An Interview with Carmen Westbrook, CEO of Aina Giving

Carmen Westbrook believes that we are close to bringing in a world where can come together to solve our biggest problems. Her over 15 years of experience working in government and as an “NGO consultant, community engagement specialist, and leadership and life coach” might leave you inclined to believe her, too. According to her, people contain inside themselves the necessary abilities to solve every single one of the “social, environmental, and humanitarian issues” plaguing the world right now. She believes we only need to put it all together.

To this end, Carmen Westbrook has started her own company, called Aina Giving, which has created a “way to pull these abilities out of people and use them in partnership with nonprofit, NGO, and world-change leaders” with maximum efficiency. Their process comprises “leadership coaching, nonprofit consulting, and partnership projects between community organizations and nonprofit leaders around the world.”

As a consultant, Carmen Westbrook has spent over 15 years “managing programs, operations, & community engagement in the NGO & consulting sphere.” Her company also offers “online and full-day trainings for team training, nonprofit money maximization, & volunteer management.”

As a leadership coach, Carmen Westbrook has coached numerous people across the world in their quest to become international leaders. In today’s economy, she knows what you need to become a leader yourself. She specializes in “pulling out the answers that live inside each of us,” which should help you “find your spark to live a purposeful, fulfilled life.”

Check out more interviews with purpose-driven thought leaders here.


Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Carmen Westbrook: Absolutely! I started out my career working for the Canadian Consulate in Seattle, Washington, while a student at the University of Washington. I had career ambitions of getting into policy action, taking on energy use and global warming, and changing the world. And then during college I fell in love with a military officer…and twenty years later, here I am as a leadership developer training individuals and governments to be more responsible leaders. Life tends to take quite a few unexpected twists, doesn’t it? During that time, I have been a full-time stay-at-home mom, a nonprofit leader, a community organizer, a diplomat, and a CEO of a multinational company that I started in my own home. It’s definitely been a different path than one I imagined, and it’s a path I would not change now for the world.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Carmen Westbrook: I have so, so many stories of this, and I remember consciously storing them up in my heart so I could share them later when I deemed myself successful. One of my most vivid memories is of running up and down our street, listening to a business podcast, while our youngest napped — because I couldn’t go farther away from the home than one block down, and I needed to just get out and get moving. I started my business in my own home, juggling the kid’s school and nap schedules with my “outside of the home” work, and there were many times when I felt like I couldn’t make it all work. Frankly, there were many times when I didn’t. I thought many times — and frankly, I still do — that I should just toss in the towel and be content with what I have. I remind myself that I am content…and that that doesn’t mean tossing in the towel is a necessary next step. I think one of the things that helped me most to continue was a dedication to the cause and people that we serve — those of the most vulnerable in society, that our leadership decisions impact the most.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Carmen Westbrook: I don’t do humor — it’s all do or die. Ha! No, but really, it does seem pretty intense when we’re just starting a business. I think one of my most hilarious moments was when I found myself hot-gluing together a crocheted elephant because I had to have it done for that day for a photo shoot (about leaders making handmade toys for children in need). That was definitely a moment when I realized that what I was doing wasn’t making my own heart sing — which is a good sign that a pivot is needed in a company.

Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

Carmen Westbrook: One of the top things companies can do to make this transformation is to focus on the non-monetary returns of the business as well as those fiscal returns. A great model for how to do this is the “4 Returns Business Model Canvas.” Similar to a regular business model canvas, it includes also the inspirational, social, and ecological returns that any business creates. Simply going through the steps to identify those areas in our business can help us to realize that we are more than just about money — which is one of the key identifiers for greatness. A story of this — we use this business model canvas in all of our vulnerable population programs, in an effort to help developing nations skip over the dirty industrial phase — one that we are now realizing works well in the short run, and not so well in the long run — and go straight to the socially responsible servant economy.

Another strategy companies can use — focus on relationships. I say this so often, because it’s just something that needs to be repeated during our current task-based economy. We need to focus on relationships, because relationships run the world. Our interactions should be about 80% relationship-building, 20% task-oriented. We have seen over and over that when companies do that, it seems that many of their problems melt away. Relationships run the world. Get out there and make some relationships with your crew. Dave Ramsey is a great example of this — he can sometimes be controversial, and his crew will stand behind him and support him. That means he’s been that inspirational leader that helps and supports them in their growth.

Invest in your people. Many companies will invest in training for their employees…but how about training for the families of their employees? We are so used to a silo mentality where we think that individuals live in isolation, and we’re seeing from the current mental health crisis that that’s just not true. Isolation leads to mental wellness issues, and it is imperative for companies to start seeing their individual employees as just one member of a system outside of the workplace. What do they do for fun? Who influences them and who do they spend time with? How is their family life? All of that will impact their performance — and more, it impacts how our whole society and world runs. We have to start investing in the whole individual, and that means their family as well. Offer free training and support for family members. Bring them into company events. In the military, these are mandatory — and we can see from how much military families put up with that this strategy works to create teams and systems, instead of siloed, isolated and disenfranchised individuals.

Get coach training for your employees, and especially managers. Coaching teaches us how to listen and interact with each other in effective ways — something that increases the intelligence of the whole system of our company. This one simple step can turn around the culture of your whole organization. A great example of this is “Turn That Ship Around,” a story of a Navy Captain that adopted a coaching mentality to take one of the worst ships in the US Navy fleet to being one of the best. These skillsets are out there, and it is our job to avail ourselves of them because, right now, this is not taught in the school system. A couple of great coach training institutes are CTI (coactive philosophy) and ORSC (organizational relationship systems).

Finally — do some good for your community. And I don’t mean having a litter cleanup once a year. I mean real, actual good. Get to know some of the homeless population in your area. And I mean really actually get to know them. Sign up for our coaching vulnerable populations program. Start seeing the on-the-ground impact of your company decisions. Are you doing advertising algorithms for businesses? Great! Make sure they are businesses that are also being socially responsible — or else you’ll go back to that place of serious employee turnover. People of the younger generation are no longer willing to make money just to make money. They need to know that it will be supporting causes that matter to them as well.

Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Carmen Westbrook: Oh, this is one of my favorite questions. YES! So basically what we have found is that pursuing a strategy of growth for economic growth’s sake does not work well in the long run — it creates unhealthy societies, unhealthy environments, and social and mental unrest. One of my degrees is in economics, and I love putting numbers to things — and economists, of all people, know just how much that really isn’t possible. We love to try to put a value on clean air or happiness, for example, in order to predict future impacts of current policies — and we know how much numbers fall woefully short in doing so. Companies that just pursue numbers cut out the human, relationship aspect of us — and that is our most human aspect. In the companies that we work with that don’t emphasize their purpose and social impact, we see huge turnover and not great culture. If we wouldn’t want our kids working in that culture…we shouldn’t make it in our own company. We as parents love to teach our kids that they can do anything, can take on the world and solve all of these issues — and we have to be willing to walk that walk ourselves, even if that means a huge pivot (I’ve been there, by the way. Painful and such payoff in the long run).

Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

Carmen Westbrook: Have actual conversations with your customers. This can be slower and longer…and it just makes sense. Customers right now need, more than ever, an expert in the industry that will consult with them and help them find what they really need. Sometimes we refer our customers to a competitor — not because we love self flagellation, but because we love our customers and serve them over everything else. Instead of having “buy now!” buttons all over the place, start having “how can we help you?” buttons all over the place — and a really well-trained staff member on the other end of that line.

Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Carmen Westbrook: I think the 4 returns business model is so helpful here, because businesses start realizing that they are giving to their customers something much more than just one product. Find the inspiration that you are serving to your customers and increase it. If you are not giving them inspiration — that is motivation around a common vision and purpose — then you will not become a beloved brand, you will become a machine that they occasionally use. And if you, as a business leader, cannot find the inspiration that you do actually serve…then we recommend that you and your team do some sensing sessions together to find it. With so many companies out there and so many options for consumers, we must have something that makes our customers into a tribe. And our best customers are our team members — so they need to be on board with it too. Along with inspiration, think about the social and ecological returns you are giving as well. All of that is mandatory in order to be that “go-to” brand for individuals.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Carmen Westbrook: Follow us on Facebook, Linkedin, and Instagram at Aina Giving — we love our tribe and are so happy to support and inspire them into their own brand of greatness!

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!


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