When Ximena Hartsock noticed a gap in the ability for people to contact key people about causes important to them, she cofounded Phone2Action, a digital advocacy platform that helps connect people to their representatives and the White House.
Ximena is a Chilean native and came to the United States for graduate school. After finishing a doctoral program at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., she stayed in the U.S. and held several government positions, from school principal to Deputy Chief for Teaching and Learning at D.C. Public Schools.
Her next steps in life led her to found the company she now runs. We sat down with Ximena to ask her about her inspiration to start Phone2Action, her thoughts on ethics in business, and what she looks forward to at the next Justwomen event.
What inspired you to found Phone2Action?
In 2008, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed me to be a member of his cabinet, and when his term ended, I moved into advocacy. As the national director of membership for an advocacy organization, I learned that most people did not know who their lawmakers were or how to contact them.
Given this disconnect, I wanted to build a simple but effective tool that people could use on their desktops or mobile devices to directly communicate with their elected officials on issues important to them. I found the perfect co-founder in Jeb Ory, a software developer with experience working at other startups. Together, we founded Phone2Action.
Interested in attending the next Justwomen?
How does the business model for Phone2Action work? Is it a nonprofit or for-profit company?
Phone2Action is a software company. We license our tools on an annual basis to trade associations, nonprofit organizations, and enterprise. Our clients use our tools to mobilize their advocates and other key stakeholders to drive public policy change on issues that matter to them.
The theme for this Justwomen is on social impact and corporate ethics. What responsibility, if any, do you think businesses have to the communities around them?
The relationship between customers and companies has changed dramatically over the past decade. Customers are increasingly choosing to purchase products from companies with a moral purpose, and conversely, are disassociating themselves from organizations that lack alignment with their personal values.
Thus, corporate responsibility is not just a fad, but a new paradigm on how to build a successful business by driving value to all stakeholders, including the community at large. Companies are also becoming very vocal on issues that matter to them, and are giving employees the opportunity to speak up. Many of Phone2Action’s clients are companies who use our technology for employee advocacy.
"The larger and more successful a company is, the more committed it should be to giving back." - Ximena Hartsock
At Phone2Action, we feel tremendous responsibility to add value to our community. We are very active in supporting STEM education and support a program at Stanford University that funds students who want to build apps that address a community need. We also sponsor several high school hackathons and have a fund designed to support low income girls and minorities who have an interest in tech. We actively participate in community efforts and encourage our team members to do the same.
As a business grows larger, its mission and practices often evolve. How can a company maintain its core dedication to social responsibility while finding new ways to stay profitable and relevant?
The larger and more successful a company is, the more committed it should be to giving back. With success comes the responsibility and opportunity to contribute. A great example is Cisco Systems. Cisco offers employees paid time off every year to contribute to causes that matter to them. It also offers a company-match program for any donations made by employees. These outside opportunities employees pursue help the staff gain new experiences and insights that they can bring back into Cisco, ultimately driving innovation.
Larger companies also face less risk when taking a stand on issues that matter to them. Companies like Target have taken very strong stances on issues such as sustainable operations and sustainable products.
At Phone2Action, we have a civic technology fund that offers paid internships to low-income minority students. We do this as a way to help create a diverse pipeline for technology careers. The civic tech fellows use the internship as an opportunity to grow, but they also help us as a business by challenging norms and forcing us to take a new look at our company. Our team members can also use two full days to contribute to any cause, such as helping in areas affected by natural disasters.
Justwomen has been a great forum for women leaders to get together and network over the past couple years. What initiatives do you think will help women continue to gain traction in the workforce as founders and business leaders?
Creating a safe space for women to learn from each other and share insights is invaluable. I think educational initiatives where women can learn about technology, leadership, fundraising, etc. is important. Coming from an education background, I know how important it is to continue to grow and learn each day.
This year’s Justwomen is taking place in Washington, D.C. on February 16th from 6-8 pm. The quarterly event focuses on advice from successful women entrepreneurs. You can learn more here.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.