Terri Ludwig, Social Entrepreneur: Generosity is Contagious

The NextWomen Social Entrepreneurship Theme

Recently named to the Forbes Impact 30 as one of the 30 leading social entrepreneurs worldwide, Terri Ludwig is President and Chief Executive Officer of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., a national nonprofit provider of development capital and expertise to create affordable homes and rebuild communities.

Enterprise has pioneered neighborhood solutions through public-private partnerships and invested more than $11 billion to create nearly 300,000 affordable homes. 

With 23 years of experience in investment banking and nonprofit leadership, Terri joined Enterprise in 2009 as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. She joined the company as President and CEO in January 2011.

From 2002 to 2009, Terri served as President of the Merrill Lynch Community Development Company, where she led community development, committed more than $2 billion in loans and investments, launched a successful social investment platform for Merrill Lynch’s private clients and served as a senior advisor on diversity issues.

Before joining Merrill Lynch, Terri was the president and CEO of ACCION New York, the largest nonprofit micro-lender in the United States, whose mission is to lend small business owners the capital and support they need to achieve success. 

Prior to her work at ACCION, Terri launched a highly successful international sales effort for Global Foreign Exchange at Credit Suisse First Boston. In addition, Terri spent eight years with Merrill Lynch in the Structured Investment and Global Foreign Exchange groups.

Terri was a Presidential appointee to the U.S. Department of the Treasury Advisory Board for Community Development and Financial Institutions and currently serves on the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation Board of Directors. She serves on numerous executive and advisory boards and was selected for the Social Innovation Fellowship for Nonprofit Leaders at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the David Rockefeller Fellows Program. 

We spoke to Terri about her hopes and aspirations for Enterprise Community Partners; her concerns about the rise of social enterprise; and and how the next generation of women leaders can get the best out of their employees.

TNW: What are your hopes and aspirations for Enterprise Community Partners in 2013?

TL: We’re at a turning point as a country. We face tremendous economic and political uncertainty at a time of increasingly desperate circumstances, especially for the most vulnerable people among us. Unbearable housing burdens. Stubbornly high unemployment. Failing schools. Inadequate and unaffordable healthcare. We know that government alone can’t solve these problems, nor can private business, nor can charity. These challenges require partnership and collaboration.     

I see Enterprise as an integral part of that effort in 2013. As a social venture company, we’re in a unique position to link policymakers, community groups, private investors and philanthropists that share a common purpose, whether they’re motivated by profit, social impact or both.

My hope is for Enterprise to help develop and implement bold new ideas for solving these problems, grounded in a spirit of entrepreneurship.

Our primary work is to ensure people have a safe and affordable place to call home. But today’s problems call for us to think beyond homes to the broader community. Our goal is to connect the housing industry with educators, transit planners, healthcare providers, economic developers, private-sector and philanthropic investors, environmentalists, organizers and others with a stake in thriving people and communities. Last year we released a working paper, Community Development 2020, that sets forth an agenda for more collaborative action. It’s the beginning of a conversation about how we can address old, stubborn problems in new ways.

TNW: Can you give us a typical example of someone who your organisation has assisted? How has the work of Enterprise Community Partners affected that person’s life, in the short- and long-term?

TL: One example, and there are hundreds of thousands, is Heather Smith and her young daughters, Chase and Genesis, who recently moved into a new home in New York City. Heather was a signed recording artist in 2006 when she got seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. She is a survivor of domestic violence—Heather and her daughters practically lived at Barnes & Noble to avoid going home.

Heather put in an application for an Enterprise-supported development and was approved within a month. Heather describes her story as a “miracle.”

Her new home was a fresh start. Now she’s emotionally healthier. She’s working again. Her kids are healthier. Getting Chase and Genesis to school on time is now a routine instead of a struggle.

Today Heather is volunteering in her community. She talks about the importance of things others might take for granted, like having a place to sit with her kids to share a meal. It’s a story like Heather’s that really demonstrates the transformative power of a fit, stable and affordable place to call home.

TNW: How does the role of CEO in a large non-profit differ from that of a CEO of a large corporate company?

TL: In a lot of ways. For one, CEOs of public companies are typically obligated to maximize profits, regardless of the social impact of their work. Leaders of nonprofits have more leeway to balance bottom-line finances with the good they do in the world. It often has to do with the short-term pressures in today’s capital markets, which often restrict a business’ ability to do what it does best—create quality goods and services, invest in innovation and develop human capital. Focusing more on long-term returns could bring a wider view to the role of business, one that encompasses both financial and social goals.

As head of a nonprofit, the approach to staffing and retaining top talent is different. Every job seeker wants some combination of money and impact. 

Many nonprofits can’t compete on the money side of that equation, so part of my job is to make sure that every Enterprise employee sees the ways in which their work is contributing to the greater good.

I want them to know that they’re making a real difference, and I see that as our competitive edge. As we look at the next generation of employees, I think impact will weigh more and more heavily into career decisions, which makes organizations like Enterprise much more attractive places from which to build a career.

TNW: What kinds of programmes did you invest in during your time as President of the Merrill Lynch Community Development Company? What did you look for when deciding which projects to invest in?

TL: When I was with Merrill Lynch we were among the first investors in the Enterprise Green Communities initiative in 2004. It helped me appreciate the intersection of housing affordability and long-term environmental sustainability—and how basic energy conservation measures can have a profound effect on low-income families’ finances and general health. 

That was my basic mandate at Merrill Lynch: to develop an investing platform that could point to real improvements in low-income communities—more jobs, new facilities, better and more affordable housing—while ensuring a reasonable return. Through partnerships with Enterprise and other organizations, we helped finance single-family and multifamily homes, charter school facilities, small businesses, health care centers and other investments in struggling communities.

TNW:  Earlier in your career, you served as President and CEO of ACCION New York, the largest non-profit micro-lender in the United States. We have published several interviews in which people have stated that enabling small scale entrepreneurs, especially women in developing countries, is the key to turning around the current economic decline. What are your thoughts on this?

TL: It certainly can be part of the solution. Microfinance can be both a profitable business opportunity and a driver of social change, yielding both financial and social returns. That’s particularly true for lending intended to help female entrepreneurs—research shows that women invest back into their communities and families at higher rates than men do. So the loans not only alleviate poverty for the borrower, but they develop women as leaders and change agents that help the broader community flourish. 

But microfinance alone will not solve the world’s problems. We must focus on partnerships among financial institutions, nonprofit groups and government entities to maximize the financial and social returns on every available dollar.

Social change often starts with capital, but you also need innovative leaders to get an idea moving, then smart policies to bring it to scale and sustain it.

 

TNW: In 2011 you were named in the Forbes Impact 30, a list of the world’s top social entrepreneurs. Which other social entrepreneurs/non-profit leaders do you admire and why?

TL: I recently had the pleasure of getting to know Lance Fors, the president of Social Venture Partners International in Silicon Valley. Lance is a highly successful entrepreneur who is using his skills to push next-generation thinking in the social sector. His group helps community-minded nonprofits build long-term capacity by connecting them with informed and inspired philanthropists. Their investments cover a range of social issues—education, environmental protection, youth development—but are all deeply rooted in a spirit of enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Lance has developed a model in which each stakeholder—investors, investees, professional consultants, the surrounding community—is accountable to each other and everyone mutually benefits from the investment’s success.

I’m always looking for new social entrepreneurs to join our team. Lance recently joined Enterprise’s Board of Trustees, so we benefit from his knowledge and experience first hand.

TNW: 'Social Enterprise’ is such a buzzword at the moment. Is there anything about the huge rise in, and trendiness of, social enterprises which concerns you?

TL: It’s a question we think about often. Enterprise was created three decades ago as one of the original “social enterprises” before that term even existed—a socially-driven self-sustaining business that invests all profits back into the organization. Our vision then was the same as it is now: that one day every person will have an affordable home in a vibrant community, filled with promise and the opportunity for a good life. 

We’re thrilled to see the social enterprise sector growing, but as it does we need to avoid stamping everything with that label just because it’s trendy. Impact must be key.

The concept of impact investing has been evolving for decades, but in recent years it has emerged as a new asset class. We helped by pioneering the Enterprise Community Impact Note, which promises a healthy financial return while investing in affordable housing developments, community health centers, schools and other facilities.

Those of us in the social enterprise industry need to focus less on mission statements and more on tangible, measurable strides toward achieving those missions.

Big, bold goals are important, but we need to make sure that all social enterprises are living up to their goals.

TNW: Do you believe that there are government activities which would be better carried out by non-profits or social enterprises? If so, which activities and why?

TL: I don’t necessarily think it’s a question of who does certain activities better or worse, but rather how governments, nonprofits and social enterprises can better work together to fulfill common goals. Whether it’s responding to a natural disaster or minimizing the impact of a prolonged housing crisis, both governments and communities play crucial roles.

No single sector has a monopoly on great ideas, or on-the-ground know-how, or finding the most efficient way to use available resources.

One thing we take pride in at Enterprise—and I think history supports our view—is our ability to foster public-private partnerships, to break down silos and bring new thinking to old problems. And I think those partnerships are increasingly important in an era of shrinking public resources and growing social problems.

TNW: Do you have an overriding motto or philosophy for life?

TL:

I’ve always believed in “paying it forward.” Generosity is contagious —the more you put others before yourself, the more others do the same.

I want to start that kind of contagion, to create a system in which someone gets a helping hand then turns around and offers their hand to someone else.

That might sound pretty rosy, but this sort of mutual support is at the core of a thriving community. I think it’s a powerful and worthwhile goal.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you but you would like to share with our community?

TL: A few thoughts for the next generation of women leaders from my experiences so far:

Talent building is everything. Every communication with your staff is an opportunity to develop people, skills and relationships. Emotional connection is what drives people—find a way to tap into that.

Owners not subordinates. Hire talented people, give them authority to make decisions in their divisions and include them in making the big decisions that affect the overall organization, so that they feel responsible for shaping the future of it.

Action is required. Avoid “analysis paralysis.” Don't allow people to procrastinate to avoid the hard decisions, give them clear deliverables and deadlines—sooner rather than later.

Quirky is good. Focus on finding ways to use employees’ strengths to benefit the organization. Individuals are not going to change who they are and often what sets them apart. Their quirks and different ways of thinking are what make them valuable assets to the organization.

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