SHIFT TALKS: Interview with Jamie McDonald, Founder of Generosity Inc.

8/9/17

Jamie McDonald

SHIFT Baltimore is the world's only mission-driven, localized, invite-only entrepreneurial membership community. Our mission is to create a new standard for business, one where money and mission are not mutually exclusive. We use the most rigorous, holistic approach to personal and professional performance: honoring the whole-self of business, body, balance, and being. We are creating meaningful, sustainable change aligned with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Our members are relentlessly committed to inspiring, influencing, innovating, and impacting Baltimore. And we're spreading across the word!

We are thrilled to introduce SHIFT Talks: a series of unique stories from local entrepreneurs, each detailing how they've experienced shifts within their personal life, their company’s journey, their industry, and most importantly, our city. Their stories. Their SHIFT Talks.

Jamie McDonald is the Founder of Generosity Inc., an organization dedicated to helping companies, non-profits, schools, and communities innovate and increase their impact on the world. Jamie is a financial executive turned social entrepreneur. She writes and speaks about big change, social innovation, online engagement, and the rise of movements as a force for changing communities.


Q. What’s the mission of Generosity Inc.?

A.We serve as advisors to large-scale, social innovation organizations around the country, and for-profit CEO’s and entrepreneurs who want to increase their impact on the world.

Q. What’s the single most significant moment of your life?

A. I don’t think of my life in terms of single moments; I think of my life in terms of a progression of experiences that led me to the place I am today. There have been really pivotal moments along the way that have shifted my trajectory. I’ve had four or five really meaningful experiences like that, but I cannot point to one single thing, beyond the obvious answer of meeting my husband and starting a family.

Q. For someone who works in the impact space, what lights you up and gets you excited?

A. I am not a person who naturally seeks out excitement in the traditional sense. I get most engaged and moved by big action. I have been privileged to be part of a lot of big things in my life. I’ve been able to have a big impact on something or move an initiative forward in a significant way, both in my personal life, and in my professional life.

I think there’s an increasingly popular principle in our society that places far too much emphasis on excitement – the short attention span kind of stuff. I come from a different place. Exciting for me is when you’ve worked your ass off for a really long period of time on something that moves the needle in a meaningful way. It’s not a jump-up-and-down moment, it is a, “Wow, we did it!” moment. That’s what is exciting for me.

On a micro-level, there are certainly little wins that happen over time. One of the most exciting things anyone goes through as a parent is when your child accomplishes something big. Their accomplishments really give you a different sense of excitement than you get from your own.

Q. You’ve achieved many big-vision initiatives, made a mark on the city of Baltimore, and touched the lives of many. What’s next for Jamie McDonald?

A. I am working mostly on the kinds of things I really like to do, things I enjoy. It comes with the territory of being over 50 and having reached a point where I’ve “paid my dues.”

It took me a while, but I’m at a point where I’m largely working on the things I enjoy because they’re an accumulation of my professional experiences. The common thread is that they are all, in some way, about changing the world.

What’s next is making the world a fairer, more equitable place. This does not have to be within the context of something like a non-profit; it’s about working on large-scale initiatives, or with people who can have a big, gamechanging impact. I’m looking for significant accelerators instead of incremental change.

I’m past that point in my career where I want to move forward in small steps. I am at the place where I want to see big leaps happen. When I think about what I want to do, the kinds of projects I seek out and I’m involved in are projects with that kind of potential. They won’t all work, and that’s fine, but that’s the sort of stuff I really want to do right now.

Q. How has SHIFT helped you ignite more change in your mission-driven work?

A. I actually love the SHIFT concept because I probably was not using that word a lot, but that’s how I have lived my career, even within the long period of time that I was immersed in the corporate world.

I spent 17 years as an investment banker. I was really lucky to be in a place that was pretty entrepreneurial. I was free to start two new groups, to re-form processes or approaches to how we were doing things, and to sit within management. I had a lot of different ‘shifts’ within that more traditional corporate framework. Since I’ve been out of the corporate world, with each of the steps I’ve taken, both as an entrepreneur and now as an adviser, I’ve shifted myself by finding the pieces of what I liked the most about what I’ve done in the past and merged it with where I felt like I could add the most value. I shifted into that lane in a more targeted way and with focus. It’s constant shifting; you press forward for a period of time, go fast and hard down a path, and then keep reflecting to figure out what’s next.

I think the most exciting careers are built when you see the value of your ability to continually learn from what you’re doing and keep fine-tuning your focus, keep shifting toward that place where you think you can have the most impact. I think in terms of the group itself, I came to it from a different place because I’m a little more seasoned than some of the people in the group. I’m a little older, but it’s part of what I’ve really appreciated about it.

Q. What’s one lesson you’ve gleaned through your experiences with various industries?

A. Something I’ve learned through the course of my career is you learn the most when you surround yourself with people who have much more and much less experience than you do. The people with a lot more experience can help you avoid mistakes, but people with less experience can really help you see opportunities you might not see otherwise. I have been very intentional about that; particularly over the last 10 years. I strive to seek out opportunities, to collaborate, and to engage across the experience spectrum. I found it to be really rewarding for my own progress.

I know some people at my stage in life may feel like you can only be with certain kinds of people – that’s just not how I see the world. I really find it valuable to think about who knows a lot more and who sees the world differently. It’s important to my continued learning.

Q. In all that you do to move the needle to instill change in the world, what is your biggest hope for us?

A. My greatest hope for the world will sound both big and small at the same time. Living in a city like Baltimore, I drive down the city streets every day. My work takes me all over the city. I see so many people whose lives are determined by the zip code in which they were born. My greatest hope is some day, where you were born won’t be a singular determinant in the success you can hope for in your future.

Connect with Jamie on LinkedIn

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SHIFT is the only business collective brave and bold enough to shift the work world to transform the real world. We help you solve your organization's most pressing issues, achieve your ambitious goals, and capitalize on your greatest opportunities, to grow regardless.

Edwin Warfield, CEO of citybizlist, conducts the CEO Interviews.

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