Sarah Hoit is a career social entrepreneur focused on companies that impact larger social issues. She co-founded ConnectedLiving in 2007 to bring digital inclusion to the 60 million underserved Americans who do not have easy access to digital technology.
Sarah was previously Founder, Chairman and CEO of Explore, Inc., a program developed in response to the growing need for quality after-school and summer programs. Through partnerships with school districts and community members, Explore operated programs that met the academic and social needs of every student through the integration of experiential learning, homework and skill lessons, physical education, and community services, and served over 75 schools in nine states. Sarah sold the company in April 2001.
Prior to founding Explore, Sarah played a major role in the development and implementation of President Clinton's AmeriCorps, the Corporation for National & Community Service. Serving as the Director of Business Planning in the White House Office of National Service, she organized and drafted the business plan for this $600 million organization based on private-sector models, resulting in a highly successful first year for the program in which more than 20,000 Americans devoted a full year to community service projects nationwide. As AmeriCorps' Deputy Director, Sarah managed the start-up and program operation for this new national division with residential service campuses. For her accomplishments, she was honored with The Timberland Corporation's Annual Award for National Service Leadership.
Sarah was a Managing Director and Partner at Thomas Partners Investment Management, a Managing Director with Sylvan Learning Systems, a national supplemental education company, and a Management Consultant to senior management in multiple industries in corporate strategy, marketing, and communications.
Sarah holds a BA with Honors from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard Business School (HBS), where she was awarded a public service fellowship. She teaches a class each year at HBS and Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business on social entrepreneurism.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Many experiences in my life - both professional and personal - have helped shape who I am today. Nothing has had a bigger impact on me than my family. My parents raised me to be socially conscious and taught me the importance of getting involved with organizations that make a positive difference in the world. That has been the consistent theme of my professional career: contribute to the greater good and you will change the lives of others.
How did your previous employment experience aid your position at ConnectedLiving?
When I worked in Clinton's White House, I helped develop AmeriCorps, which created an opportunity for young people who wanted to serve their country. It taught me first-hand about the passion, willingness and generosity of those who want to help solve a problem.
When I founded Explore, I chose to build off of those principles while helping a group that had a harder time helping themselves: children. Explore addressed the national reality that too many children have nothing to do and nowhere to go after school. Explore created high-quality, replicable after-school programs that addressed the problem of idle time after school. My time with Explore taught me about the importance of scalability in order to address issues on a national scale.
ConnectedLiving aims to solve the issue of getting our nation's elderly population online and connected. These experiences have also helped me realize that for-profit companies can have "do good" missions and support socially responsible goals while still having a financial ROI.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Work life balance is something that has always been important to me - especially since I became a mother myself. You have to be organized and prioritize the things that need to be done versus the things that can wait until later.
Personally, I make it a point to leave the office and be home for dinner every night in order to preserve that sacred family time. While I usually hop back online and work from home later at night, that time with my children is of the utmost importance to me.
It was important to me to build a company that makes home life a priority. Caring about our employees and their lives outside of work is something that comes naturally to a company with our mission. We allow our employees to have flexible schedules and I have always supported an employee being there for their family; whether it's attending a school play or soccer game.
ConnectedLiving has many female executives who are parents and sometimes the sole earner in their household, and through our flexible hours we've been able to break some old stereotypes. What matters is getting the work done, not how long you spend in the office. This flexibility and the option to work from home have actually increased productivity.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at ConnectedLiving?
I think it's important for everyone to realize that for-profit companies like ConnectedLiving can "do good" and solve social problems. I consider myself lucky to be involved with an organization that is working to do something that has not been done before - get our nation's elderly online and connected. Knowing that every day we are making a positive difference in these seniors' lives is the biggest highlight of working at ConnectedLiving. And while we're doing this good work, we also focus on doing right when it comes to our employees and all the while working to make a profit for our investors.
I'm also fortunate to be leading a team that works as passionately and as fervently as I do to accomplish our goals. Nothing makes me happier than sharing our passion with the world and making others aware of the problems we're solving.
However, like most jobs, this one has its share of challenges as well. Change doesn't just happen overnight and that can be frustrating. While we have made tremendous progress connecting more than 35,000 seniors, we know there is much more work ahead.
How are you utilizing the latest technological trends at ConnectedLiving?
ConnectedLiving is web-based so our users can access the platform anywhere though a variety of devices, including laptops, desktops, smartphones and tablets, because of this, we make an effort to stay up to date on best practices including web design and technology standards.
We are also in the process of developing a leading suite of apps to enhance the mobile experience and to change the aging experience. We are also working on a way to take the platform into the consumer's home and make it available to all seniors, not just those in senior living communities.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Time and flexibility. Over the years, I've seen some of the best workers, communicators, and multi-taskers I know get sidelined when they need a more flexible schedule or have children, which is simply unacceptable in the day and age we live in.
In the past, in order to be successful or receive a promotion, you had to be in the office five or six days a week and needed to be the first one there and the last one out. But technology has decreased the need for someone to physically be in your office to do their job. The work day doesn't begin at 9:00 a.m. and end at 5:00 p.m. We are always connected.
I would like to see more employers take a stand when it comes to allowing flexible schedules for their employers, especially working mothers and fathers..
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Having a mentor has made a huge impact on my life. One of my first mentors was actually former Vice President Al Gore.
I worked on his 1988 presidential campaign and then subsequently accepted a position within the Clinton/Gore administration. The Vice President was extremely dedicated to public service even if decision or policy wasn't popular with the public. I'll never forget him saying, "If you aren't making mistakes, you're not trying hard enough." I really cherish that wisdom and have carried it with me throughout my career.
Another important lesson I learned from the Vice President, was to make an effort to hire and work with people who challenge you, ask tough questions, and offer a fresh perspective on an idea that you won't get from "yes people."
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and I'm lucky to say she is also one of my good friends. She is one of the smartest, bravest people I know, and I believe the work she is currently doing to protect women who have been sexually abused while serving their country in the military is incredibly important.
I also admire The Body Shop founder, Anita Roddick. She has mastered the concept that you can run a successful company while also having a larger impact on the world by being socially responsible.
What are your hopes for the future of ConnectedLiving?
My hope is that we'll be able to continue transforming the experience of our elderly and aging populations by connecting them through technology. I hope that the impact of doing that will have a profound effect on them, our country, and the world. With my amazing team, I intend to make the idea of a connected life something that is a possibility for everyone.