Kelly Mason

Podcast Interview

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BFP: What do you do?

KM: I recently joined the Global Communications and Public Affairs team at Google.org – a part of Google that brings together Google’s people and resources to tackle global challenges.

Working in communications, my job is to help tell the Google.org story to different audiences, from tech reporters to non-profit leaders to Google users. There’s also a broader message that goes beyond Google.org, which is the potential for tech to be a key ingredient in impact solutions. This was true for my previous role as well—I spent five years at Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment firm created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam. At Omidyar, there was also a real emphasis on entrepreneurs who are using technology in new and exciting ways to improve lives.

BFP: What is the best part about your job?

KM: For one, it’s working with very smart, driven people who focus their energies on having an impact in the world. I learn something every day.

My work also offers some brand new territory. It’s exciting to work at a place that isn’t afraid to try things, and with people who are really focused on having impact, whether they work for a funder or a tech company.

Working at the intersection of non-profit and for-profit, I’ve seen a bit of a shift in how people think about social impact, whether it’s the rise of impact investing, technology for development, or companies extending their social impact beyond CSR and weaving it into their core business. All these things point to a great positive trajectory, because business really is a critical ingredient to sustainable change. There’s definitely a movement to embrace the Silicon Valley culture of iteration and innovation and apply that model to doing good. It’s a great story to share. Plus, I get to work with organizations that really inspire, like African Leadership Academy, which is educating Africa’s young leaders and has been funded by both Omidyar and Google.org.

BFP: What have been your greatest challenges?

KM: One of the biggest challenges in communications is working to convey a complex idea in a simple, understandable way.

It’s easy to get caught up in the jargon and the complexity of big, systemic problems– the different players in an ecosystem, the root causes, the different levers to drive change. You have to take a step back– what are trying to do and how do we communicate that in a clear way. Presenting it so that someone can read about what a company is doing and say- okay, I get that, I understand. You don’t want to oversimplify. Achieving that balance can be a struggle, but when you get the message right, your audience can hopefully learn and be inspired.

BFP: How have you overcome these challenges? What advice, would you give to others?

KM: At Google or Omidyar Network or a startup using tech to have an impact, the solution or idea might be technical or complicated, but ultimately a non-technical audience should be able to read about and understand what you’re doing.

For example, Kiva brought the message of Microfinance to the masses. At the time, it was a novel idea for many, and a different way to think about changing lives.

It’s also valuable to connect with others working in similar areas, communities like Business Fights Poverty and convenings like SOCAP here in the Bay area that address a mixed for-profit/non-profit audience. Find people who are willing to share war stories and success stories.

BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where would they start?

KM: A communications role is great for someone who loves to write, to tell stories, to be a bit of a translator. I didn’t initially set out to work in philanthropy or using tech for social impact, but it helped that my education was in English and business, and I had a lot of passion for the work. You really can’t network enough in this space, because the jobs might be rare or come up suddenly.

Also, if you want to work in a place that is non-traditional in how they view social change, they might also be non-traditional in how they hire. So be ambitious about how you can apply your skills. Before I joined Omidyar Network, I had no non-profit experience, but I had background in business, technology and marketing, which together were relevant.

You can often thread together your own background, maybe even volunteer experiences, in a way that makes you a good fit for a role, rather than focus on the perfect or ideal path to get there.

BFP: Finally, what do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?

KM: I like reading the cases, it helps me think differently about the kinds of stories that are interesting. You get very focused on your own business, and it’s important to hear what others are doing. It’s a good reminder of how many other entrepreneurs, companies, funders are out there working on the same issues.

Editor’s Note:

Thank you to Kelly Mason for taking the time to do this interview.

We’re always looking out for members to feature. Help us by taking two-minutes to update your profile, or by nominating someone for Business Fights Poverty Member of the Week.

This Member of the Week interview was conducted by Yvette Torres-Rahman, BFP Member Relations Director. Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.

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