Ivan Gonzalez of Humboldt Park, Chicago – Social Enterprise Coach, Mentor, and Cross-Sector Facilitator
Romy interviews Ivan and learns about how his faith anchors and propels him to engage sectors and cultures for the common good. Great song at the end by Chicago artist, Aaron Eddy!
Thanks for tuning in the Bonfires of Social Enterprise. This is Romy and we hve something different for you on this episode. You will meet Ivan Gonzalez and you will learn about his specialty, cross-sector collaboration. Ivan has a business called Coach for Social Enterprise. He obviously coaches, convenes, and patiently mentors people individually and in large groups around social enterprise and impact investing in communities. I think you will understand why he is so successful locally and nationally when you listen to how open and heartfelt he is about his faith.
This is our first guest that has been so open about their faith and I really began to see the ‘why’ behind everything Ivan does. Let’s listen in to my interview with Ivan.
Romy:;Thanks for tuning in the Bonfires of Social Enterprise. This is Romy and we hve something different for you on this episode. You will meet Ivan Gonzalez and you will learn about his speciality, cross-sector collaboration. Ivan has a business called Coach for Social Enterprise. He obviously coaches, convenes, and patiently mentors people individually and in large groups around social enterprise and impact investing in communities. I think you will understand why he is so successful locally and nationally when you listen to how open and heartfelt he is about his faith.
This is our first guest htat has been so open about their faith and I really began to see the ‘why’ behind everything Ivan does. Let’s listen in to my interview with Ivan.
Romy: Okay. Well, welcome, Ivan, to The Bonfires of Social Enterprise!
Ivan: Thanks! It’s really exciting to be finally on the podcast.
Romy: I know, thank you. You’ve been such a supporter. Let’s talk about where you’re calling in from. This is a call in, or I guess we’re Skyping and you’re in Chicago, right? What neighborhood are you in?
Ivan: Yes, I predominantly do most of the work that I do in the city and Humboldt Park, West Humboldt Park area.
Romy: You and I met when we were supporting the social enterprise there in Chicago, right? Is that when we first met?
Ivan: Yeah, it was during the time of The Stewards Market, and our mutual friend, Sarah Wheeler, introduced us to, actually it was a friend of Sarah who introduces me to Rowan Richards. Then, Sarah introduced you to Rowan Richards, and we collaborated during that time.
Romy: Yeah yeah, and it was a lot of fun, thoughtful meetings around King Lizzy and all that. That’s been a real fond memory for me. Then, of course, I got to meet you, and the more I get to know you, Ivan, the more I want to hang out with you.
Ivan: Well, that’s mutual. I love all the things that you’re helping investors, and specifically, social impact investors think about when it comes to investing and social enterprises. I’m excited about what we’re going to talk about today.
Romy: You’re our first guest that has a very high-level, multifaceted experience. As you and I spoke about, most of our guests to date have either been running an enterprise or doing something very niche focused in the ecosystem. You’ve had 25 years of coaching and mentoring all focused on social enterprise. Since you have primarily a coaching and mentoring-facilitator role, would you mind talking about your business for a minute? Coach for Social Enterprises?
Ivan: Sure. About six years ago, I had realized I’d had all this experience with both for-profit, non-profit social enterprises. When I first started, the term social enterprise wasn’t being used. It was more how do we create a sustainable either for-profit or non-profit business that not only is excited about making a profit, but also providing a great place for people to work? Where they feel like their skills are honored, where they feel like they’re not solely treated as an employee but they’re more looked upon as, even though they may not have an ownership stake in the non-profit or for profit, they are treated as if they were an owner, so their opinions are highly respected, highly encouraged to come in and share what their perspective is on their business model.
As I stated, when I was early on, 25 years ago, I realized that I had been launching, doing start-up stuff most of my life. I backed into helping to start this building materials distribution center in Chicago. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was sitting at the same table with business leaders and nonprofit leaders and church leaders in the city of Chicago to launch this building materials distribution center. We were doing a lot of research whether around the business model. We were trying to figure out whether we would launch it as an LLC or a nonprofit. We were just going through the arduous task of trying to figure out, “What is it we’re trying to accomplish? What’s the incorporation status that we should use to accomplish our mission, vision, and values?” We landed on continue to be a nonprofit. We landed on incorporating this nonprofit within a larger nonprofit system. What I realized after a while, after about 5 or 6 years, is that what we had started was a social enterprise.
I learned a lot about how fast business people want to go, how much nonprofits love committees and meetings and how much business people really don’t like committees and meetings and how much business folks think very quickly, are willing to throw money at a problem and try to solve it within a 24-hour period versus nonprofit leaders who are more cautious. They’re hyper-aware of anything that might put their 501(c)(3) and their nonprofit status at risk when it comes to iterating a business idea. I learned, on the job in the midst of great relationships and deep friendships with both nonprofit, church and business leaders, the nuances of trying to do this stuff from a cross-sector perspective. I realized I’d gained a lot of experience not only with that organization but with multiple organizations and people who came to me asking me for advice on how to do this thing whether it was for-profit or nonprofit. I had enough experience. I felt like I really learned a lot and I’ve been able to connect with all kinds of people.
In addition to those three categories, I was able also to connect with angel investors and some VCs and be in conversations with what it is they’re looking for as investment opportunities. I find myself today with Coach for Social Enterprises looking for those early adopting angel and venture capitalists who are saying, “Yeah, I can make a ton of money. In fact, I’ve already made a ton of money, but I’m beginning to realize that it’s just about making a lot of money. I want to do good with my money too.” They’re beginning to look at a socially impactful business as an opportunity to do good and to do well. I’m excited about the fact that that group of people is constantly growing throughout the last, I would say the last 5 or 6 years I’ve seen a significant growth in that area. I’m excited to talk to you a little bit more about that when we get the chance.
Romy: All right. Gosh, all of that experience and you use the term cross-sector. That can get frustrating for so many people. I know as I’ve watched you for these last several years when we work on projects together, your grace and your thoughtfulness and your gentleness when people can almost be hostile about because their fears are coming out. You and I have been in some of those conversations where things went a bit sideways, and your grace is just palpable in the room. I know you’ve anchored yourself in the Bible and some Scripture. We’ve talked about some of the Scripture that motivates you. I know you’d like to talk about some of the Scripture that anchors you and drives you.
Ivan: Yeah. Let me create a context why Scripture is important to me. Early on in my educational career, I was a biochemistry major, and then I had this epiphany of the reality of Jesus. I switched majors, and I became a theology major, and I thought if I’m going to try to figure out what this Jesus dude is all about I need to really understand this thing that’s called the Bible that most people seem to attribute to His influence. I spent a lot of time studying the Bible and trying to get a clear picture of who this guy, Jesus, is and how He’s connected to everything that happens on the Earth and the universe.
As one of the books in the Bible, that’s really fascinated me is the Book of Acts. It’s after the Gospels, the first 4 Gospels which basically document Jesus’s life on the Earth. Then, after He leaves, He basically tells His followers that even though He’s gone physically, He’s with them in spirit. The whole Book of Acts is Jesus’s presence among the disciples in spirit. He continues to teach His disciples what this kingdom is that He represents. He calls them.
What this kingdom is that he represents. He calls himself the king. Thus he has a kingdom. There’s a realm of influence and authority that he carries in that kingdom. That kingdom, according to what I’ve read, is both a kingdom in the spiritual realm in heaven and then also in the earthly realm and there are rules that govern the kingdom on the Earth.
I’ve been reading the Bible from the perspective of trying to discover the rules, trying to discover how the authority in the kingdom works, trying to discover the rules as it relates to the community of people who have decided to say, “I think this Jesus guy could be real, I am going to try to follow this Jesus guy, and I’m going to try to understand what it is that he teaches humanity about this kingdom.”
More specifically in the book of Acts chapter 2 verse 42-47, it talks about how these Jesus followers were all hanging out together, and there were some people who were leaders that were called apostles during that time that was teaching. They had these teachings that they were offering to the community of believers. One of the specific teachings that they had was what a stewardship looked like amongst people who followed Jesus. It’s really interesting that Acts 2:42-47 talks about that. It says that they all got together, verse 42, and they were breaking bread, and they were paying attention to the apostle’s teaching, and they were praying together and then there were a lot of miracles that happened and signs that were performed by the apostles.
In verse 43 and verse 44 it says that “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” That phrase, “had everything in common” really intrigued me. Then it says in verse 45 that, “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need and every day they continued to meet in the temple courts and they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Well, I’d be glad and sincere if I was a person who had a need and I was a Jesus follower, and I was in this community of believers, and some of them sold property and possessions and then gave to anyone who had a need. That’d mean that me, as a person in need, would have my need satisfied and I’m not just saying that any needy person can come into a group of believers and get their needs satisfied. I believe that this applies to people, everyone who’s trying to follow Jesus.
That was real, really intriguing and as I’ve looked at the marketplace, I’ve always been interested in business and I’ve always been interested in how capitalism works and early on in my educational career I thought I was going to go work for American Express, their financial advisor services and become a wealth advisor. I’ve been intrigued how wealth advisors talk to their clients and the opportunities that they offer their clients as it relates to their investment opportunities.
As I’ve studied capitalism, pure capitalism really I think is a dying breed. I think that people are beginning to realize no matter how wealthy or how much income you have that it’s not just about making more money. I think people are beginning to realize that I can also do good with the money that I make and they’re beginning to ask the question, “How much is enough?” I think the people in Acts chapter 2 and Acts chapter 4 had already come to the realization that, “I have two houses, three houses, five pieces of property. I own part ownership in 14 national businesses. How much do I really need?” People are beginning to ask themselves the questions, just like they probably did in the time of the early church, that, “I don’t need all this stuff and I realize that my brother or my sister are less well off than what I am and they need some things and I could steward my assets in such a way that could provide for the need of those brothers and sisters.”
Again, what I have committed to doing, as a theologian and as a business person, I’m trying to integrate what the kingdom economy looks like with how we live out our lives here on the Earth because I believe that Jesus wants to establish his kingdom here on Earth. He’s looking for people who want to follow him and who want to gather in his name to establish his kingdom. I’m pursuing that with every fiber of my being, with every prayer, with every conversation, with every meeting. Every time I go to a place, I’m pursuing it with that lens as my filter.
I know that was a long answer to your question, but it provided the context for it.
Romy: Right, because I’d say that you exhibit that in everything that you agree to do every time you’re asked to speak publicly, whether it’s locally or out in California, even when we were pre-discussing it, you wanted to make sure that this anchor got in there, which, I love that. I feel, too often, we don’t acknowledge what really anchors us on the why of doing what we do and how important it is.
I’d love to ask you a question about this because I know some of our listeners are faith-based listeners and some of our listeners might be doing some of this work out of just the goodness of our heart. Has this scriptural base for you been an attractor or has it been more difficult that you’ve approached things this way? Will you touch on that for our listeners?
Ivan: Sure, sure. With people who don’t have a special focus on faith and even atheists, it really doesn’t matter; I look at this as the common good. The phrase that I would use, that I use in a context where there’s not a lot of people of faith is that this is about the common good. Does everybody want safe streets? Does everybody want streetlights on their block? Does everybody access to clean water? Does everybody want a safe place to live? Does everybody want parks and access to good food and access to products that are meaningfully made and serve a legitimate purpose in their lives? Yes.
My conversation about not doing things from a purely capitalist, not making decisions from a purely capitalist lens, but saying there can be a way for me to make my decisions that have impact, not just on money but it has an impact on people. Whether it’s the person picking from … If you look at the total supply chain of any product that’s produced in the world and you ask yourself the question, who’s providing the raw material for this final good? Are they being treated justly and fairly? Are they being paid good wages? Can they live on those wages? All the way to the distribution channels, the manufacturer of that good, are they being paid well? Do they have a livable wage? Is the company externalizing anything? If so, how’s that harming our environment or how’s that harming the people that that externalization’s occurred in?
I’m asking the tough questions all the way through the supply chain, and I think that, as a community of human beings, when we begin to ask those questions together we can begin to transform the fact that we can begin to have an impact on how many human beings are thriving. That we can actually see more and more human beings thriving as a result of us asking ourselves those tough questions. Then, business leaders saying, “I’m going to adjust my business model to honor more and more of the image of God in each human being along my supply chain.”
Romy: Well, that’s powerful. It not only anchors you but it gives you a view of how to approach others and projects.
Romy: Now, going back to the cross-sector, there’s so many things I want to capture on this interview, but we might have to do a part 2 and a part 3 because this is just really good stuff. On the cross-sector piece, it’s not just cross-sector of legal structures, but you have found a way to bridge gaps cross-culturally, in your city. I know even your church is multicultural and it’s really coming boldly against what the world and the news are portraying of all the divides. You’ve traveled around the globe, so how do see today some of the exciting breakthroughs of this cross culture, cross-sector, whatever you want to … I guess I’ll generically call it cross-sector, but I feel like it’s so much deeper. What are some of the things that you’re noticing having breakthrough and what are some of the things that you’re noticing that still really need patience and love on it to address it?
Ivan: That’s a deep question.
Ivan: Well, I think …
Ivan: I think my first, kind of, foundational pillar as it comes to meeting anybody, no matter what the color of their skin, the class that they represent, the place that they live, is that that person deserves the honor, deserves to be seen, deserves to be heard. It reminds me of; I don’t know if I read this, or I heard this, but about Abraham Lincoln, he said, “I’m willing to talk to anybody.” He was using that phrase in the context of talking to a man, a drunk, in the town where he was. He said, “I can learn from anyone and I can understand that each person is born into this world with a unique gift, a unique contribution that makes us more human.” Every voice is important no matter what their experience is. I agree with that. My experience has been that that has been true.
There was a time in my life where I had a pretty traumatic experience with a young group of Asian brothers and sisters in California, and it predisposed me to be prejudice against Asian folks for a long time because their remarks to me were disparaging and hurtful and dismissive. That experience lodged into me and caused me to be prejudice and not to want to have any relationships with Asian folks. As a result of me being here, you mentioned the church context at River City Community Church and being part of a multi-ethnic community, I realize that that experience had caused this deep barrier, this big barrier, to go up in my life that prohibited me from interacting or for even wanting to interact with Asian folks. I remember talking about this in a public meeting that I recognized, all of a sudden, that it was because of that traumatic experience a long time ago that I had put up this barrier. I went through a process of forgiveness of myself, forgiveness of those folks who had initially wounded me and I can’t tell you how much a difference it’s made in my relationships with folks who are Asian and the desire to want to get to know them, to have relationships with them and friendships with them.
I can replicate that same kind of experience with that ethnic community to the African American community, even within my own Latino culture, my own Hispanic culture, there are great wounds and great tension between Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans, Peruvians, Chileans, I mean, you name it of any country in Central and South America, there are these nuanced tensions that have been built up over generations. Whether it’s about class or the color of your hair or the kinkiness of your hair or the hue of your skin, the kind of food that you eat, the way you speak Spanish, the way you speak English, there’s all these nuance prejudices and biases that we have adopted that but for the grace of God, we come together and are in relationship with each other knowing, I think most of us understand that those things are a part of our lives, but some of us refuse to accept the fact that we have these built in biases, these built-in racial preferences and until we come to the place where we recognize those things, we will not be better human beings. Not only recognize those things but then go through a process of repentance and forgiveness and restitution.
I think, given that, as part of my journey and then you layer that on top of this thing that I’m trying to represent, this idea that the common good is important for both people of faith and people who don’t have faith, the fact that God is active in the marketplace it is significant that we take the time to address these deeper issues if we’re going to do this right.
Romy: I thank you for going deep there and that, in my opinion, is a breakthrough and talking about what still needs to be done all in one answer, thank you. You wove that in so beautifully. There’re so many places I want to go with this, but I’ll start to curve this particular interview toward a close. It’s really interesting to me, in the context of everything that you just said about honoring others, when we’re in the startup area bringing it back to social enterprise, there’re two things that I’ve really noticed that almost lay the perfect structure or train tracks down, whatever analogy you want to use to start to accomplish some of this stuff.
Social enterprise, in my opinion, especially in the Detroit area where most of our work happens, we do work around the globe, but that’s where most of our work is lately, I find social enterprise is this great opportunity to cross the divides, everybody’s coming together for this one common purpose and, as you said, a common good. Everybody’s focused on what can we do together and some of the things about staring at each other start to go away when we’re both walking along side by side, staring at something we want to enact or execute or make happen or solve.
I feel you’ve led me so perfectly. This conversation comes up a lot of how does faith play into solving this and is social enterprise one of the strategies that brings people together. My resounding answer to that is always yes with an exclamation point.
Romy: That brings us to impact investors, and it really anchors us in your true calling of this cross-sector. You’re making sure all the voices are at the table.
Ivan: Yeah, yeah. I’ll give you an example of that. My work with the city of Fresno, it’s been very, very interesting for me to be gathered with Fresnans over the past couple of years having a conversation about how does Fresno turn around? My goal for Fresno’s that it would be the go-to city when it comes to social enterprise. That person from all over the state would go to Fresno to understand how social enterprise has helped transform that city into a thriving place where every human being is respected, where every human being is given the opportunity to thrive in the thing that they’re wired for in the city of Fresno.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve intersected with who are both people of faith and people of no faith but who have captured a vision of what’s possible in the city of Fresno. That is so exciting for me because, as you stated, I’ve traveled a lot, and I’ve seen a lot of cities where, when I compare those cities with what’s going on in Fresno, it, to me, is one of the epicenters of a broad-based, holistic transformation in a sustainable way in a city. I’m excited about the fact that both people of faith and of little faith or no faith are sitting at the same tables talking about how do we do this together.
Romy: Yeah, there’s so much news against faith-based missional business, whatever the faith is, there’s a lot of hate starting to happen. What I find on the street, through business and when we’re getting people in the same room that have the same desire, that hate is not as present as the news makes it seem.
Ivan: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s like anything, if you only have one source of information, you’re only going to get one side, one perspective of that information. You have to choose multiple sources and personal experience, like, get out there and meet people. I’m the kind of that’ll cold call people and I’ll show up at meetings without invitation just to listen to what the conversation is going on and to understand here’s a completely different perspective to this issue than what I ever perceived or what I’ve read about or what I’ve heard on television or on the radio or what I’ve read in the papers or in the magazines.
I made it a point of showing up, being present and then I show up as a listener. I don’t show up to try to change people’s minds or convince them that their ways should be different. I show up to learn. I’m a continual learner and as I learn, I begin to share a little bit of what I’ve learned with other people with the caveat that hey, I’m one person with a perspective on this particular issue, I’m just trying to find other people who might resonate with this and at the point where we build enough of a critical mass of people to say okay I think this is a movement and I think now we can begin to more intentionally meet with each other and implement some of these ideas that we’ve come up with ourselves.
Romy: I love it. We’ve started at Gingras Global to broadly call it “impact capital.” This movement of capital meaning anything from personal resources, thought leaders, and experiences. It doesn’t necessarily have to be money because in my opinion money is just one of the things that help in a situation. It is people that come together and move a needle on an issue collectively. We’ve started to broadly call it “impact capital.” What are all the things that come together to make an impact? What is everybody’s capital that they’re bringing? Someone might be bringing actual money; someone might be bringing experience. Someone might be a disruptor that causes people to really turn the table and think about things differently, which has it’s own value. We broadly now call that “impact capital” over at Gingras Global.
Ivan: That’s exciting. That is exciting.
Romy: Yeah, so hashtag impact capital, you’ll find Gingras Global behind that in a lot of places. I want to keep talking, but I’d like, with your permission, to come back and start to do a follow on series and follow some of your work.
Ivan: That’d be great. I’d love to do it.
Romy: How would some of our listeners reach you in the meantime?
Ivan: My go-to page would be about.me/Ivan Gonzalez, and that’s G-O-N-Z-A-L-E-Z.
Romy: Okay, great, and we’ll put a link to that in the show notes and on our website and we’ll put some other connections to Ivan. Ivan, thank you so much for your time and sharing your heart with us and what drives you, it’s exciting, and we hope this motivates others who are feeling a similar passion for getting out and that they’re of value. In closing, I would tell you from my 30 years of doing this kind of work, the best mentors, and coaches and facilitators are the listeners, so thank you. We’re lucky to have you.
Ivan: Thanks. Thanks for allowing me to be part of this, I really enjoyed it.
Romy: Okay, Ivan.
Ivan: Take care.
Romy: Good Stuff Ivan! As you heard, cross-sector collaboration is really important to Ivan. I’m curious to learn from you and hear some feedback with your experiences on cross-sector collaboration. Our firm has been somewhat successful convening different impact funders but we have not attempted larger scale community efforts. I know I could learn a lot more from Ivan on this issue, and (laugh), I am just glad he is out in the world making it a better place for all of us!
Let’s check out our closing song. This song title is ‘Sacrifice’ and it is performed by a Chicago artist this time, Aaron Eddy.
Talk with you next time….
End of Transcription
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