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Veronica Kirin named an inaugural Forbes NEXT 1000 entrepreneur

16 February 2021

I am deeply honored to be named one of the first 250 honorees of the 2021 Forbes NEXT 1000 entrepreneurs. I work every day to leave a positive echo through my work with fellow entrepreneurs, to scale their impact and income, to empower and enhance their entrepreneurial journey. I firmly believe that with more business leaders comes greater equality and equity around the world. Business creates freedom and gives one the power to enact positive change.

I see this positive change every day through the work of my clients. One is using his business to hire smart, savvy creatives from countries with little economic opportunity. Another has seen tremendous growth in the last year in her non-toxic and environmentally safe cleaning products and is driving her competitors to also create ecologically-conscious goods. Yet another is collaborating with businesses and governments around the world to create safer, more beautiful public spaces for all. Entrepreneurship is the tool through which we can bring about positive change; it offers freedom, voice, and influence.

I am also proud to utilize the tenets of entrepreneurship — innovation, connection, and constant growth — to amplify my research as an anthropologist studying paradigm shifts. Not only does anthropological thinking provide an exceptional foundation for entrepreneurship — entrepreneurship has, in turn, helped create the “Stories of” book and research series. Stories of COVID™, my ongoing worldwide research on the COVID-19 pandemic, would not be possible without the toolkit that comes with entrepreneurship.

Thank you to the Forbes judges for the recognition of this work.

The Anthropological Consultant

Anthropology is one of the most versatile fields one can enter. Unfortunately, it has been repeatedly called one of the worst degrees to invest in due to a lack of understanding of its strengths. In this article, I’m going to explain how anthropological consultants could be helping today’s COVID-19 businesses manage their work from home transition like never before.

First, let’s step back and look at what anthropologists are good at.

anthropology and culture

Anthropology is the study of human cultures. Cultural anthropology studies living human cultures, while archaeology studies past human cultures.

How could this benefit a COVID-19 world? And how could it benefit business owners?

Today, our culture is shifting, not just individually from mask wearing and standing in line to go into a grocery store, but also from a vast change in the work-from-home cultural norms.

Suddenly, businesses that have traditionally offered only in-person employment have been forced to allow their employees to work from home in order to stay safe during the pandemic. And, overwhelmingly, their employees are loving it.

Many companies work hard at creating a company culture that is welcoming, engaging, and unique. How does a company maintain a culture when their employees are scattered across the city, across the region, and across the world?

enter the anthropological consultant

Anthropologists are experts at understanding the fabric of culture. They don’t just study and document culture. They understand how culture works, whether it be their own or others. Anthropologists are trained to remove their own biases in order to become a tabula rasa, the ability to see, hear, and understand without the influence of one’s own assumptions.

Anthropological consultants have been used for years in companies like Zappos and General Motors in order to support sales in different markets (read: different cultures) around the world.

But to believe that anthropologists would only be useful in selling to other markets would be missing out on their true potential in a COVID-19 world.

Many entrepreneurs and business owners are in a panic because they suddenly lack the daily in person contact with their employees that put them in the driver’s seat of reinforcing company culture. They feel out of control of their company culture. This is where an anthropological consultant could shine.

Anthropologists are trained to understand culture. An anthropological consultant can enter a company, study its messaging, its employees, its methods of communication, the very fabric of that culture, and understand it immediately. An anthropological consultant can then formalize and translate it, even when many of the company traditions were built in person and its staff is now primarily working from home.

building a work from home culture

So what are some solutions that an anthropological consultant might provide to an entrepreneur or business owner who is feeling like their company culture is suddenly out of their hands?

This is something that I did with one of my own entrepreneur clients at the beginning of COVID-19. They are an event company, and wanted to continue to engage with their target market — couples — by offering virtual events.

How could we bring a dinner and a show to the customer even though we couldn’t do it in person? As an anthropologist, I understood that what was lost between an in person and virtual event wasn’t the food and music, but an experience, and a physical one at that. And so myself and my client bridged that gap by creating a physical kit that was sent to every customer who signed up for tickets to the show. Higher paying customers also received an additional pre-show session with a chef in order to make a special meal.

Inside the kits were things like candles, snacks, and other things that would make the night feel that much more special, replicating in a small way the change of scenery of leaving our homes in order to change our physical states and feel like we can focus on our partners.

An anthropologist understands the moving parts that help form a culture, and how to replicate them in a work-from-home environment. In addition to a physical kit for employees, an anthropological consultant might also suggest regular company meetings, employee contests, and other forms of engagement in order to continue to weave a fabric of culture and support into the foundation of the company, even through working remote.

Finally, there are tools available to small business owners and entrepreneurs that can help facilitate an in person in office environments. Despite not being in the office, tools like Moot or Visual Office offer the feeling of understanding where and when your coworkers are working, which help replace that loss of the in person office flow.

If you are a business owner and you feel unsure about the future of your company culture, I highly suggest hiring an anthropological consultant to support your work from home transition, so you can confidently move forward even after the pandemic has passed.

If you are an anthropologist and an entrepreneur, it may be time to reach out to fellow business owners in order to support them using the superpowers you gained in your training.

Anthropreneurship Explained

I take a lot of pride in being an Anthropologist.  My studies primed my mind to think of others with openness and curiosity.  It taught me to see into other cultures and understand them as best I could without my own biases getting in the way.  And I use these valuable lessons every day as an entrepreneur.

What is Anthropreneurship

Whether or not you’re as big a fan of portmanteau’s as I am, Anthropology and Entrepreneurship go together like peas and carrots.  They are a perfect fit for audacious growth, impact driven business, and social enterprise.

Yet, most Anthropologists don’t realize the value of their degree.  I want to change that.

Entrepreneurship requires several key traits in a person. One must be willing to think outside the box.  Entrepreneurs tend to be a little weird, as they see the world as it could be, not just as it is.  And entrepreneurs tend to be risk takers.

Juxtapose that upon an Anthropologist.  Anthropologists tend to be quite weird — they are attracted to the  field of study because they already think outside their birth culture. They are willing to view disparate groups of people as valid and without judgement, and can see into their core values with ease (think: target markets).  And anthropologists aren’t afraid of risk.  We are trained to be contrarian, willing to push the status quo, and work toward validating others.  We also are taught a “do no harm” policy due to anthro’s earlier mistakes in working with governments that would leverage our insight and knowledge to harm others.

These two careers to hand in hand.  At one point I had a marketing director tell me he’d rather hire an anthropologist rather than a marketer.  He understood that, due to our training, anthropologists can see into target markets and groups in a way that most other professions cannot.  It’s kind of our super power.

How Anthropreneurship and Applied Anthropology Differ

In Applied Anthropology: Domains of Application, Kedia and Van Willigen define the process as a “complex of related, research-based, instrumental methods which produce change or stability in specific cultural systems through the provision of data, initiation of direct action, and/or the formulation of policy”. That is, Applied Anthropology is the field within Anthropology that utilizes its best practices to provide expertise to organizations and real-world problems.

One of the best known applied anthropologists is Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, which brings medicine to non-western groups in a manner that fits their cultural expectations.  That is, rather than pressing western goals and methods on non-western cultures, Partners in Health innovate new methods of delivery and management.  In doing so, the organization has achieved success where others failed.

Applied anthropologists tend to continue their ties to a university and academia.  Anthropreneurs do not.  Anthropreneurs leverage their training to create and innovate in business without answering to a research body.

This can be a sticky area for the field of anthropology.  Some bad actors in the early days of the study of anthropology left a bad taste for the field as a whole.  As a result, anthropologists tend to steer away from work in the mainstream market.  Sadly, this shoots the field in the foot, since anthropologists have both the insight and the worldview to solve problems, connect peoples, and innovate.

Why Anthropreneurship matters to a COVID-19 Society

As we push through this current paradigm shift (one that I am currently studying as an anthropologist), people feel afraid, unsure, and like they are living on quicksand.  This is due to the hallmarks of a paradigm shift, which are the dissolution of habits and systems.

Again, anthropreneurs can rise to the challenge and create organizations that support this shift, help others navigate, and guide us to a new paradigm. We innovate, see into the future, and are able to pivot at a moment’s notice.  Anthropreneurs understand that systems, cultures, and societies change over time.  In fact, they must change as new people are born, new beliefs created, and new paradigms emerge.  The pandemic is a global shift, but anthropreneurs know it is not without precedence and can use the past to shift in business to support the future.

The Future of Anthropology + Anthropreneurship

Anthropologists have a wonderful advantage in any field.  We have been trained to see past our own biases and into the truth, as much as one human can.  We use ethnography, the voices of many, to point the way to preserving history, culture, and painting what is possible.

Anthropreneurship takes these distinct advantages and applies them to business.  Anthropreneurs grow businesses that are more equitable, flexible, and sustainable.  What if the world had more anthropreneurs like that?

What You Can Do With An Anthropology Degree

This is a transcript of the talk I gave on November 9, 2016 at Grand Valley State University.

Hi, good afternoon everyone.  I’m Veronica Kirin.  I’m a graduate of GVSU class 2009 from the Anthropology department – my focus was Cultural Anthropology.

I’m here today because I wish someone like me had spoken to my class.  Anthropology is regularly rated as one of the top ten useless degrees — which is silly and untrue.

I want to start by asking you why you are here.  What drove you to get a degree in Anthropology?  Also, what do you plan to do with it at this point?  All answers are valid.  Please state your name, too.

*students answer*

Wow.  You guys are so cool.  Can I be your friend?

I think you know by now that Anthropologists are really good at a few specific things, so I’ll be preaching to the choir, but hear me out.  Typically those who are drawn to the degree path are already open minded, but the course of study opens our minds even further.  We get really good at research *laughs* and are trained in critical thinking.  Of course, we’re usually pretty good at people as well — if not in front of people, then in understanding them.  We’re taught to remove ourselves from our own perspective in order to remain unbiased.  That’s not something most other disciplines get.

A typical career course for us is academia.  Become an Anthropologist, choose a field of study, choose a group in which you’re passionate about, and stick with that.  Write papers, books, etc.  Preserve history, and, in may respects, translate it to others.  That may look like university work, but it also could be work at a museum.

Another path is through Applied Anthropology — using our knowledge and abilities (dare I say superpowers?) to translate between two cultures.  The best worst example is the military, especially in Iraq.  This, as you know, is frowned upon since we have a ‘do no harm’ mentality.  We’re not meant to disrupt or exact change, only observe.  This is a bit hard these days with a Global Society, but we do our best.

Finally, many of us recognize corporate opportunities, but probably aren’t very interested in them (yet).  GM is the best example.  They make products for international use, which need to work within the cultures they sell to.  I believe (Dr. Weibel will correct me if I’m wrong) they were, at one time, the largest employer of Anthropologists in the United States.  Someone in this department told me that so I know I didn’t make it up!

Anyway, that’s not a lot to chose from, and it sells our degree short.

Here’s an example of an experience I had shortly after starting my career.  I was discussing work at a networking event with an owner of a PR firm and happened to mention that I’m an Anthropologist.  He stopped and told me that he would rather hire an Anthropologist over a Marketer any day of the week – for a marketing job, mind you.  I was really proud of my degree at that moment.

But he’s right.  Anthropologists are kickass at anything that involves thinking about humans — which is pretty much everything!  We’re really good at understanding others and translating to them.  Within our own culture there are subcultures, and businesses need help speaking to those groups.

Even more, we really can do anything we set our minds to.  We’re excellent chameleons because we have learned to remove our own priorities in order to better understand others.  With our researching prowess, we really can learn our way to anything.

So here’s my experience doing just that.  I started in the disaster relief world as a case worker.  Immediately my degree was at use, not just with how to do a good ethnographic interview and truly listen, but also to empathize with what was happening without getting caught up and making their stress my own.

When I completed my term of service, I wanted to do more.  Here’s where the research comes in.  I decided to start a tax exempt nonprofit organization all by myself.  I didn’t have a board to support me or cofounders, just an idea and the drive to make it work.  I researched my way into the Articles of Incorporation with the State of Michigan, researched how to complete the 40 page 501(c) IRS paperwork, and (finally) researched how to build a board, including bylaws and code of conducts.  I lead two volunteer teams, researching how to create expectations and volunteer forms in the process.

Today I’m a serial entrepreneur.  My first and main business is website design, development, and maintenance.  I had no clue how to code — but I researched my way into it.  I researched how to build contracts, handle employees, and guide clients through the development process.

In doing all this (and much more… it’s addicting) I learned an important fact.  Anthropologists are being hailed as the new Design wave because of how we can think about users.  WIRED Magazine wrote an article all about this.  Instead of approaching a user interface or product from the point of view of the function already developed, we approach it with the humans in mind.  This makes us way better at Design Thinking and Human Centered Design.  As tech fields grow, we’re going to be in high demand.

Finally, I want to leave you thinking about the two side projects I have going.  The first is a book (hopefully to become more of a main thing).  I used my research and interviewing skills to interview elders born before 1940 about how technology is changing us.  It’s a blend of ethnography and nonfiction writing, and it is not sanctioned by a university.  I just decided to do it, figured out how to fundraise on Kickstarter, and am doing it.  The lens with which we begin to see the world due to this degree allows us to truly explore other perspectives — and, again, bring them to others.

My other side project is a temporary one.  I am managing a crowdfunding campaign for a woman named Zahra, an Afghan refugee here in Grand Rapids.  Her mother and sister are still in Afghanistan and, with no male guardian, are in real danger.  They were all child brides, and have various levels of disability due to the beatings they’ve received.

Not only was I able to research how to develop this project, I am able to represent it in a way that donors can resonate with while still remaining culturally and historically accurate.  I’m sure there are a lot of people who can strive toward this, but I know that my background in Anthropology makes me all the better at it.

Now let’s talk about you.  Have I gotten any wheels turning?  Any new ideas popping up?