A Net Impact Founder Draws Inspiration from His Colleagues ... and Charles Dickens
This series profiles the work happening in our amazing community, one member at a time. Eric Weaver helped found Net Impact, and he's the CEO and Founder of Opportunity Fund. We're so glad that he's sharing part of his story with us here, along with some great advice.
Tell us more about your current venture.
Opportunity Fund is one of the leading microfinance institutions in the United States. We’re lending $3 - $4 million per month to small business owners, with an average loan size of about $20,000. And we provide microsavings accounts and savings incentives to thousands of California families to help them build assets and achieve economic mobility.
What's your best advice for someone who wants to create positive change in your field?
Pay attention to what’s happening with technology, and join the effort to get consumer lending protections to apply to micro business owners. Lending to them now is completely unregulated, and there is a lot of bad stuff going on. Learn what a “merchant cash advance” is, and urge small business owners to avoid them, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to regulate them.
What do you love about your work?
My colleagues and our clients. Both inspire me to keep doing the work!
What role has Net Impact played in your impact career?
Well, I helped to found Net Impact, so it’s had a big impact on me. It gave me my first experience as a board member, which has been invaluable as I have managed my own board over the years. It also helped me meet and recruit two of my early management team members, Anne Stuhldreher and Jeff Merkowitz, as well as a third, Liz Givens, who still works for Opportunity Fund. All three have played important roles in building Opportunity Fund, and all three are still friends of mine 20 years later.
The early days of Net Impact were so different from the large and influential organization it has become today. We held our first conference at Georgetown University, timed to coincide with the Social Venture Network conference, so we could have several of their speakers come over in taxis (not Ubers) from their conference downtown. We marketed the conference by sending faxes (look it up) to Career Centers at as many business schools as we could find. We had no way for people to RSVP and had no idea who would show up. In the end, 100 MBA students from around the country came. Many of them were the only student from their schools who came, and some of them actually cried when they realized there were other MBAs out there who shared their values.
What’s the most inspiring book you’ve read -- and why has it stayed with you?
OK, this is going to sound pretty corny, but I have been a huge Dickens fan since childhood. I have read Great Expectations many times, and I always cry at the scene toward the end when Pip wakes up after falling ill. His step-brother, Joe Gargery, a simple but loyal man who Pip rejected after becoming a gentleman, is there nursing him. It’s a powerful story about love and loyalty, and about never forgetting where you started out. It’s all too easy to get seduced by wealth, power, and popularity. Stay true to your inner self and remember what’s really important.