Aspiring Robin Hood of Business Education Caitlin Campbell Talks Mascots, LIFE and Business Plans

Caitlin Campbell volunteers as a coach with our LIFE program and our Business Plan Study Halls. Her day job is with Mercy Corps Northwest partner Propeller. We’d heard she’s a crowd favorite and decided we just had to catch up with her. 

MCNW: According to the Propeller site, your first job was being a mascot. Mine was too! In a funny way that’s how I first learned to use an organization’s voice. Did you learn anything in that job you use today?

First of all – this is AMAZING and it makes me so happy! I had a similar experience – I learned a lot about communicating without using words, which I think made me a more physically expressive person. I saw how the mascot could serve as a great distraction for the audience when the game was slow or the team wasn’t doing well. Similarly, if a workplace is having a tough time or morale is low, it can really help to introduce some elements of fun or humor to keep everyone feeling unified and motivated. 

… as far as I could tell, the only programs available for volunteers involved quilting or yoga. Both of those are great, but not something where I could really bring any value.

MCNW: What prompted you to get involved with the Mercy Corps Northwest LIFE program? What does your time volunteering there look like?

I have strong beliefs about the way our society perceives and treats people who are incarcerated or who have felony records. I’d wanted to volunteer with the women at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility for a long time but as far as I could tell, the only programs available for volunteers involved quilting or yoga. Both of those are great, but not something where I could really bring any value.

 

The Wenatchee Applesox Coyote, Caitlin’s First Job

Last year, one of my colleagues at Propeller told me about the LIFE program and invited me to help facilitate a class on brand and marketing. After the session, I drove home from Wilsonville and called my husband, crying and excited, because it had been one of the most moving experiences of my life. I wanted to give this program and these women as much as I could. It’s hard to explain the emotion you feel when you are invited to a classroom full of women working so hard to learn and change.

 

 

After the session, I drove home from Wilsonville and called my husband, crying and excited, because it had been one of the most moving experiences of my life.

MCNW: What’s been the best story from your participation in it?

 As part of the program, the participants create a business idea and develop each aspect of their business as they learn about new concepts in class. There’s something really special and important about being told that you have great ideas and that your opinions are valuable – if you don’t get that reinforcement in K–12 schooling, you’re likely go through the rest of your life not being able to recognize your own intellectual capacity or not confident in voicing your ideas.

A few months ago, during a marketing and branding session, the participants were explaining their business concepts and announcing the name and slogan of their businesses. Some were confident and some were looking for advice from their fellow classmates.One woman, in particular, showed a real natural talent for creative business names and catchy slogans. By the end of the class, everyone was turning to her for input or ideas because she was coming up with some really brilliant material on the spot. Watching that woman’s confidence build over the course of a 2-hour class and seeing her leave the class beaming from ear-to-ear was something I’ll never forget.

MCNW: You also help out with our Business Plan Study Hall. Tell us more about that work. What does it look like to facilitate one of those?

Over the course of a study hall, I’ll chat with a custom corset company, an Iraqi bakery, and someone who is considering striking out on their own as a freelance architectural designer. It’s a real privilege to hear about what they’re working on and be available to help out. I’m there to point them in the right direction, help them gain confidence in what they already know to be true about their company, and/or close some knowledge gaps. There are so many people out there running successful businesses who may not even know how to calculate profit – this doesn’t mean anything about their skills; it’s just an opportunity for me to help them learn some concepts that will help them better understand their business and their finances.

Business Plan Study Halls take place once a month at Mercy Corps Northwest in downtown Portland. Usually there are two or three volunteer facilitators with advanced business degrees and/or a lot of business experience. People working on a plan come in for a quiet place to focus and ask questions.

By volunteering with Mercy Corps NW, you get to be a Robin Hood of business education – you’re moving this knowledge from the hands of the rich into the hands of small business owners.

MCNW: Do you have a favorite business plan you’ve worked on?

There is this woman working on an herbal birth control alternative to hormonal birth control. She had so many great ideas and big goals – educating women about their bodies and cycles, teaching classes on alternatives to mainstream birth control, an app, etc. I helped her prioritize some of the concepts in a logical cadence so she wouldn’t burnout emotionally and financially trying to do everything at once. She’s my favorite because her product involved so much risk and liability and I got involved early enough to advise her to get a good lawyer from the start. It’s important to protect both yourself and your customers when you’re venturing into something as important as reproductive health.

MCNW: Do you have any advice for people thinking about volunteering with Mercy Corps Northwest?

There’s so much need for volunteers with business experience and education. MBA programs require so much time, energy, support and money  mine was $60,000 and met twice a week from 6-10 pm for two full years. These are generally inaccessible by the majority of people. I’m not comfortable keeping all that information behind ivory academic walls – I want everyone who needs or wants that info to have access to it. By volunteering with Mercy Corps NW, you get to be a Robin Hood of business education – you’re moving this knowledge from the hands of the rich into the hands of small business owners. It’s not only a good feeling, it’s also good for our community.

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