“Whether its trusting in your colleagues or even trusting in yourself that YOU CAN be the change!” – Meg Sette

One of the highlights of 2017 for me was attending The Heart Series conference, curated and produced by Meg Sette and Gail Cayetano. Its two days spent sitting among innovative leaders, working to create positive change on the world around them. The Heart Series is living proof that there are smart, passionate people who deeply care about the world and finding positive solutions to address some of the biggest issues we face.

So naturally, I became quite curious (okay, maybe a little obsessed) about the two women behind the magic. And they are everything you’d hope they’d be, plus a million things more. Meg and Gail are dynamic, accomplished, passionate women who immediately make you feel like you’re old friends. They are the types of people you want to meet for coffee dates. Weekly.

As this week’s #WCW Spotlight, they generously share what drives them to produce The Heart Series Conference every year and why they are so passionate about giving back.

Me: One of the things that really stood out to me upon first meeting the two of you is how supportive you are of each other. How did the two of you meet and become friends?

Gail: We met at an Alpha Phi alumni dinner here in Los Angeles about 4 years ago (we coincidentally are both alumni of the same sorority)! We talked about how both of our professional backgrounds were in marketing, and Meg came out to an event that I was guest speaking at. We met for coffee one-on- one soon after, and the rest is history. Meg is one of the most open, generous people I have ever met, combined with a professionalism that I really respect. I instantaneously felt like I had met a great friend.

Me: What inspired the two of you to create The Heart Series Conference?

Meg: Gail and I truly bonded instantly over the fact that we both worked in the impact space. I have my marketing consultancy, M Collaborative, focused on social impact campaigns for brands and orgs, and Gail is also marketer with Shop Talk LA and additionally has a socially consciously jewelry line with her sisters called Cayetano Legacy Collection. Sometime at the end of summer 2015 or early fall, Gail called me out of the blue to see if I knew of any cool conferences to grow the jewelry line.

Gail: Knowing that Meg was very active in the social responsibility space with her agency, I asked her what industry conferences I should attend (this was about 3 years ago now) – I really wanted to learn from other companies that made it their mission to help the world through the businesses that they were running.  After chatting with Meg we realized that there wasn’t a conference out there that had exactly what I was hoping for, so we decided to make one happen!

Meg: Based on what she described, and ideally the type of conference we’d like to attend, we noticed there was nothing out there! Gail really pitched the idea and asked me “what if we pooled our resources, contacts, and ideas to make something happen?” Both of us had prior experience in event planning (Gail previously worked in event marketing and I had planned a handful of political fundraising events featuring celebrities when I worked for Women’s Campaign Fund in DC). We also knew that we had a ton of great people that were within reach – so boom!

Gail: Five months later we held our first conference hosting about 150 people at that first event.

Meg: We really only put out a couple of feelers, and Gail secured Laura Probst, Chief of Social Goodness at Jessica Alba’s company, Honest Co. to be our opening keynote! And then we knew we were on to something, and it was on! We scrambled to make a website. Picking a name came organically, especially once we decided on doing it the week around Valentine’s day. And then I threw a small local panel event on sustainable fashion, alongside a few colleagues, and announced the conference.

Gail: And now here we are 4 years later, and already gearing up for our 5th anniversary event in February 2019!

Me: Has giving back always been a major theme in your lives? Or something that came about later in life?

Meg: For me it has been since the beginning. I was raised by hippie parents who instilled a concept of “love all and help others” from a young age.  If you were to meet my parents today, they’ll hug and kiss you like you are family, even if they don’t know your name. I was also entrepreneurial from a young age and started a club at the age of 10 called Kids and More, and I literally created the tagline “we make things fun that kids think are boring”… such as presidential elections. I took over my parents den as an office, made business cards and one too many home videos with an old VHS recorder about our work (thank goodness YouTube didn’t exist back then)! I also sold handmade greeting cards to my neighbors as a revenue model and donated part of the profits to organizations that I personally cared about – and that was back in 1992 –  over 25 years ago – and I only recently realized in watching back one of the home movies of me discussing Kids and More, that at 10 years old I somehow understood the concept of social enterprise – and I don’t even know how or why, and my parents say they never could figure out where I got all of  these ideas from either. I guess you could say I was ahead of my time in some ways, which is really funny to think about in retrospect. I then majored in politics in college because that’s how I thought you give back and better the world.  And after 10 years of working in DC and the nonprofit sector, I realized the world WAS changing around me in all sorts of ways, but at that moment I felt entrepreneurship might be the greatest way to make a more immediate and noticeable good impact, so I started my consultancy to help brands and orgs give back to society.

Gail: I’m first generation Filipino-American, and I think like so many other immigrant families, my parents were always sending money, gifts, our old clothes and toys – really whatever they could – back to relatives in the Philippines that had so little.  These items were sent in ‘Balikbayan’ boxes – those in the Philippines knew that there was a little joy coming, when a Balikbayan box was delivered to their door.  Growing up with ‘giving back’ being the norm has affected my outlook on life, and my place in this world.  Naturally, as adults, my sisters and I were very aware that we needed to do our part to help others, especially because we were lucky enough to grow up fortunate, while others not so much.

Me: You both have very different backgrounds. Megan, your background is in the non-profit space and Gail, you come from the for-profit marking world. How do you feel your different life experiences come together and make the Heart Series work so perfectly?

Gail: We both focus on what we enjoy the most – for me that is the partnerships, and for Meg I think that is the programming.  And then all the work that is left over, we truly work on together by dividing duties and conquering.

Meg: We definitely divide and conquer. Our strengths complement each other so we’re able to each tackle elements that fall within our own wheelhouses. We have a few running to do lists, and we both take initiative to make sure stuff gets crossed. Its definitely an equal give and take.

Gail: We are also trying to get better at delegating work, and taking up offers from our volunteer team to let them assist more.  I think we are both so used to working on our own that we easily forget there are people out there that want to help, and that are fully capable of doing great things.  So we are working on it!

Me: Independently, you are very busy, accomplished women. Why choose to take on the Heart Series with everything else you have going on?

Meg: We genuinely wanted too bring together this community –social entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, brand innovators to talk about best practices in making an impact – for me its because I love understanding what works, what doesn’t, and where were going in the future. This is interesting to me personally, and also something informative I can share with the clients I work with – it really keeps me relevant and in-the-know. I also believe in the importance of connection and collaboration to truly push the needle forward and this is a space where people can do both, and that includes us getting to meet incredible new people and partners!

Gail: The Heart Series brings together truly socially conscious companies; organizations that put social goodness at the forefront of their business model. There are conferences out there that cater to companies that have a corporate social responsibility division, but none that bring together the companies that live by their social responsibility, at least none like ours that are intimate and ‘retreat-like’.  We wanted to fill that void.  We want this to be a conference that ignites and unites the socially good business community.  And we want to grow this community. Currently a large chunk of our attendees come from around California, because of the proximity of the conference location to their home cities.  We want to reach more of this socially conscious leaders around the US and really become a hub for business and impact.

Me:  The Heart Series is a place where social entrepreneurs and innovators can come together and discuss ways to “better the world.” Where did this passion for social enterprise and building a community for people to come to learn and be inspired come from? 

Meg: When companies like TOMS emerged onto the market and reinvented the concept corporate social responsibility around 10 years ago, I noticed a ton of folks, like Gail, suddenly starting companies doing good. And whether you agree with TOMS model or not, they started something different, and blended business and mission. Around this same time I also noticed people starting to talk more and more about the concept of “purpose” And with the rise of social media people began asking themselves “What’s MY purpose?” and publicly sharing their professional burn out stories. The internet allowed for more transparency around the idea that we’re all often searching for this higher purpose and many people felt lost and even empty if their day to day work wasn’t fulfilling.  I think this, going hand-in-hand with the access to technology and social media, pushed an uptick in people launching social enterprises.

Gail: I founded a social enterprise; a women’s statement jewelry line, Cayetano Legacy Collection, with my two sisters to work with small communities of women artisans in the beautiful yet still third world country of the Philippines to handcraft each piece, enabling both the creation of jobs and economic growth in a part of the world where it is still most needed.  When we started the company I don’t think I even realized that it would be considered a social enterprise, it was just a business we wanted to start because we saw the value to the Philippines in it.  And when I realize there are so many other entrepreneurs out there doing what I’m doing, but in different parts of the world, or catering to other groups in need, I immediately wanted to swap stories and share resources.

Me: Social Enterprise is still a relatively concept. Why do you think business models with a give back component resonates with today’s consumers?  

Meg: People really just want to feel apart of something greater then themselves, and buying something that does good, makes you feel like you’re playing a role in making the world better.

Me: What has been the most surprising part of your adventures through the Heart Series? What about the most inspiring part?

Meg: I am constantly blown away by the people we secure to speak, and the feedback we get from attendees.  Its incredible to see such a range of business types and industries exploring ways they can collaborate and make an impact.

Gail:  I think it’s the generosity we encounter every day!  From community members that want to help out with their time and resources, to speakers who offer to come and speak for free even though they typically charge a speakers’ fee.  To this day we honestly haven’t paid a speaker fee – all the money made is reinvested back into the conference. The presenters attend and speak out of the goodness of their hearts; they see the value in building this community of socially good entrepreneurs.

Meg: I don’t know if Gail realizes this, but she has also taught me the importance of generosity and thoughtfulness; from day one she was beyond generous with making introductions to people she thought I should get to know, with no expectations or conditions and I was completely impressed. Gail is a rock star, and so much of her genuine desire to connect others has become a core part of the conference – I really credit her with that.

Me: You are currently planning the 4th Heart Series Conference, happening February 15th + 16th, 2018. I’m super excited about it!  There are already some great guests lined up. How do you go about picking the theme and speaker panels each year?

Meg: Gail and I start each year with a dream list of speakers, combined with the reality of who we had in our network. We’re proud that we’ve been fortune enough to have some truly incredible speakers every year, and for this year highlights include the head of CSR for Ben & Jerry’s, CMO for Pencils of Promise, the VP of Comms for Clif Bar, VP of Policy for Beautycounter, Head of Creative for Everlane, leadership from Team Rubicon and several more!

Gail: Selfishly, we invite people that I want to hear speak! 🙂  And then from there, we take a look at the holes in our schedule – topics that we know we should be bringing into the conference but haven’t secured speakers for yet.  And then we discuss together what individuals we’d like to approach based on the topics needed, and then we tackle that list.

Meg: Its true what they say, everyone in the world is only two phone calls away from everyone else in the world, or actually now I think they say 1.5 emails away. With less than 6 degrees of separation we are usually able to secure several amazing people to get involved.

Gail: And our partners are always incredible too from our food partners like Deep River Snacks that has donated tens of thousands of bags of chips to charitable events every year, to our plateware, napkins and utensils which have been provided by Cheeky, who create modern mealtime solutions with a witty spirit to help end hunger in the U.S. Cheeky tableware is available exclusively at Target stores and Target.com. We’re truly a socially conscious event inside and out.

Me: What are you most looking forward to this year? Can you share any spoilers?

Meg:  We’re working on a few additional engaging experiences to really take the conference to the next level of feeling like a playground for the movers and shakers in the social impact space. And there may even be a ball pit! You’ll just have to come and see.

Me: What is the one piece of advice you would want to share with someone who wants to follow in your footsteps of using their own unique talents and life experiences to give back? 

Gail: Just one piece of advice? 😉  I’ll say two, because the first one is a quote from someone else, Arthur Ashe ‘Start where you are.  Use what you have.  Do what you can.’  And secondly, I personally think if you’re going to start something with a friend / colleague / family member / etc, the most important part of a professional partnership is trust.  You need to trust that your partner will pull their weight and you won’t get stuck doing all of the work. You need to trust that your partner is a great representation of the brand that you are building because she/he will be associated with your business just as much as you are.  Taking the time to understand if you trust this person on a business level is so valuable.

Meg: Trust is hugely important in anything you do. Whether its trusting in your colleagues or even trusting in yourself that YOU CAN be the change! … And, the honest to goodness BEST advice… well its that you should totally just join us at the conference… and we promise you’ll hear TONS MORE great advice while you’re there!

If you’d like  to join me, Meg, and Gail at the 2018 Heart Series, you can get tickets here.

You can also keep up with the Heart Series digitally on Facebook | Instagram.