The New Executive
An Interview with Ian Schafer
An Interview with Ian Schafer
Increasingly, organizations are being held accountable for action on issues that include diversity, equity, inclusion, allyship, sustainability, violence, poverty, nutrition, education, and mental health. Business leaders often want to take action on these important issues, but lack the information and resources to know what decisions to make. Kindred bridges this gap as a professional network built to prepare executives for the future of socially responsible business. Launched in 2020 by Ian Schafer and Elyssa Byck, Kindred helps its members more intelligently and urgently close the gap between intent and action by providing access to a collaborative network of their peers, to renowned experts and training, and to the information, analysis, data, and research they need to make increasingly important decisions. Kindred’s founding members include executive and C-Suite leaders from organizations including Salesforce, Chobani, GM, Nike, HBO, Color of Change, Twitter, Comic Relief, Allbirds, Havas, Dentsu, and Wells Fargo.
We at Human Ventures share Kindred’s vision for the future and we are proud to be early investors in their company. As the world’s paradigms shift, so will the demographics of the founders building the future. The biggest businesses will have a deep sense of responsibility. Businesses will deliver value to all stakeholders, not just shareholders, taking care of employees, vendors, and customers alike.
We recently caught up with Ian to hear more about his vision for the future of socially responsible business — aka business. Read our conversation with Ian below.
Ian, tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to start Kindred.
IS: My background was largely in media and entertainment over the last 15+ years — which has been quite a rollercoaster ride. A lot has happened in that time including the advent of digital media and the decline of the movie theatre. Early in my career, I realized that the world of media and advertising was unprepared for how much digital transformation would impact their industries. I started my own agency called Deep Focus (an homage to the movie industry) to help companies figure out how to tame the advent of digital and social media and use them to their advantage. I sold that agency in 2010 and took it global while continuing to work for the parent company through the end of 2017.
All the while, I kept seeing the systemic issues in the various industries we were working with firsthand. I saw the disconnect between how companies portrayed themselves and the actions they took. I saw the groundswell of activism moving from the fringes into the mainstream. These issues had become a part of the cultural conversation and were rapidly integrating into corporate culture. It was clear that shareholder capitalism was moving toward stakeholder capitalism. For me, history seemed to be repeating itself or at least rhyming — I had witnessed paradigm shifts in business before.
I realized that these systemic issues in society would be as disruptive to companies as digital was, and that the next era of business generation would be about social impact. That’s what inspired me to start Kindred.
How does Kindred work with companies to take action around the cultural changes they are looking to make?
IS: Doing good is good for business. We now have the data to back that up. However, just like the rest of the world, business in general is in transition right now. So in order to get through it, everyone needs navigational help. I’ve found that one of the biggest reasons why companies are unsure of what to do to address their own systemic social issues is that they don’t have enough confidence. And often, a lack of confidence stands in the way of taking action. But companies don’t make decisions, people make decisions. Companies stand by them, but people have to get more comfortable making decisions that appear to be difficult. Otherwise, companies won’t be able to react to sensitive social issues decisively enough. I realized that the best thing that we could do was be the resource for helping leaders bridge the gap between intent and action at their organizations. We do that by providing access to the tools, resources, experts, and information that are necessary for leaders to make better decisions on behalf of their organizations.
Kindred originally launched with an events focus. Can you share more about your pivot in 2020?
IS: Kindred’s primary goal has always been to help business and nonprofit leaders make better internal and external decisions in areas ranging from diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging, to sustainability and the climate, to mental health and wellness, to food insecurity, financial literacy, and beyond. We built Kindred as a network of leaders who are empowered to make better decisions through a mix of education, access to experts, and one another. We originally launched as an event business to launch a conference that would catalyze the conversation about this new era of business transformation and were planning to host it in San Diego in May 2020. When COVID hit, it eliminated our ability to hold any events and we made the difficult decision to cancel the conference. We do plan to host events in the future, but in the meantime, we are addressing the increasing demand for this type of community head-on. The format may have changed, but the mission remains the same. In fact, COVID has catalyzed the conversation with an even greater sense of urgency. It highlighted many imminent, intersectional issues that were accelerated or exacerbated by the pandemic that businesses needed to respond to. People turned their trust to businesses and companies, not the government, to do something about these issues. Employees’ expectations of their leaders were different. Executives need to be equipped to handle these heightened expectations.
As groups of leaders come together, they are able to build confidence to make better decisions through validation. Kindred acts as an API for companies, organizations, and their executives to plug into to reinforce important and inevitable decisions. Members can talk about the issues that they are facing amongst peers in similar roles. We provide them with virtual research assistants, armed with data and research to inform their decisions. We help leaders break out of their bubbles — home, industry, work, network. For our first cohort, we invited over 100 members to join who were all senior enough to make decisions on behalf of their organizations. It was very important for us to work with a variety of organizations, ensuring that Kindred was able to include non-profits in addition to for-profit companies. Historically, non-profits were a recipient of philanthropy dollars, but now a lot of non-profits are solving logistical problems and corporate partnerships have become critical to their operations. Business leaders are more often taking leadership positions at nonprofits in their prime — not in the sunset of their careers — and bringing business rigor. They need support too — and they bring a lot to the community.
How do you think about supporting the next generation of leaders?
IS: Our members are business and nonprofit executives whose decisions can lead to systemic change. When you become a Kindred member, you can bring someone with you to the programming with a guest pass. This empowers our members to bring their organizations’ emerging leaders to participate — it’s one of the many ways we have learned to make an exclusive experience as inclusive as possible. The next generation of more representative leadership can’t just take power, it must be given to them. The leaders of today will be remembered for how they groomed the leaders of tomorrow.
We strive to create an inclusive, supportive environment that openly embraces the next generation of leaders who will be a part of every solution, for all stakeholders.
Ian recently shared more about The New Executive at Human’s Annual Summit — watch the full conversation here.
About Human Ventures
Human Ventures is a business creation platform, comprised of a venture fund, studio, and enterprise agency. We invest in ambitious founders who are building in what we call the “Human Needs economy.” Human Needs encompasses products and services that address material human problems — specifically those in the areas of health and wellness, the future of work and community.