Happy Hour with Jessica Yinka Thomas

We sat down to chat with V&V friend Jessica Yinka Thomas, Director of NC State's Business Sustainability Collaborative at the Poole College of Management, who moonlights as an author of social justice thrillers. Read our conversation and then come hear more from Jessica at the next Vert & Vogue Happy Hour event on Friday, February 15th, from 5:30 – 6:30pm.

How did your passion for business sustainability come about?
Growing up in the US, Nigeria and Senegal played a large part in shaping my worldview. I witnessed early on vast inequities and learned how structural factors such as race, gender and access shaped people's lives. As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to find ways to make the world a better place. Early on, I studied engineering and then designed interactive educational toys as my first career. I really enjoyed working with companies that were having a positive social impact, re-inventing how children learned math, science and reading. But, I realized I wasn’t seeing the whole picture.
So, I went back to school to study the power of business to create systemic change. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to build sustainability-focused academic initiatives at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, UNC Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and now at NC State University in the Poole College of Management.

Could you describe your role at NC State University and the work you do with B Corps?
About 9 years ago, I learned about B Corporations for profit companies like Vert & Vogue, Ben & Jerry's, New Belgium Brewing, and Patagonia that are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. I think of B Corps as the leaders in the sustainable business movement.
In my work as director of the Business Sustainability Collaborative I have the opportunity to work with dozens of local and global businesses to help them improve their social and environmental impact, through a program called the B Corp Clinic. The program connects interdisciplinary students from across the state with companies to help strengthen their impact business model.
Over the last several years, I’ve been thrilled to get involved with the NC B Corp community, a passionate network of business, academic and community members leading the NC B Corp movement. We organize monthly B Corp 101 educational events, quarterly happy hours to connect the impact business community and we collaborate on the B Corp Clinic.
I also now have the opportunity to lead the Global B Corp Academic Network, a community of about 300 educators and researchers from around the world who are studying and teaching about B Corps and the power of for-profit businesses to drive social and environmental impact. We get together virtually to share best practices and identify opportunities for collaboration.

How has traveling the world shaped your perspective on social justice?
When I was younger, I was overwhelmed by the challenges of the world. Traveling around the world for work and for pleasure, I’ve been inspired by countless innovative solutions and creative collaborations addressing issues of social and environmental justice. I believe now, that each one of us has a role to play in making the world a better place. I remember meeting with social entrepreneurs and B Corp leaders at an incubator in Rio. They’d painted a reimage of the iconic “We Can Do It” WWII poster on the main wall as inspiration. It reminds me that when we work together, the possibilities for impact are endless.

As a novelist, what advice would you have for someone wanting to publish their first book?
Find something you feel passionately about. It took me 10 years to write and publish each of my novels. Choose something that draws you to the page, a story or topic that you must put down on paper and share.
Read every day, something that inspires you, even if it’s just 5 minutes. Write everyday, even if it’s just 5 minutes of taking notes on your phone. A regular practice builds your writing muscles and helps you make progress toward your writing goals.
Finally, when you’ve finally got that book completed, head over to Lulu.com, one of the leading print-on-demand publishing companies and a certified B Corp right here in the Triangle. I published both my novels on Lulu.

What can you tell us about your new novel, How Not to Make Friends?
How Not to Make Friends is the sequel to my first novel, How Not to Save the World. Both novels are about Remi Austin, a failed fundraiser for the African Peace Collaborative (APC). In the first novel, Remi becomes an international art thief to save her nonprofit. She’s helped by her best friend, Izi, a designer and inventor who creates gadget-packed gowns. In the second novel, Remi sets out to build a global network of changemakers to end modern day slavery. Alongside her old and new friends, she tests the boundaries of international law on a quest to make the world a better place.

When you’re not teaching or writing, what do you like to do for fun?
I enjoy trying new restaurants around the Triangle with my family and friends, then sweating it out at Bikram yoga.

Lastly, as it is Happy Hour, what’s your favorite drink?
Champagne! If you’re lucky, there is always a reason to celebrate!