At the young age of 24, Arancha Martinez Fernandez, founder of itwillbe.org realized the potential for making a positive impact on the world. In 2008, she traveled to India with the aim of becoming actively involved in creating change. Her desire to tackle poverty through innovation led her to establish it-willbe.org. Prior to this, Arancha had studied business and international relations at ICADE (Madrid) and CESEM (Reims, France), and gained valuable professional experience in strategic marketing and finance at Merrill Lynch in Paris and Dublin. Recognizing the potential of her business skills to serve philanthropy, she set out to create a non-profit organization that could achieve its objectives efficiently, collaboratively, and with a focus on education, innovation, and effective management.
Below are highlights of the interview:
Tell us about the company and describe your responsibilities and position at the company.
It-willbe.org’s mission is to help contribute to ending poverty, but our main value is how we do that. We do it through digital skills training and co-creating technological innovations with our stakeholders directly on the field. We like to refer to the field (where we have been working with rooted NGOs since 2009) as our innovation labs. Once we validate our training, empowerment programs, or technological products, we try to scale them through other organizations in any other country. If I had to name an example, it would be ChildPPa, a digital ID solution that was developed for a network of over 80 NGOs that work together to protect street children in India. Once validated we collaborated with NGOs in Senegal and Sierra Leone that saw its use to improve the impact of their street children protection programs.
After 12 years of managing it-will be.org, I took a step back so that Celia Roca, a powerful woman who had worked with us for over 5 years, could assume that role. I had been learning about blockchain, DLTs and DAOs for some time and we had been doing some proofs of concept in our organizations on how these technologies could improve financial and impact traceability, and I decided in 2020, just after I was blessed with the EU Woman Innovator Award 2020 of the European Commission, that it was time to create a spinoff and launch a for-profit (called Comgo.io) to increase our impact by taking our knowledge and technology also to other fields such as sustainability, CSR or impact investment.
What do you consider before bringing someone onto your team?
What I appreciate more is that the new team member shares our vision and values (efficiency, transparency, humility, determination, critical thinking), brings new ideas and take them into action. I love proactivity. And I love crazy ideas. I like people who take risks. I always say that if we haven’t yet solved the challenges we are tackling, we have to keep innovating.
Tell us more about it-willbe.org and how is it helping communities to grow.
It-willbe.org is currently helping local communities increase their social impact by making the most of digitization. The team is providing digital skills training for small local non-profits and self-help-groups (communities of underprivileged women that come together to help each other and develop their communities) so they can thrive in the digital economy by accessing capital, selling their products in new markets, or by accessing new networks and education opportunities.
How do you generate great ideas in your organization?
The best way of bringing innovative solutions to the market is listening to our social workers and to our beneficiaries in the field. Then, bring those needs to “long” tables with diverse people. In my opinion, creativity and innovation can only happen with multidisciplinary and diverse teams. It seems that the brightest minds with the best ideas are those that have studied and done MBAs. However, in my experience, the best innovations have normally come from those in need, from those suffering in the field.
What is the culture like at your company? What is your leadership style?
Our structure is interesting. We like to call it “Itwillbe’s universe”. We work as a community where people assume different roles in a very horizontal way. Not all the members of the community are employed by itwillbe, but they are also part of the universe (even if they might work for other entities). Our employees have the role of dynamiting the community, but we also work with technological partners, local entities, funders, volunteers, beneficiaries, and board members on a daily basis. We have co-developed a digital tool that allows us to digitize our universe and register all the different interactions in the different projects. Our aim in implementing this technology is to ensure we work as a community, take everyone’s voices into account, and accurately manage and report our social impact to all our stakeholders. And, our dream is that we allocate that impact to all of them.
How do you align your organization with your vision and mission?
Our organization is the people. So, I ensure we revise the organization’s vision and mission with them very often. I don’t want to think it’s mine. And, what is more, I think a vision and mission should not be carved into a rock. It is live and should be revised and adapted constantly to continue being useful for society. In my opinion, the only way to transcend is to ensure the vision and mission are shared by many. As many people as possible. Every 2 months we organize “good society readings” with different stakeholders so we can discuss relevant things about society, politics, etc. that matter to us. I learned, thanks to Acumen Fellowship, some tools that are helping me dynamize super interesting conversations and debates that are helping consolidate our vision and mission. Only by asking the right questions we can keep thinking if we’re relevant for society, if what we do is appropriate for our current world and can make a change.
What qualities are lacking among today’s leaders? And what three books can you recommend on leadership?
Moral leadership. It is the most difficult but the most needed nowadays. No one would follow someone they couldn’t trust. No one would follow someone who is not authentic and coherent with his or her values. If they do is because of their fear (to lose their job, for instance). In my opinion, today’s leaders need to stop and take more time to think, especially deeply. I went through a very difficult moment in 2022. I decided to take a one-month break. It was the best thing that has happened to me in years. Having the time to think and write down ideas on a paper, put order to my long-term goals, think deeply on my purpose, measure my previous impact of people and on the organisation, think on how my work is relevant for others social entrepreneurs to whom I am a referent. After that month, I saw everything so clearly.
I would recommend these books:
- Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World (Jacqueline Novogratz)
- What money can’t buy (Michael J. Sandel)
- Small is beautiful (vintage Schumacher).