Hannah Davis

Prioritizing mental health and pursuing social impact

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Key takeaway: Go to therapy. Your inner life influences all of the decisions you make, both personally and professionally

Top 5% in the world at: Snacks. I am top 1% of the entire globe on snacks. I have goldfish in my purse right now

We need more Hannahs in the world. Her mission in life is to make the world a better place by helping people in need. But, as she learned early in her career, you cannot help others unless you prioritize your mental health. Hannah shares how her dream job “nearly killed her” and her incredible journey of self-recovery. Now, Hannah is changing the world by leading membership for 1,000 social enterprises as Director of Community at the Social Enterprise Alliance.

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How She Did it

When I was little, I always had a lot of aspirations. I would make lists of all the things I was going to be when I grew up, which really foreshadowed how my career has evolved. I've always been a very curious person and am not interested in doing just one thing. My parents also strongly emphasized the value of helping others, so as a kid, I would play doctor a lot.

How did you pick your major?
I originally went to Ohio State for their nursing program. But... I wasn't great at science. I got a C in Chemistry! Growing up, I devoted my attention and energy to the things I was naturally good at and just ignored the other stuff. As I matured, I switched to a growth mindset so I can be a lifelong learner and find joy in overcoming.

I was nannying for my political science professor and started reading international political books and newspapers. I enjoyed understanding how systems work together and how power affects the poor and marginalized. The opportunity to work in international development and fulfill the way I was raised — to help other people — sparked my interest in the major. Working for the U.N. or the World Bank was my dream back then.

In college, what were you involved in?
I was an RA and loved having an amazing community. It gave me a lot of leadership and diversity skills.

My global political community was where I ended up spending most of my time and, out of that, I crafted a research project in Rwanda about the effects of microfinance on social systems. Ohio State is a research-1 institution so they sponsored my trip. Doing research allowed me to create my own little niche and find a community in such a large school.

How did you get this job?
I googled and knew somebody who knew somebody that knew the founders. Garden of Hope was based in Thailand and assists survivors of human trafficking, sexual abuse, and domestic violence.

What was unexpected about this job?
Everything. The responsibility I had and how emotionally unprepared I was to do that. This was my dream job — supporting social enterprises that empower women who have been trafficked and are seeking a healed, whole life. After a year of the stress of this work, I began having panic attacks. I didn't have the skills to cope with the knowledge of how much pain and evil there is in the world, and I was equally overwhelmed by people's incredible capacity to overcome and thrive.

I had to come home and then was suicidally depressed for 6 months. My life consisted of me not sleeping and and living on the brink of a panic attack. I went to see a therapist and she told me that this was my body's response to stress. I thought she was just being dramatic.

I would just lay on the floor. Thank god that was when TV on computer started. I watched every TV show known to man. Someone asked me recently at a happy hour, "What's your big dream?" And I said, "Well I already had it. And it nearly killed me."

After a long while, I decided to get up off the floor, make some money, and get back into life. I got a job at Juniper Imports for 2 years (2009-2011) as store manager. It was in my town and I knew I needed to stay there; I hadn't healed enough yet.

When I was working at Juniper Imports, I was really bored. I enjoyed the work but was understimulated and craved a new challenge. One of my mentors in Rwanda, who was the head of a bank, told me that when it comes to international development, he would take someone with an MBA over 25 social workers.

Why Colorado?
My friend from Rwanda emailed me about a program in Colorado State called Global Social Sustainable Enterprise. I was torn between Columbia and Colorado State: a high-tier private school and one that offered exactly the program I wanted.

To figure it out, I called this woman who went to HBS. She told me that she wanted to quit her job but couldn’t because of debt. She was set on having this high power life but then realized she was stuck in it. This made me realize that I didn’t want to pre-pay for a lifestyle I wasn’t sure I’d like. Colorado offered me a significant scholarship, so I had almost no debt and never regretted my decision. The other path would’ve given me a huge network of executives, but that wasn't for me. Societal expectations don't mean that much to me, so why would I let other people make decisions for me?

Favorite experience at Colorado?
2 classmates and I started a social enterprise called “Creative Springs Foundation” that employed at-risk youth in the Philippines as photo editors for wedding photographers. People could outsource their editing and we provided jobs for at risk youth.

The Nobel Prize winning group of scientists that did research for Al Gore contacted me because they felt that no one cared about climate science. I was like, “Yeah because climate science is the most boring term ever.” We worked together to engage the public with educational resources. I was a contractor so I got to control my schedule, which in Colorado means you get to travel everywhere.

Why did you start your own company?
I realized that I could help subject matter experts who needed supplemental business skills. That's basically what I did with the climate scientists. So when I moved to Nashville, I started working with my connections — artists, musicians, and business owners who lived there.

How did you build your skillset? In 2014, I worked with the United Way of Metro Nashville as a site coordinator. I loved financial empowerment. This part-time job gave me exposure to the hard skills of preparing taxes that directly translated to better serving my clients.

Why did you decide to transition out of having your own company?
I was sort of done. I realized that I needed to either scale my company and start taking on bigger projects and hiring more people, or move onto something different. After deciding that, I just set my clients up with different services and moved on.

Why social enterprise?
I wanted to return to more social impact focused work. I still enjoyed the consulting model of supporting entrepreneurs that were scaling their ventures, but I wanted to do that in the context of a larger support system. The job was posted online and though I had no connections I applied and was thrilled to be offered the job.

What drove you in your early career and what drives you now?
In my early career I was driven by curiosity to see the world, a desire to solve big problems, and a drive to use my life in service of others. Those things all play into my drive still today though my focus has shifted more domestically, and I’m interested in going deeper into problems.

Advice for your Career Launch

Go to therapy
Your inner life influences all of the decisions you make. If you don't have the strong skills to navigate your inner life, you will be a slave to your natural instincts. Therapy will make you better both personally and professionally.

Be a good listener
You know how Oprah says, "It's not what you tell people, it's how you make them feel"? There is strategy and follow-through that I bring to my work that helps me be successful. But I think it's definitely being a good listener that has helped me reach success. I have a secret theory that if you're a good listener, you can get almost anything you want in life.

Be the person who presents solutions
Be really proactive and be a person who presents solutions. Very few people do that. And it really sets you apart professionally.

Just ask
Most people won't say no to you. So just ask for things and maintain a network.

Your career path will be a winding road
When I was first launching my career I wish I would have known that it’s a winding road and there’s no dead ends. Each step you take will teach you something new (if you look for it!) and help direct you toward your next step.

Gain support from the female community
Female empowerment has meant everything to my career. My women’s mastermind group has helped me learn and grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined. And the support I have had from peers and mentors continues to spur me on, as it did from the beginning of my career.