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May 1, 2022
Amy Guterman
Training Teams to Independently Innovate with Senior Director of Community Innovation, Impact Labs & Open Source Commons at Salesforce Amy Guterman

Training Teams to Independently Innovate with Senior Director of Community Innovation, Impact Labs & Open Source Commons at Salesforce Amy Guterman

Show Notes:

“How are you supposed to make a difference in something if you don’t understand it?”

Design thinking was a concept introduced to Amy later on in her career, but the seeds were planted in her education. She learned that art was about expressing yourself, but design was about having an intended goal. After she started to see the potential of human-centered design, she wanted to work in the field, even though it was nascent at the time. She saw the greater purpose and it spoke to her personally.  

The process of design thinking she works with now is about understanding all the various systems, people, and parts to a problem and identifying areas or pain points that you can pivot, tweak or entirely change to create something new. Recently her work at Impact Labs with homelessness involves working with government, agencies, and individuals and understanding what people want and need and how those needs can be met by changing the current systems. The key question to ask in this work is, “What is the role of the thing you are trying to create playing in this problem?” and being realistic about it.

“You start by talking to people.”

After an insightful fellowship post-college and a short stint of being a founder in her 20s, Amy took a job with Gravity Tank, an innovation consultancy focused on leveraging human-centered design to create new products for their clients, which was later acquired by Salesforce. The teammates she worked with were each excellent in their niche and were very willing to teach her anything she wanted to learn. She sunk her teeth into their work around global health when they submitted a proposal to the Gates Foundation for redesigning the child vaccination record. She learned to design outside of the U.S. context, with limited tools, and within the complexities of stakeholders like WHO, UNICEF, the Gates Foundation, and ministers of health. 

Once Gravity Tank was acquired by Salesforce, Amy was often approached to do pro bono work on the Innovation team, specifically within the community. This led to the conception of Impact Labs, which led her to a leadership position co-designing solutions within non-profit and educational institutions to de-risk innovation for communities.They create fit-for-purpose versions of Salesforce, the technology product, that is specifically geared for these kinds of institutions. Their goal is to provide safe space for these communities to play around with new ideas that could drive value to their market or sector by delivering pro bono work from the Salesforce Impact Labs team.

Amy’s hope is that the tools and skills that Impact Labs shares with their clients will become an asset that they can use to problem solve in many areas of their organizations, beyond the work that Labs has done specifically with them. The rubric that Labs uses to identify how they can support their clients includes potential for impact, feasibility, viability, and usability of the Salesforce technology. What the clients take from the Labs experience is much more than they plan on, including a new perspective on how technology can be used on a larger scale around social issues. 

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Amy (00:04):

It looks like really understanding all the various systems, people, parts to a problem and identifying areas or pain points where you could maybe pivot, tweak, whole hog change those components to create something new.

Mike (00:24):

Welcome to Cause and Purpose, the show about the leaders, innovators, and change agents working on the front lines to solve some of the world's greatest social challenges. I'm Mike Spear and today's guest is the senior director of community innovations impact labs and the open source commons at, Amy Guterman. Amy shares insights from her career as a founder, a consultant, and now a program director meeting design projects for social good and lets us in on some of the amazing work being done at Salesforce impact labs. We talk about design thinking, the value of risk taking in the social sector and all the ways that small incremental solutions contribute to large scale systems change. Hope you enjoyed Amy. Thanks so much for joining us on the podcast today. I'm excited to talk to you.

Amy (01:11):

Likewise. I'm excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Mike (01:15):

Tell me a little bit about yourself, about particularly, you know, the early years and how you knew you wanted to enter the social sector. Eventually

Amy (01:22):

I grew up in, in San Diego and California actually, but my parents, I was the first in my family to, uh, be born out in California. They moved from the Chicago land area before I was born and I was lucky to, uh, grow up really close to my grandparents, which, uh, I think nowadays as people kind of live all over the country, it's even less common. I feel like what I was thinking about my early years and how they impacted my career. I think a lot about my, both my parents and my grandparents. So on my dad's side, my dad, um, immigrated to the us when he was, uh, about 13 years old from Israel. Um, his parents were Holocaust survivors, um, and they had moved to Israel after the war. Um, and they actually met at a, uh, displaced person's camp in Germany where my dad was born, uh, before they moved to Israel.

Amy (02:12):

And so, um, on the one hand I had sort of his influence of what it was like coming to America and having to sort of find his own way, not speaking in the language, making something for himself and for his family providing finding opportunities. And then on the other hand, um, my mom who, um, you know, grew up in the stage, grew up in Chicago, have all these fond memories of us going over to my grandparents' house and, and crafting with them and, um, doing arts with them and understanding that, you know, design was a career path. Um, that one could take even though, um, you know, I didn't really totally understand what that meant in my early years, but all that to say, I think the combination of my dad's very entrepreneurial sort of needed to figure things out on his own when he came to the states combined with, you know, some of my grandparents love for arts and craft, you know, made me into this sort of creative enterprising person.

Mike (03:09):

When did it sort of click in that you could combine the two and, and use business as a force for good or go into social entrepreneurship?

Amy (03:17):

Yeah, I don't think that clicked until college. So I knew I wanted to do something in arts. Um, I loved to paint. I loved crafting, as I said, growing up. Um, I took like every art class I could possibly take in high school. I was one of those, like after school art class kids, I took ceramics and, uh, sculpture and everything. I just loved art, um, and making things. And, um, my dad, you know, with his business sense of, of feeling very strongly that, uh, he wanted to see our career aspirations, flourish, uh, was a little bit reticent about me going into, um, art as a, as a career. He's like, you're not gonna make any money doing that to be totally Frank. And, uh, I don't, I don't know that, you know, it's worth going to college and spending, you know, a huge sum of tuition money on, on art.

Amy (04:13):

So I somehow, um, convinced him that I would go into graphic design as a way of, uh, having, you know, a career that would be doing art, but getting paid for it, which is totally naive at the time. Cause I really didn't understand what graphic design was. Um, but that was, <laugh> how I pitched it to him. And then, um, he was like, okay, but you also have to major in business. So I said, okay. So I went to, um, I went to school to college for design and business. I quickly dropped the business part. I was terrible at accounting, hated it and was like, this is not for me. So a little bait and switch for him, kept on with the design portion. And it wasn't until my senior year that I really started to, to see the opportunity for design in social impact.

Amy (05:00):

And so what happened was, um, as I got smarter about what the role of design is, I started realizing, well, okay, design, isn't making things pretty like it's not painting and getting paid for it. Um, it's about communicating ideas and it's about, or selling an idea or making somebody feel something because of what you've put on a page visually, and that can be used for commercial purposes, but it can also be used for informational purposes. And so, um, when I was more interested in how it could be used for informational purposes, I, I found being able to convey information that's complex, um, using visual design to help clarify things was really interesting to me. And I thought I, I was, I was good at it. Like I was good at taking really, really difficult subject matter and making it clear visually through design. And so our senior year, we were gearing up to do our thesis project.

Amy (06:00):

And I came with like kind of a lighthearted topic. I have been a long time collector of troll dolls. And I was like, oh, I could do something on the history of trolls. Totally like silly and fun, but I thought it would be fun, you know, colorful, whatever my professor, the time was like, yeah, Amy, I think you can do something like a little bit more challenging and, and with some more meat on the bones, like tr try a different topic. So I said, okay, you know, fair enough. And, but I really didn't know what I was gonna do. And, um, I remember going to the library and just sort of wandering around, it was over a, like a holiday break at home. And I just was like, what am I gonna do? Like, what's a more interesting topic to work on. And so I started just pulling books out that I thought sounded interesting that I wanted to learn something about, I figured, okay, well, I might as well use this time to like, learn something new.

Amy (06:50):

I, and so I remember pulling out a whole bunch of books on us prison system. And as I got to reading, I was like, wow, this is really complicated. And really, really messed up. You know, the prison system in the us has had a long, difficult history, but also people who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated experience, a wide variety of injustices that sort of stay with them over time. And it's, it's a vicious cycle. And so as I'm reading about sort of how interconnected going to prison is with poverty, with your right to vote and policy homelessness. I started to realize like, this is a very complicated topic and, you know, I've lived a fairly privileged life and I don't know that much about this. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who doesn't know that much about this. Um, and it's really complex and confusing and it's something that's hard to understand and get into because it's not accessible information.

Amy (07:56):

And how are you supposed to make a difference in something if you don't understand it? And so I said, okay, so I'm gonna take this on as a topic. And it was the first time that I really saw the role that design could play in, in distilling and making clear something very complex and intertwined and intertangled and entangled. And, um, and so from that moment on, I was like, I, I wanna do this. I now see the role that design and my skills around making information clear and helping people understand really difficult to, to comprehend ideas and seeing connections can apply to the social sector. And I don't think I ever saw that before, which is why I was like, well, okay, I'm just gonna go to this design thing, um, that I really enjoy doing cuz art. I was always sort of like arts and making first. Um, even though I did have this sort of like long time thread of feeling like there were great injustices in the world that needed to be solved. I just didn't really know how I could give to those causes with anything meaningful until I realized that design could play a role in that. Um, then I felt like, okay, I, I, I see my, where I can fit in and support in, in hoping to make some kind of impact in the world.

Mike (09:14):

Can you kind of define what the difference is between just art and design and, and kind of what design thinking is to you?

Amy (09:21):

Yeah, sure. So I, I don't think I got to design thinking until even later, but, um, I think my, so my journey went more art design or art, visual design design thinking. Um, but the, from art to visual design, I saw okay. With art, yes, you're making, as you said, like something based on how you're feeling, it's more intrinsic, you don't necessarily have an agenda or a goal to make somebody else feel a certain way or communicate something it's about expressing yourself. And I think in design, it's about having an intended goal and, um, using the tools that you have at your disposal to reach that goal. So, you know, for commercial purposes, it might be to sell a product. And that means you're gonna design a package that looks a certain way to attract your target audience so that they pick it up on the shelf and walk away with it and walk home with it.

Amy (10:19):

For, um, for me, I started to realize that that meant, okay, there's information that we need to consume. Like I remember I worked on a project around redesigning instruc. This was in school too. So student project redesigning instructions, um, for how to give yourself an insulin shot, if you, um, have diabetes. And so those, those instructions, the way that they're conveyed, you know, can help you do that job more effectively, or it can get in the way. And it's, your job is a good visual designer to make sure that the person walks away taking the right action, um, and informed action. And so I think once I realized that design played this role of, of driving action of having a very specific goal from the outset before you even begin to do something, then I think I realized I wanna get into this even further and started exploring design thinking.

Amy (11:21):

So at the time that was a very nascent topic. Human-centered design I'm thinking. Um, when I was in school was hardly existed. It wasn't something that was widely talked about like it is now. Um, but I remember going on studio tours when I finally moved to Chicago and learning about it through doing a tour of IDEO and of, um, gravity tank where I eventually started to work. And I was like, that's what I wanna do because that human center design or design thinking is focused on really understanding your audience, the people who are using the products or the services or the goods that you intend to create. And it's about finding their unmet needs and creating new services or products that meet those needs. And I was like, that feels like it has a purpose, you know, a greater purpose than just to me selling something through, you know, compelling advertising while has a role in society. Wasn't something that spoke to me personally, whereas understanding and spending time with the people who are ultimately gonna be using a product did. And so that's sort of where I ended up.

Mike (12:29):

Yeah. How do you have like an idea for something like, okay, this needs to change this needs work and then get through to designing a solution. Like what does that process look like?

Amy (12:38):

Yeah, well, I think now, um, in the, in social sector and the work where we were doing with the impact class, it looks like really understanding all the various systems, people parts to a problem and identifying areas or pain points where you could maybe pivot, tweak whole hog change those components to create something new. For example, you know, when I think about some of the work that we had done, um, recently in one of our impact labs in homelessness, I mean, that's a, a really complex topic area. There's the role of government in that city, local, uh, and national government. There's the role of homeless service providers. There's other human service agencies that are supporting wraparound services, there's other legal sort of implications and, and entities involved. And so if you look at sort of all the parts, you can start to understand where are they not talking to each other, where are their challenges, um, in how these things are coming together.

Amy (13:44):

But I think you start by talking to people, you start by understanding what, what are government officials motivated by? What is the, what are they trying to solve? What are their challenges? What are people who are experiencing homelessness, you know, experiencing, what's getting in the way of them getting the services they need. And then what's getting in the way of the service providers from helping them meet those needs. So I think just by starting to understand where all of the unmet needs are, you can then start to see opportunities for places to, to make a change. Um, and obviously it's a long journey from, from that point forward. But I think that's where you could start.

Mike (14:23):

People think they might be asking a good question, but if they're, unless they're really honed in on what the right questions are to ask, they can end up creating stuff. That's like is of no use to anybody because the entire frame of the project is wrong.

Amy (14:34):

And that's something, you know, we've definitely had experience with. And I think as well with impact labs, specifically, as we're taking on these larger topic areas, and we're trying to bring multiple stakeholders to the table and multiple voices to the table, to co-create with us, it's easy to have scope creep. Like it becomes, well, we can't just focus on this one narrow thing because then it's not gonna really solve the problem, which is true. It's not. And so it is sort of a balance. How do you stay really, you know, targeted in what you're trying to accomplish, but then how do you also allow for enough breath of conversation to have it understand how that like specific thing fits into the larger context? You know, many people feel the desire to work, to see change happen faster and more holistically, but that's obviously really hard. And so sometimes, you know, it is helpful to move the needle in a small way, through one small targeted solution. It might not be, you know, the, the end all be all, but it can help in the interim. And I think sometimes figuring out like, what is the role of a thing you're trying to create playing in this problem and, and being realistic about it is helpful too.

Mike (15:50):

So tell me about gravity tank. What is gravity tank and what, what brought you to

Amy (15:53):

Them? Yeah, so gravity tank was an innovation consultancy based in Chicago. Uh, and we were focused on leveraging design, human centered design to develop new products and services for our clients. And so clients ranged from all over fortune 500 types, clients, consumer package goods, consumer electronics, um, social impact and social innovation. Uh, and so when I started there, there was the, the people who worked there were incredible. And I I'm using past tense because it got acquired by Salesforce and which maybe I'm jumping the gun a little bit, um, in 2016. So it doesn't exist anymore. But the people, as part of gravity team were incredibly special. Everyone had their own sort of expertise in something, and everyone was willing to help you learn about it. So you ever had a question, it was just a very nurturing environment where you could go and talk to anybody and they would be more than happy to sit down with you for an hour or more and help you learn something new.

Amy (16:54):

It was there that, um, I met a few people who were also passionate about using design for social impact and they had different backgrounds. One of 'em came from more of a business strategy background. One came from a research and theater background. Um, another came from UX design background. Um, and I think what was cool is we were all interested in how can we use this sort of broad, bigger sense of design for social impact? Um, and, and how can we do that? You know, we are an, we were an innovation consultancy. We were for profit. We had to, the projects we had to take on because it was a relatively small company had to be paid. Like, how could we do this, get paid for our work and still make an impact. And I think that was a question we were always trying to figure out working together.

Amy (17:39):

Um, and so while there, I worked on a, a couple of different projects on different topics in social Maxo education, global health, but the, the work that I really felt like I sent my teeth into was the workaround global health. So we, um, randomly decided to, uh, submit to a competition that the bill and Melinda gates foundation was hosting, uh, around redesigning the child, uh, vaccination record. And so we submitted that a group of us got together, redesigned, it worked on it. Um, and we ended up winning that submission, um, which was amazing because it was an interesting thing to start to dive into, but what was really truly great was sort of what followed, which was this ongoing, um, body of work around global health. And it started in home based vaccination records for children. Um, and then it grew to paper based health information systems in low to moderate income countries.

Amy (18:34):

And so when, um, sort of at the end of my time at gravity tank, uh, we had taken on a really exciting project that actually is just wrapping up now, I think, um, several years later that was to redesign paper-based health information systems, as I mentioned in, in three countries in Africa. So in <inaudible> Nigeria and Mozambique, and, um, the goal was to understand how the data was being captured and the most rural parts of these countries and in villages and how the health workers at that point of care could provide and make better decisions based on the information that they had at hand, knowing that they didn't have easy access to computers or wifi or any of those resources, um, to be able to make those decisions, it had to be based on their paper tools. Um, and so we were then going to run a randomized controls trial with an academic research institution to understand the efficacy of those tools, and if they were actually making an impact on how caretakers were able to make decisions and ultimately care for their populations and their communities.

Amy (19:44):

So that work was phenomenal. Something that I think I really learned a lot from both what it meant to design outside of the us context. Um, what it meant to design was like limited constraints around technology, what the value of some of these paper tools, which we might have dismissed in the us are in other countries. Um, and then also the complexities of stakeholders. So we, um, sort of tangential to this work where a series of workshops we were doing, um, in Southeast Asia and also in, in Africa, um, with w H O UNICEF, um, the gates foundation ministries of health for, for each of the countries we were working with, um, to help them just redesign, you know, one, one single artifact and what, how complicated it was to get the stakeholders aligned and all the people aligned to design one piece of paper. Like I just learned so much from that and bringing them along in the design process and hosting workshops with them really helps them build that conviction and enthusiasm and understanding for why these tools are really important, but it just goes to show like how difficult it is to make change and how, you know, that was just one that was one piece of important paper, um, like to change an entire system. I mean, that's really hard

Mike (21:06):

<laugh> at this point you're acquired by Salesforce. What was that like? What was the reason for the acquisition? I'm curious about the transition

Amy (21:13):

We got acquired in 2016. And I remember it so clearly because the only people who knew were the partners at gravity tank, uh, before it was gonna happen. So we had no idea, I wasn't a partner. We had no idea that this thing was coming down the line. And we had just gotten my colleague and I, who are working on this, uh, paper based health information project. Um, had just gotten back from Switzerland, doing this workshop with w H O with UNICEF, with the case foundation, with our academic research partners, um, in Bosel. And we were so excited about the work that we were doing. Um, my colleague had also been working on a proposal to do this really amazing project, um, in, I believe it was in Ethiopia for five years around innovation labs. We were so excited. We're like, we're finally like, you know, making headway around this social innovation work at gravity tank. And then we get called into an all office, all hands meeting last minute by a partner who never does anything last minute. So if we were like, okay, something's weird. <laugh> yep. And they tell us, like, we're getting by Salesforce. We were just like, wait, what, who's Salesforce

Mike (22:30):

<laugh> you hadn't been partners before

Amy (22:34):

In full transparency. Like I, okay. Um, you ever come to Chicago? The gravity tank office was literally across the street from the Salesforce Chicago office. That was the only thing I knew about Salesforce was this like cloud in the background, across the street. And most people, it was the same like yes, CRM company, like, okay, what, what are we doing there? We don't understand the role <laugh>. So it was pretty jarring at first, um, you know, going from a small 60, 70 person company to, you know, at the time I think Salesforce was like 25,000 people, and now it's 75,000 people, significant growth in, in short amount of time. But we ended up getting acquired into, um, a team. It was called ignite, and it was focused on, um, innovation consulting and sort of strategic advising for, uh, Salesforce's top customers who were mostly in the fortune 100 at the C-suite.

Amy (23:30):

So we became consultants helping these organization, Salesforce customers figure out how to, um, digitally transform and shift their business models to kind of embrace a more inevitable digital future and better serve their customers. So that was a pretty big shift for a lot of people at the, at gravity tank at the time, because we, we did do digital work, but we also did consumer package goods, like I said earlier, and all these other sort of more physical artifacts, and we were often designing products and services. And so it was a little bit like, okay, what's our role? How do we, first of all, we have to understand what Salesforce does and its capability. And then what does it mean now in this consulting world for them? So all that said, I, at the time, because I had been doing a lot of social innovation work, uh, me and, and the colleague I mentioned earlier, we were sort of always approached when there was an opportunity to do some kind of pro bono work with the, within our innovation team.

Amy (24:34):

And so one of the pro bono projects that, uh, I was approached with and asked to help out on and, and come and lead was with team. And so They were completely separate entities, even though there was like loose ties in between. And mark Benioff was still the chairman of the board, um, over, they, um, asked the ignite team to come help, facilitate a process, to help them figure out what to do with a previous grant program that they had and kind of using all of the skills and, and strengths that Salesforce has in a way that they could give back and, and work with the community in a more meaningful way. And so that project, um, eventually led to the conception of impact labs. And, and, um, I remember actually sitting at a table brainstorm table with folks that you you've met over at Salesforce.

Amy (25:32):

And we were thinking about, you know, what are the best ways we can combine our technology, our talent, um, our ecosystem and platform with what our community brings to bear, which is around the expertise of a social issue to really help to drive, uh, innovation and social impact forward. And so from that, you know, came impact labs. Um, and so I was lucky enough to be able to come over and lead the launch of it, not too long after. Um, and, and still there today. And now, uh, in a little bit of expanded capacity around community innovation,

Mike (26:06):

What is Salesforce do org impact labs? What do you guys do? How's it been for you since you launched?

Amy (26:11):

Yeah, so we launched it about two and a half years ago. Um, impact labs is focused on co-designing technology solutions with our community of nonprofit institutions and education institutions. And, um, really the goal was to figure out how we could de-risk innovation for our community by supporting with what, you know, we know to that we do best, which is around our tech and our talents, um, to offset some of the risk associated with innovation. So it's been a journey it's been really fun to launch. I think I mentioned earlier, I like being sort of at the ground level building something it's, it's exciting for me. And I think this is the, was the perfect sort of combination of working within a larger corporation and having the network and the resources of that organization and corporation, but still being able to sort of carve out and build something new, um, from the ground up. And that's been a really interesting place for me to spend time in. Um, and I've, I've really enjoyed it.

Mike (27:13):

I'm sure that a lot of our audience doesn't know what Salesforce impact labs is. So I'd, let's start by defining it, you know, what is the program and how do you guys go about doing the work that you do?

Amy (27:22):

Let me just start with generally. So is focused on working with our nonprofit and education customers to help them deliver more value on their missions in, in their organizations. And so it's fit for purpose versions of Salesforce, our technology product that is specifically geared for nonprofits and educational institutions. So where impact labs comes in in that is we recognize that our community, which is really strong in driving of nonprofit organizations, into of educational institutions and the partners that serve them, consultants and partners have really incredible ideas for how to drive innovation with technology in their sectors, what they often lack are the resources to be able to do that themselves. So they're, they're nonprofits are not technology companies. They often don't have the tech expertise in house, nor do they have the funding to sort of experiment with what that could look like and what a new technology idea could look like.

Amy (28:24):

And so we said, okay, could we provide a safe space for them, for our community to be able to play around, think about new ideas that could be driving value to their markets and not just their organization, but sort of the issue at large or the sector at large. And can we provide Salesforce talent through pro bono time and volunteer time and our technology through our platform in order to deliver that and drive that purpose. And so what impact labs is it's a, a space, a sort of virtual cohort space of, um, individuals who have an expertise on a specific issue that come together to work with us on figuring out ways technology might be able to help move the needle on that issue. So we take on different lab topics, um, and then we invite a diverse set of people with different perspectives, a lot of intentionality around bringing together different perspectives across different sectors to address and inform the solutions we create around that issue.

Amy (29:38):

So for example, the, um, issues taken on to date are, uh, housing and homelessness, equity and education and climate action. Climate justice specifically is the, the lab that's currently running. And so for each cohort, we've had about 10 to 15. What we call community fellows who are experts in the field from nonprofit, from education, from government, from really any sort of from academia, if they just sort of have that, uh, expertise in an area to lend from lived experiences. And we bring them together with volunteers who are Salesforce, employees, who are donating their time and skills to actually help co-create solutions built on the Salesforce platform that might start to address some of these issues. Uh, so for example, out of the equity and education work, we, we just did we, um, partnered with educational institutions from community colleges, do, uh, four year institutions, both large, small, historically black universities and colleges, um, to identify ways where technology could play a role in supporting the, uh, onboarding experience or the transition between high school and post-secondary education, um, for what's called a non-traditional student.

Amy (30:54):

So somebody who is not going directly from high school to college and, um, might be working full time and has a whole bunch of other stipulations that make it more difficult to succeed in school, um, and are from my a minority background. And so from that, we developed, um, a chat bot, uh, that's focused on helping students answer questions around financial aid, um, and the FAA application in particular, recognizing that that's a really critical barrier for individuals to be able to attend a post-secondary education and needing to provide and finding answers to some of those financial questions are not easy. It requires often somebody to explain them to you, but if you don't have somebody to explain them to you, who do you ask? Um, and many students express, you know, being embarrassed to ask questions about some of these financial issues that they had. And so, um, a chat bot was a way for them to be able to ask neutral questions as a starting point before then kind of getting escalated to somebody who could, you know, be more hands on with them and, and, and talk to them more face to face about their specific issues.

Mike (32:00):

What's the process like to sort of formulate, you know, the, the thing you want to create and then to get buy in from the community. People that'll actually build it, get them excited about something to work on that may be small and, and not flashy like, like a chatbot,

Amy (32:15):

I mean, the way we get by in is by doing it together. Um, I find like you involve people in creating the ideas and coming up with the ideas, they feel a lot more conviction around the idea going forward and ownership around it. These ideas were generated in our workshops with our community members. Um, and yes, they were just like a seedling of an idea, half bake sketch on a piece of paper, but they, um, then with some rigor and support from our pro bono volunteers who are giving their time that our Salesforce employees, we were able to sort of flesh out the idea a little bit more and through their act of fleshing out the idea, getting smarter on the idea, understanding interviewing students on the ideas that they started getting more invested and bought in as well, um, and felt a lot of motivation to carry it forward, to build it out.

Amy (33:01):

And I think, you know, you, you touched on like not flashy and shiny thing, like a chat bot, you know, so it's interesting. This is something we, we talk about a lot at impact labs where like we're taking on these big challenges that you start with, like, how can we address equity and education around ensuring better access for in this case, black and Latinx learners who are trying to go and seek post secondary education degrees and like higher education and learning. Okay, that's a huge challenge, right? That's not small <laugh> that has, uh, many different facets to it. And there's many different ways you could sort of try to move the needle in that, and there's different angles to approach it from. And so when you get to then this, okay, here's the solution we're gonna pursue. There is often a moment of like, okay, is that gonna be meaningful enough?

Amy (33:57):

And I think it's a good question to ask and always be, keep reminding ourselves of, um, like, is this enough value? Um, are we moving the needle in some way? But then I think we also need to be realistic. Like one entity is not gonna solve the entire, like every issue we have with equity and education. It really is gonna take time and it's gonna take coordination. And so, yes, while this might be a solution that's coming out of the labs. I also hope that the connections fostered through the community fellows who didn't know each other beforehand, who came from all different schools and EDDs help them look for other ways of working together in the future, help them see something that they could bring back to their organizations that is different than how they would've thought about it. Before I can give an example, this is from our, our homelessness work.

Amy (34:45):

We were working with, uh, the salvation army and one of the individuals that we were working with there, he, um, we were just chatting, you know, catching up after the lab had wrapped. And he was like, you know, what, those, uh, tools that you gave us around how to pitch an idea. I still use those. I use them to pitch to my board when I wanna launch a new program at the salvation army in San Francisco, because it helps me distill my thinking more so that I can get the idea across more clearly and hopefully get funding and backing for it. So I'm like, that's amazing, like one little tool that we thought maybe nothing of, you know, in, in the process helped him get funding for new programs that he was launching to help, you know, the homeless population in, in San Francisco. So I think there's all different ways that, um, we can see positive outcomes from the work that we are doing. Uh, and it doesn't just have to be in like, what is the artifact that's been created out of the lab?

Mike (35:45):

Do you have a framework for sort of evaluating those ideas and deciding which ones go into action? Like how, how does that look from this initial impulse through to actually creating a project around it and getting Salesforce staff involved with building it?

Amy (35:58):

Yeah. So I would say the, the rubric we use really comes into play when we're deciding whether or not, or what and what we should, what we're building. So the ideas that start getting generated by the community members and by our, our volunteers that are also participating along in the process, let's say we get five ideas that are really compelling. Then we start, uh, putting them through a rubric to help us narrow in on which ones will add the most value and which ones are we best suited to, to support and build a Salesforce. Some of the, the criteria that we use for that are, um, potential for impact viability, feasibility, um, and Salesforce fit. So, you know, potential for impact is around like, are we going to be serving a, a large enough a number of people moving the needle on the issue in some way through this solution, feasibility is can we build something in a relatively short amount of time with pro bono volunteer support, um, that will be useful for the community because, you know, our labs are six to nine months and we have, the solutions will remain open source and available, um, for, for whoever wants to work on 'em.

Amy (37:11):

But, you know, we're, we're really looking at like, what's, what can we spark in that amount of time as a first step? Uh, and, and can it still be usable, you know, viability looking at like, is somebody already else somebody else already doing this? Like, there's no point us recreating the wheel on, on an idea if it's already been done, unless we have a really substantially different way of doing it, that's gonna add value and impact in a different way. Um, and then last one, of course, is Salesforce fit? Does our technology make sense for it? Isn't aligned with, um, our values as a company as well. Cause not every solution is a, you know, a good fit for our tech either. And some solutions are, are much more, um, in like the soft skills around, like we should host these convenings where people can do a bunch of idea sharing and, you know, learn from each other and have a network. And we're like, that's amazing. Like our tech could back that and help foster it, but it still needs a lead entity. And it wouldn't necessarily be us to like host those convenings and those gatherings, uh, moving forward.

Mike (38:09):

What happens after you sort of completed that part and you know, what, what life does it have? How, you know, what does that look like?

Amy (38:15):

Yeah. So this is something we're still honing in on. I would say right now we have two solutions that, uh, tech solutions that have been created. One, it was called service match out of the housing homelessness work. And that's available on our app exchange for free to download, um, and is sort of an end to end solution for how case managers can refer services for people experiencing homelessness and then keep track of those services all in Salesforce, where they're also doing other case management work and work around keeping track of their, their clients, their organization. So that's one of them. And the other one is they mentioned is the financial aid bot and excited about the direction, the financial aid bot, because we partner with the education cloud team and they have the long term resources to support a bot over time. And I don't expect that every solution we create will end up, you know, being part of Salesforce's product roadmap.

Amy (39:06):

Um, but we are always interested in looking for partnerships to think about sort of how something carries on past an MVP. Um, so part of it is put, it is getting the MVP out there, launching it, building traction with it, seeing what the uptake is, and if we're getting the positive feedback, um, around that tool, then making sure that we're looking actively for, for partners or, um, communities that could embrace it, take it on, carry it forward, um, to help make sure that it stays updated. It doesn't sort of just become this stale piece of technology on a shelf. So I think part of the beauty of a lab though, is some things will go on and, and see impact and be successful and, and other things might not, and that's fine. Like we're not gonna have successes in everything we do. Um, that would be very unlikely.

Amy (39:54):

I mean, sure, nice. But, uh, not realistic. And we wanna be able to take risks and try different approaches. And, and part of that is being okay and comfortable with failing and having something be like, okay, we learned from that moment in time and you know, we're gonna take a pivot on a different and approach, you know, our next round differently because of what we learned. And then lastly, I think knowing what I, what I mentioned earlier, that there's a lot more that our community members are taking out of these experiences together as a cohort than simply the, the tech that's coming out of it at the end, that I think is really valuable from what we've heard from them. Um, there's insights that we're sharing back with the community, from the research that's being conducted for how you can, um, think about using tech at your own institution, or if you're an innovative nonprofit and you wanna invest in tech, like here's the areas where there's unmet needs. There's a lot more coming out of these than the tech solution themselves that I think can help to scale and open up conversation around the way technology gets used in some of these social issues.

Mike (40:56):

How does Salesforce impact labs think about impact and what's the tolerance for failure?

Amy (41:01):

First of all, I think the Salesforce culture is really metric oriented and, and driven around measurable outcomes, which was really new for me. Actually, I feel like coming from an art design background and then from an, uh, from work in, at an innovation consultancy where our research was largely qualitative, um, and really rooted in, in, in depth conversations with individuals less. So I would say in, in the quantitative approach, um, that was something new for me that I have had to learn and sort of figure out getting coming into Salesforce is how do we talk about our impact in terms of numbers and moving the needle in that way, not just anecdotal stories, which are also valuable, uh, but what's the combo. So I just wanna say that for impact labs. I think with that, we've been thinking about how do we measure, uh, impact on our solutions.

Amy (41:56):

And so for, um, service match, you know, we've talked about administering sort of a, a post-install survey to people we know who have downloaded and are using it to understand if it's making any change on some of the proposed value drivers we saw for it. So we had hypothesized that, you know, the tool would help save case managers time, bring up more time for them to have high value conversations with their clients around, you know, giving them the supports that they need, not just searching for services, um, to direct them to, uh, and, and things like that. And so tho those are some of the actions we'd like to, to understand and track and, and be able to follow over time, um, because the solutions are so new, we don't have that data yet. So I can't speak to it. Um, at this point in time, the faba is only just getting released to kind of a small pilot cohort as a start, um, right now.

Amy (42:53):

So we don't have any kind of long longitudinal data to understand what that would look like at this point in time, but that's something we are, um, wanting to track and planning to reflect on that. We just don't have the data yet at the point, to be able to report back on it. In the meantime, we are trying to understand the stories, like what I told you about the salvation army and, you know, like where are there times in the programs that, um, you're taking something away from this, that, and being able to apply it to the work that you're doing, um, on the ground within your own organization. Um, and how is that adding value to your work and your mission?

Mike (43:29):

How, how are you looking ahead to those moments where you might not have a product that you're gonna scale?

Amy (43:33):

That's the beauty of, I think being at Salesforce actually is there is a lot of tolerance for failure. Like people try things all the time at the company, not everything moves forward and, and becomes, you know, like a new cloud and a whole new product, some things, uh, start. And they, they last for a couple years and then they sort of gradually sunset. And so I think that the appetite and the tolerance of the company for being innovative, trying new things, taking risks is quite high. Um, which I think is why being able to do a program like this is, um, part of what makes it possible also, is it just the overall culture of giving back at the company is what makes it possible? So I, I think that that's been really helpful, um, with all of our advisors and stakeholders and like they recognize it, not everything. I mean, if you look at like a venture capitalist, not everything that they invest in is gonna win, you know, not everything is gonna become IPO and become public sure. And the next, whatever Facebook or mark Zuckerberg, <laugh>,

Mike (44:34):

I think a lot in terms of, uh, expected value, making expected value calculations, and looking at the, the potential versus the downside and just taking educated guesses. And you're hoping that depending on what that ratio looks like, you know, you only need 10% to pay off, uh, to make it totally worthwhile.

Amy (44:49):

I would think we're not being irresponsible either. Like the last thing that I would wanna do is put something out there that we felt like was designed in a way that could actually do more harm than good. So I would say there's that too, like, you know, we're, we're doing our due diligence to make sure that like anything we're trying and we're piloting when we're testing is not gonna do more harm than good, because that's also like, just because failure's okay, but like you can't be, you know, doing harm to, to real people in their lives.

Mike (45:21):

I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on the sector as a whole and kind of what our community, as social impact leaders and professionals can learn and, and you know, how we should be thinking about those dynamics moving forward and trying to deepen the impact that we're creating.

Amy (45:34):

Yeah. I mean, that's a great question. I think I can only speak from, from my experience, but I think you're right in that, um, impact labs is, you know, in the vein of coalition building, um, across public partner, public and private partnerships. Um, and I think that that plays an important role. I, I feel like as we talked about earlier, you know, the social issues we're facing today are not simple. They're very complex. They have many different entities and stakeholders involved. It's not for example, you know, thinking about the work we did in homelessness, it's not just the homeless service provider. That's serving that individual. It's the healthcare system. It's other nonprofit organizations providing resume building skills and food services and food banks and governmental assistance programs. There's a lot, uh, that touches on any single issue. And so I think the more that we can start to coordinate across entities better will be able to serve our end population, our, our end user, if you will.

Amy (46:41):

So in this case, the person who's experiencing homelessness, and I think it's easy to get caught up in what your organization is doing and sort of forget to understand how each individual set of work might affect that individual. And then how, uh, you can times that by like all the entities that they're working with. So to sort of say that another way, like an individual who's experiencing homelessness, they're feeling all of the multifacetedness of an issue, a single organization, my only experience, the challenges that they're having sort of within their organization and within their funder directly, or, or whatnot, but that person who's receiving those benefits. They're experiencing that through the interaction they have with that one organization that might be around homeless services with the food bank that they're going to with the government assistance programs that they're leveraging with the healthcare system. And so they're having to retell a lot of their own stories and, and experiences in order to get the supports that they need. And so all that said, I, I feel like if we can help connect more dots on the back end, that it can make the experience for people we're trying to serve a little bit more streamlined and that's way easier said than done, it's really complicated, but, you know, I'm excited by the potential for both the technology to play a role in that, but then also, you know, having the right stakeholders and permissions and buy in to make some of that information flow happen more effectively.

Mike (48:09):

Tell us about Salesforce, open source commons. What what's that all about and what are you working on there?

Amy (48:13):

Last summer, I came over to launch impact labs initially, and then my role expanded to include a program that has been existing in our community for several years, years already led, um, and launched by another woman, uh, incredible woman, Judy. So, so she launched a program, uh, called open source commons, which, uh, is just an incredible group of, uh, community members and Salesforce, nonprofits, and educational institutions that are coming together to provide tools and trainings that help enable people to build on the Salesforce platform to support uh, non-profits and educational institutions. And so, um, that program has, you know, hundreds of folks involved in, um, helping to find ways of building on top of the platform to support non-profits so free, open source tools, hence the name open source commons. I thought it was worth mentioning here too, because it's not just sort of these LAR like big cause specific areas that we're taking that we do in impact cloud, but it's also, you know, helping to train and get the tools in the hands of, um, nonprofits and educational institutions as well,

Mike (49:20):

Outside of the restrictions that you're currently working under. What, what do you think is the most important issue to be tackling right now? Just, just for humanity or what would you wanna take on if you, if you could choose a hundred percent, you know, what does Amy wanna work on today?

Amy (49:33):

I am really interested in challenges in healthcare. I think part of it is the work that we had done in, in global health before joining, um, where I just saw so much disparity and complication. Then part of it is I didn't mention this earlier, but my, my dad actually passed away from cancer when I was 22. And that was right at the end of my college career when he got diagnosed. And, and I think healthcare is something that touches everybody and everyone should have access to. And not only is it an access issue, but it's also once you're there, like how easy is it to unravel and how confusing insurance companies and coverage are in the us and understanding your, your medical bills, your medical education literacy, like it's all very difficult to unravel. And then you're talking about being in a potentially highly stressful, emotional time of your life. To me, there's, there's a lot of work that can be done there to improve the experience. And there has been a lot of work done to improve patient experience, at least in the us. But, um, I think that's a something that I would personally be really driven and interested to dive into further

Mike (50:50):

When you're ready to retire and go travel or, you know, hang out in Chicago land and not work. When you look back on your career, what would you like to have accomplished?

Amy (50:58):

I think I would feel really good about having made some kind of positive influence on the people that I, I work with day in, day out in the, um, cohorts that we're working with. I want to help mentor and nurture people to grow into the careers and find their pathways and do the things that, you know, they love and where that they find can bring impact to the world. And so I would love to sort of look back and feel like, oh, I've worked with these people who went to do on to do some amazing things. And, you know, I'm so glad I was part of their journey at least for part of some time in their lives. So I think that would be one thing. And then, because I am a maker, I think, you know, it is exciting to see the things that you've built out in the world. So I would like to look back and, and see like, oh, these are some things that like I helped to create that have landed in the world somewhere and they're still going and they're, or they've made some impact and now somebody else is running with it and it's pivoted and changed. But knowing that, like the things that you actually spent time building, you know, exist and, and have launched and moved forward,

Mike (52:14):

What's next for you and for impact labs,

Amy (52:16):

Impact labs. We're about to think about our next topic that will be taken on coming soon. So stay tuned for that, um, when we announce it, and then we're always thinking about how to pivot and shift the program so we can kind of get to the best outcomes possible. Well, I told you, I just got back from attorney leave. So for me, it's getting reacclimated into the workforce, spending time with my family and really favoring kind of the, the early days I have with my son.

Mike (52:41):

How can we learn about the work, submit a challenge, uh, for impact labs to tackle, how do we get in touch,

Amy (52:47):

Visit us online, uh, lab. You learn more about the program. That's where you can submit a challenge as well. And as I mentioned, stay tuned and, uh, pretty soon we'll come out with our next focus area and ways for people to get involved in that too.

Mike (53:00):

I really enjoyed the conversation. Thanks so much. It's always great to talk to you, but I just, I love going down some of these little rabbit holes with you. Thanks.

Mike (53:09):

Well, that's our show for this week, as always, there's more information in the show notes, please check them out at For our next episode. We're back in startup mode with the co-founder and CEO of worthy mentoring, Michael Edmondson. Worthy mentoring came out of observation, lots of collaboration and personal experience with the challenges of coming out as LGBTQ plus students and adults. This innovative program matches individuals with mentors of similar backgrounds, situations, careers, and interests to maximize the depth of the mentor, mentee relationships, and provide incredible support for the mentees during these complex and often difficult times. This episode is part of our continuing series focused on the founders of early stage nonprofit startups in partnership with fast forward social good accelerator program until next time cause and purposes of production and on behalf of myself, Amy and our entire team. Thank you for listening. And we look forward to speaking with you again soon.

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Cause & Purpose is a production of Altruous, an impact discovery and management platform for the next generation of philanthropists. Learn more about our work by visiting

This episode was edited by Worthfull Media. Original music composed by Justin Klump of Podcast Music and Sound.

Copyright 2024, all rights reserved.

People in this episode

Mike Spear

Social entrepreneur, consultant, and podcast producer, Spear has been a member and critic of the impact sector since 2006. His work spans product, innovation, impact advising, storytelling, and go-to-market strategies. Part of the founding team at, specializing in helping social good organizations build amazing products, increase their impact, and scale.

Amy Guterman

Amy Guterman is a human-centered designer and innovator, with a focus on leveraging tech for social impact. She is the Senior Director of Community Innovation, Impact Labs & Open Source Commons at Salesforce. At Salesforce, her team leads Impact Labs and Open Source Commons to foster community collaboration and inspire innovation on the world's most pressing challenges. Amy's work includes designing interventions to address issues in equity in education, housing and homelessness, and global health information systems. Her work has been featured in publications such as Forbes, FastCo, Wired, and The Verge and recognized internationally by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The White House.


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