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Bluemont-Based Startup Looks to Connect Governments, Nonprofits in Developing Nations

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.comStartup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Joanne Sonenshine says she did the “typical rotation” after arriving in Washington as a development economist 16 years ago.

She started off working for the federal government, then moved to a lobbying firm before ending up at a large nonprofit, all while working on issues in developing countries. But no matter what hat she wore or organization she worked for, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she wasn’t making as much of a difference as she might like.

“It became very clear that what was needed to make the most difference for some of these communities was someone to come in and be much more straightforward and clear about partnership building,” Sonenshine told ARLnow. “Bringing together nonprofits, governments, the private sector… and I thought a company could help fill that gap.”

So, on one long airplane ride, Sonenshine drew up a detailed methodology for how someone might convene all those various groups together around an issue like tackling poverty, or food insecurity. She showed it to a few friends and colleagues and got some positive feedback, so she quickly decided to “make the jump” and start a consulting firm of her own.

Sonenshine founded Connective Impact in 2014 in Bluemont, her home with her husband since moving to the area back in 2002. Though it started off as a one-woman operation, she says it’s since grown to include two full-time employees and a part-time researcher, and is currently funded entirely by herself and a small circle of “family and friends.”

She says the business now has “anywhere from three to 10 clients” at any given time, depending on the season, and they run the gamut from large corporations to renowned nonprofits to governments themselves. Past clients have included Nespresso, Oxfam and the United States Agency for International Development.

Her goal with all of her clients is to organize people around causes with “social, environmental and economic impact,” with a focus on developing nations.

For instance, if a large company is looking to reduce poverty in nations that help form the backbone of its “supply chain,” Sonenshine says Connective Impact would be able to step in. Her company could help the company connect with “local partners in communities” to achieve that goal, or even provide a connection to some of its competitors to understand how the industry might be worsening poverty in a country with its business practices.

“We can do the same thing on the nonprofit side,” Sonenshine said. “We can connect them with governments, local communities… just be much more specific about roles and responsibilities, about who should be working on what.”

Eventually, she hopes to expand her staff and begin developing workshops and seminars to offer independently of Connective Impact’s consulting work, to essentially export the work her company does elsewhere.

But no matter how much the company expands, she doesn’t plan on leaving Arlington anytime soon.

“We just love the school system and love working in Arlington,” Sonenshine said. “It’s always had such a great community feel.”

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