This post was originally produced for Forbes.
The fleeting memories of her childhood didn’t make sense until her mother told her the story of the poverty they’d experienced when Sheryle Gillihan was just a toddler. Now a CEO serving people experiencing poverty, she says she’s “come full circle.”
As the head of Causelabs, a public benefit corporation that provides strategy, design, prototyping and software development services, she is focusing the social enterprise on reaching profitability while staying true to the mission and values of the business.
The company finished 2016 with $1.7 million in revenue, an office in Denver and 16 employees. She says the company has pared expenses, including the office in Denver to give the firm a fighting chance at 2017 profitability.
At the same time, she says the firm has doubled down on preserving its values. “Our mission is to create positive social impact. We do so through our partnerships and with our expertise in technology.”
Recently, the firm completed a project that demonstrates the vision of using technology as a force for good. The tool the team created supports municipal governments with a visually appealing, easy-to-use budgeting tool that members of the community can use to get a better feel for fiscal issues. It helps people see the tradeoffs that small governments face in choosing between lowering taxes and providing essential services.
Money is a key issue for Causelabs, too. The firm works with lots of nonprofit customers. The funds for their projects often come from grants that the company has become adept at winning. Gillihan likes the relationship that creates with nonprofit customers, making it more of a partnership.
She joined Causelabs in 2010 as a project manager. One of her first assignments took her to India where she saw poverty that was unlike she’d ever recalled.
She discovered a passion for addressing poverty that she’d not fully recognized before. She quickly became fully committed to the success of Causelabs as a result.
“Technology is changing the world. and I want to be a part of using that technology for good.” She says.
Gillihan didn’t always appreciate her own connection to poverty. She has flashes of memory from her childhood, including being bathed in a tub in the front yard, eating only fish and rice and her mother selling bananas just to make ends meet.
She didn’t learn until her 30s that she was sponsored by the Pearl S. Buck Foundation when she was 18 months old and received life-saving medical care.
“It’s it’s through the philanthropy of others that I’m even here today. And so I’m glad to be to be a part of that for somebody else,” she says.
That experience helps Gillihan put the clients’ social impact objectives first in priority.
One of those clients is Civicus; Cecily Rawlinson, a change lead says she was looking for a firm to help develop a secure online space where activists and organizations could seek support.
“CauseLabs’ development approach put our community at the center of the design process, beginning with interviewing our regional teams to understand what they needed and how our platform could best serve them.”
“We ended up with a solution that our community owns, uses and one that responds to their needs,” she concludes.
That focus on the key issues and outcomes has Gillihan thinking about a new hire. She’d like to add a scientist to the team to help explain the fundamental issues that underly the problems the firm helps to solve. She points out that poverty is complex; she’d like to have a scientist help the firm better understand the neuroscience behind it.
However she does it, she is excited to be a part of the solution to poverty. “This just deeply rooted in me that I’ve come full circle and I’m finally where I belong and I’m giving back in the way that I need to be giving back.”
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!