Meet Master of Sustainability Leadership alumna Laura Friedman

Overworked and experiencing health issues, Laura Friedman knew she needed to make major life changes. So, when her son recommended she go to college, she didn’t hesitate.

“I researched online graduate school degrees and learned that Arizona State University was ranked No. 1 in the country for innovation,” Friedman said. “I found the Master of Sustainability Leadership program and I believed combining and expanding the sustainability leadership themes with my technology career would enable me to make a valuable career shift.”

Today, Friedman has reversed her health issues and is graduating with her degree in May 2020. Continue reading to learn more about her remarkable journey, her experience with the MSL and her words of wisdom for other students.

Question: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Answer: I was born and raised in New Jersey and moved to Texas just before my 25th birthday. I love photography, travel, spending time with family and friends, making a difference for other people, and all things geek.

I began my technology career in 1984, before IBM created the personal computer and Microsoft created DOS. I’ve worked in profit and nonprofit organizations from Wall Street to Main Street. In 2003, I found myself a single mother raising two children so l launched Mighty Geeks, a woman-owned IT services company serving residential and small business customers in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. This gave me the flexibility to financially support my children and be more hands-on in raising them.

Being a single mother and running a business eventually took its toll on my health. When my youngest child left for college, I was 52-years old, 85 pounds overweight, and started experiencing serious health issues. I had memory problems so severe I couldn’t remember what I was talking about mid-sentence. My children were worried about me. My friends were worried about me. My clients were worried about me. I lost confidence and fell into a depression that made my health worse and began costing me business.

I felt trapped in a dark place with no way out.

After months of searching, I found a natural remedy that reversed my memory problems. I wanted more for my life but was still left doubting myself. Then my son came home from college for the summer and encouraged me to go to college. He said he believed in me and I suddenly realized I was the only person limiting my future. I registered for college in the fall of 2015 and less than a year later also began the journey to restore my health. Three short years from that conversation with my son, I earned associate and bachelor’s degrees and lost the 85 pounds. Today, I work out five days a week, eat healthy, and continue to be in the best mental and physical shape of my life.

Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study sustainability?

A: The miraculous personal sustainability results I produced in my health and education inspired me to want to empower others to impact their sustainability.

Q: Why did you choose the Master of Sustainability Leadership (MSL) program?

A: I researched online graduate school degrees and learned that ASU was ranked No. 1 in the country for innovation. I found the Sustainability Leadership program and further learned it was grounded in four themes: global context, strategy, communication, and leadership. I believed combining and expanding the sustainability leadership themes with my technology career would enable me to make a valuable career shift.

Q: What’s been your favorite part of being in the program so far and why?

A: My favorite part of the MSL program is the unparalleled structure of support and mentorship. Since returning to college in 2015, all degrees I’ve pursued were through online programs because I was a caregiver for my disabled mother and unable to commute to a campus. While some professors and instructors at previous colleges provided support as part of who they were as individuals, ASU implements the entire MSL program — from start to finish — with a structure of support. In essence, I felt like I had coaches and mentors behind me every step of the way. I simply couldn’t fail.

Q: Are there any particular classes or nuggets of information that have really stuck with you or inspired you?

A: First, systems level thinking. I’ve learned to consistently think from the perspective of a system of interactions and their impacts on each other, as well as the whole. This now enables me to ask bigger questions surrounding any issue or topic, and search for solutions that benefit the entire system.

Second, the three Leadership Commandments as defined by Harvard Business Review are interwoven throughout the program. These commandments — know thyself, understand others, and initiate and sustain change — taught me 1) courage to develop as a sustainability leader, 2) compassion and respect for others as collaborative partners for a sustainable planet, and 3) the power to make a global impact for people in their communities, quality of life, and financial well-being.

Q: Can you tell us about your capstone project? What inspired you to do the project?

A: One of the greatest challenges in expanding and accelerating the transition of a sustainability idea into a successful initiative is the ability for people with ideas to gain funding to develop and test them in a timely manner. The current methods of venture capital, bank loans, and angel investors are insufficient, difficult to navigate, and often end in rejection. It doesn’t matter the area of sustainability, industry, sector, or part of the world; sustainability ideas everywhere are far outpacing the funding to accomplish them.

This was confirmed for me while attending an AIPAC conference in the Spring of 2019 in Washington, D.C., which highlighted the global impact of Israeli sustainability advancements and innovations. Many of the newer initiatives were struggling to move forward due to lack of funding.

A personal mission emerged to provide a way to bridge the funding gap for sustainability ideas and startups. This new mission inspired an idea to launch Kairos Funding, a crowdfunding platform that focuses solely on sustainability ideas, innovation, and solutions. It is intended to be a paradigm shift in the sustainability funding landscape, redefining how innovation and ideas obtain the necessary funding to be successful.

The 10-year goal for Kairos Funding is to facilitate $10 billion in sustainability crowdfunding, with a further commitment to recirculate 100% of the net profits back into philanthropy efforts for nonprofit and NGO sustainability initiatives.

The crowdfunding platform will be integrated by July 2020.

Q: How do you envision applying sustainability to your future career?

A: Sustainability leadership isn’t a career for me, it is part of who I am, and it will be interwoven into every endeavor I pursue. In many ways, the United States is behind other countries in recognizing the need for a sustainability approach to everything we do. Being part of the catalyst in transforming the United States into global sustainability leaders is something I endeavor to influence.

Q: What does sustainability mean to you?

A: The accepted definition of sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability to meet the needs of the future. The three realms of sustainability are social, economic, and environmental.

Ultimately to me, sustainability is a legacy to live and leave for humanity. In light of the COVID-19 2020 pandemic and its impact on people and the economy, the demand to raise adequate funding to implement sustainability solutions in all three areas — social, economic, and environmental — will be in the forefront of global policy and consideration for decades to come. I intend to be part of that megatrend.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?

A: Being a sustainability leader that leverages technology to address global sustainability issues is my passion and purpose. Yours may be different.

It’s important to 1) get connected to what you are passionate about and the change you want to see and be, 2) take time to explore and discover, 3) think outside the box, 4) speculate ideas, 5) be willing to look in the mirror to develop yourself as a leader, 6) use your ASU instructors for coaching and mentoring (even when coaching calls aren’t part of the syllabus), 7) never sell yourself short, 8) complete every assignment with at least 100% effort, 9) make it your mission to incorporate all feedback you receive, and 10) never give up.

And always remember, it’s never too late and you’re never too old.