Published: Dec. 1, 2014 By

Seana Steffen

Steffen asks, and wants others to ask: Which choice will bring the highest benefit to all?

Possibility With Velocity

Seana Steffen (PhDSoc’02) is making the world a better place one business at a time.

And if you spend any time around her, you’ll want to join the mission.

“I believe the 21st century is calling us to greatness,” says Steffen, whose doctoral work at CU-Boulder focused on sustainable and community development. “And business can play a key role. It’s the most powerful institution on earth. I believe in the power of business to be a key lever for the necessary change we need to see.”

What change does Steffen want? She wants a healthier, more sustainable earth. She wants worldwide human rights and is especially proud of her role in helping Tostan, a Senegalese organization, persuade 6,500 villages across eight African countries to abandon female genital cutting. And that’s the start.

To get it all done, in 2011 she founded the Colorado-based Restorative Leadership Institute (RLI), a special type of company offering consulting, coaching and leadership development for businesses and other purpose-driven organizations to assure sustainable impact.

RLI is a benefit corporation, a new class of business entity that requires companies to operate with the interests of workers, community and environment in mind, as well as those of shareholders. RLI received a 2013 B Corp “Best for Community Impact” award among all benefit corporations worldwide.

Advocates of benefit corporations — which now have legal status in 27 states, including Colorado — describe them as a mechanism for ensuring that businesses serve social or environmental goals as well as profit-seeking. Traditional corporate business structures incentivize shareholder interest first and foremost.

“While I hold business-as-usual responsible for much of what we face,” Steffens says, “the private sector is also the most agile sector to respond at a time when we need possibility with velocity.”

RLI’s clients include governments, major nonprofits and Fortune 100 companies, including Hewlett Packard International, the Sustainability Consortium and the Carter Center. Steffen has consulted throughout the United States and abroad.

Recently she worked with World Pulse, an Oregon-based nonprofit that uses digital media to connect and empower women worldwide. The group’s goal is to increase the influence of women by magnifying and channeling their priorities. Steffen helped World Pulse prepare itself to grow from 60,000 participants worldwide to 30 million.

Her training ground before launching RLI was apt: At CU-Boulder, she founded INVST Community Studies, a program that prepares students to become “engaged citizens and leaders who work for the benefit of humanity and the environment.”

Says Steffen, “RLI will have accomplished our mission when leadership in a critical mass of boardrooms and households asks, ‘Which choice will bring the highest benefit to all?’

Photography courtesy Seana Steffen