Meet Our New CEO: Anthea Smits

April 23, 2018

With 2018 full swing ahead, so is TDi’s new CEO Anthea Smits (or Annie to the team!), who is leading TDi into new directions throughout 2018 and beyond.

In between meetings, working in the Pacific and helping to push forward the social enterprise movement – we managed to snatch Annie away for a quick chat to share with you what motivates and drives her, as well as her vision for TDi moving forward.

 

So first, what did you do before joining the team here as CEO of TDi?

I have a diverse mixture of commercial and nonprofit experience, as well as a long history of working to bring these two worlds together through social enterprise models.

Before joining the team at TDi I was the National Account Manager for Buena Vista Home Entertainment, part of the Walt Disney Company, where I worked for 10 years.

During this time, and after this, I spent 20 years working to develop and support social enterprises in a variety of capacities, including as a member of the founding team and as a board member for the 2h project, a development organisation in Cambodia that runs microfinance initiatives and social enterprises.

I’ve also spent a good bit of time as a Senior Leader at urbanlife, a church and community development organisation where I lead a significant change process, and created a number of social enterprises and an impact investing fund.

After this, I joined TDi as Deputy CEO, which is where I’ve been for the last three years until now.

 

What was your time at Disney like?

It was an incredible experience. As one of the biggest brands in the world, Disney really understands the exact ingredients that make up their brand, how they are positioned in the market, and what their customer actually wants.

I learnt a lot throughout my time there about how to deeply understand your customer, and the value that an organisation provides to each customer. They could communicate this value in such an incredible way, and worked hard to preserve and maintain their brand.

Great businesses are built with not only a great product, but also a deep understanding of the customer and how an organisation interacts with each customer, their desires and their needs. Being able to learn about this at such a high level was an amazing foundational experience.

 

What other skills and passion do you bring to TDi?

The skills that I bring to the team are problem-solving, leadership, and a deep understanding of social enterprise development and impact investing.

For me wrestling with problems is one of the great joys of life!

Once you have deeply thought through a problem (what we at TDi call ‘apprenticing with the problem’) and you have finally made it through together to the other side, it’s such a satisfying and rewarding experience. While other people often run away from problems, I like to run towards them and dive in head first.

TDi, as with all other startups, has had more problems to navigate in its early years than it has had solutions, and we inevitably will have more to face over the coming years, either from a project perspective or through building the business – but we are going to face these head-on.

In regards to leadership, I often think of leadership in different paradigms. There are a lot of pictures painted on leadership still today that involve strong white males or knights riding in on horses to save the day, but that’s not what I gravitate towards.

My favourite example of what I believe is true leadership is Dorothy from ‘The Wizard of Oz’. She is not someone you would automatically see as a leader, but she built a team, took individuals that were lacking and helped them find what they needed to successfully make their journey.

For the Tin Man it was a heart, for the Lion it was courage, and for the Scarecrow it was a brain. She knew where she was going, even had a little song to keep her team focused, and continually worked to draw out the best in others. She also calls people out on the assumptions that they make, yet is still vulnerable and receives and learns throughout her journey as well.

When I think of leadership I think of her. Her courage, her vulnerability, her deep care for others – not knights on white horses riding in to save the damsels in distress.

This is the type of leadership I aim to aspire to each and every day.

 

How did you first find out about Tdi and why did you feel it was right for you?

I was actually a customer with TDi before anything else! I first heard about TDi and saw what they were trying to do when I was a participant in their Business Model Workshop. I instantly fell in love with what they were doing and the tools that they were using to help enterprises identify key organisational strengths and weaknesses. I immediately wished I’d had known about these tools years before!

For me TDi brings together two of my worlds. I have a strong understanding of, and years of experience in, what it takes to build a sustainable business model, but I also have a deep desire to leave the world better than I found it.

TDi brings together my passion and my skills.

Speaking of passion, what inspires and drives you?

My children are often what drives me. They will be the ones who will live in the world that we are building now. I want them to have a future where they can do amazing and great things, as opposed to dealing with all of the problems we have created and are currently trying to solve.

 


The problems our world is facing are ours to solve, not future generations.

 

What is your vision for TDi both for 2018 and beyond?

TDi is a conversation, a conversation that has the potential to awaken something in us all:  the possibility of ‘Doing Good and Making Money’.

My vision is for TDi to open this conversation of the potential to both do good and make money with as many organisations and individuals as possible, and to have that conversation drive these people to take action where we will then work together to find new business models to address the social and environmental challenges our world faces.

Businesses play a fundamental, foundational role in our society providing financial and economic incentives to communities – but at what cost? Businesses have a duty to provide positive value, not to make our people and planet worse off to make a quick buck.

I strongly believe that over the years business has lost its way and its purpose. For too long we’ve made the focus for social and environmental good the responsibility of charities and NFPs, and on a good day CSR departments. This is not good enough. It’s time to change this.

Here at TDi, we have a deep driving belief that business when designed well, can be an incredible agent for good. Our mission is to help businesses reclaim their mandate to not only create wealth and economic sustainability – necessary components of our society – but also to be an agent for positive social and environmental change.

This vision will involve us continuing to work side-by-side for-purpose and mission-led enterprises to help build up a portfolio of examples of strong, healthy businesses who are truly creating ‘doing good and making money’ models.

It’s important to note though that this can’t be done overnight – these enterprises need time to find their footing, and to prove and awaken the possibility that this can really be done.

So as we continue to open this conversation to new audiences, support people to build models that do good and make money, we will also work to help prove the impact of these for-purpose enterprises.

 


Money can serve a deeper purpose by creating true positive change in the world.

 

What advice do you have for changemakers and social innovators who are working in this space?

My best advice is to stay curious and open.

Most social entrepreneurs I meet have such firm ideas about what they will produce in the world, and the way they will produce it.

My experience is that often where you start, the road you think you will travel down, for various reasons, is very rarely the one you end up taking. When this happens, our ability in these moments to return to the drawing board and remap our journey, remap what we are doing and how we are doing it, is essential.

Curiosity and openness allow for this necessary phase of learning and reworking to take place in a constructive way. As long as we remain anchored to our ‘why’ – the reason we are doing what we are doing – through all of the relearning and reworking we will be able to more easily find sustainable models that create true impact without shifting focus on the impact that we want to make.

Finally, it is important to understand that these things take time. This journey that we are all on is about creating sustainable, long-term change, not just producing a quick, shiny impact that looks great to everyone at the time, but ultimately doesn’t stick.

So be patient, but persistent.

~

Want to learn more about TDi, and join us on this journey as we all work together to build a more sustainable, impact-driven future? Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates on what we are doing and what is happening in the space, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to join in on the conversation.

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