good infrastructure, which isn’t true for everyone.
What I’d love to do more of and have started recently, is connect more with the local community. I’ve loved exploring my neighbourhood’s green spaces, I joined my local litter picking society and am currently doing a course in horticulture at my local council’s adult learning centre. It’s been a great way to reconnect with nature, meet people in my local community and get my hands dirty with the small actions that create change, quite literally with the horticulture course!
Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?
It’s interesting because I find that South Asian communities in many ways have a natural tendency to green practices. My mum doesn’t throw anything away (to a fault! See cupboard stuff with tupperware…), we were always conscious of not wasting food and looking after our possessions, fixing and making do rather than buying new things.
I think finding those positive stories of people in the community who are already doing great work (in many ways what you’re creating here) and championing them is one way to encourage action.
Something we also talk a lot about with businesses is making it less about telling people off for what they are/aren’t doing and more about making it easier and even more enjoyable to do the right thing. How do we make it really easy for people to change habits and create incentives where by living more sustainably is better for the individual and community, rewarding positive behaviour. I think that’s how you can create change that really sticks.
What have been your greatest successes and learnings?
We published our Impactful Business Playbook earlier this year which I’m really proud of. It was a six month labour of love but we’re so happy with how it turned out and the feedback we’ve received has been really positive.
That process taught us so much. In particular, it’s really hard but so, so important to make what we’re trying to do accessible and actionable. We felt strongly that the impact resources out there that we came across were super complex and a bit overwhelming, not giving people within businesses an easy way to start and to know what good looks like. So a big focus of our work is actually just education, demystifying and simplifying impact and what that looks like for a business.
What are the biggest challenges being faced in your industry when it comes to ESG?
I think the biggest challenge is getting people to think of impact as essential/critical to success. We’re so used to traditional success metrics like revenue, growth, attention, that it’s so hard to remind ourselves that actually there are so many other equally important success metrics.
What’s exciting is that the business case is actually really clear. Investing in your impact is good for business. Just the other week I read from the CHRO of Unilever, Leena Nair (also a brilliant South Asian woman!):
“Human capital is as important as financial capital. Our attrition rate in all the countries that we operate is half of that of the national average. And 76% of the graduates who apply to us say that they believe that Unilever is a force for good and stands for goodness in the world, and that has led to my recruitment costs in the last seven years falling by 90%. Putting human resources at the top table has real business benefits.”Leena Nair
Has any one sector or company got it ‘right’ so far?
So many amazing businesses are making huge progress and not waiting for external pushes. Everyone from Bloom & Wild to Brewdog to the amazing ventures coming out of Year Here like Supply Change and Pivot.
I do think that systemic/sector wide change is still yet to come. Momentum is building but we’ve not quite reached the tipping point, where it becomes mainstream and it makes more sense for a business to act now rather than get left behind.
What career advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? Why is it important for them and their future?
Everything you do has an impact. Start where you are, with what you have. You can start at home or in your workplace or in your community. You don’t need permission to take action.
We need people in every place and every industry, in every role advocating for more sustainable, regenerative practices.
I’d also say find your people. If you care about the environment but people in your circles don’t as much, reach out to others and offer your support or ask for help. People in this space are generally super friendly and generous with their resources if they can be.
We are the generation that has the power to reverse the most damaging effects of climate change.
Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?
What’s recently had the most profound impact on me and how I think about what I do, is my little nephew being born. His arrival has renewed and refocused my energy and commitment to designing a better world for him. He is a living symbol of the future generations, reminding me to leave the world a better place than I found it.
I imagine the world that I want him to grow up in. It gives me a long term perspective and a lens through which to prioritise what I do today. What am I doing now that will create a safe, regenerative, just, joyful world for him and all the people coming into this world today?
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Sometimes I find it hard to make the big concepts of sustainability practical and personal. My favourite quote that grounds me in what I can do is from Charles Eisenstein:
‘‘Don’t: “Save the planet”. Instead: “Find something you love, and take care of it.”
That to me sums up what, in my best moments, I strive to do. For myself, in my relationships and in my work.
Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this wonderful community. I’d love to connect with anyone in this space and organisations looking for support with their impact, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.