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Carrie Santos

Carrie Santos is the Chief Executive Officer of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), a global business network of over 15,000 entrepreneurs and over 200 chapters around the world. Carrie has over two decades of experience leading change management and strategic development of international organizations and programs. Prior to EO, she was the Policy Section Chief of Refugee Admissions for the US Department of State, and she was the Executive Director of International Response and Programs for the American Red Cross.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Carrie Santos discusses how Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) navigated the pandemic
  • Carrie’s experience as a Fulbright Scholar in Poland during the fall of the Iron Curtain
  • How does the EO network operate on the local level while maintaining a global impact?
  • Entrepreneurs’ positive impact on global issues — and EO members’ focus on mental health
  • The people that have supported Carrie throughout her career

In this episode…

How are entrepreneurs making an impact globally? Where can leaders turn to receive support and guidance throughout their careers?

As a leader within Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), Carrie Santos has seen the impact entrepreneurs are making at both a local and global level. EO inspires members to dream up new ideas, make changes in their business, and foster a community of support. From creating sustainable jobs to mitigating mental health challenges, entrepreneurs across the world are helping everyone thrive through trying circumstances.

In this episode of the Rising Entrepreneurs Podcast, John Corcoran sits down with Carrie Santos, CEO of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, to talk about the value of support systems and the impact entrepreneurs are having on their communities. Carrie discusses working through the turbulent times of COVID, the Trump administration, and the fall of the Iron Curtain, how entrepreneurs are making positive changes globally, and the fellow leaders that have supported Carrie throughout her career.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:02  

Welcome to the Rising Entrepreneurs Podcast where we feature top founders and entrepreneurs and their journey. Now let’s get started with the show.

John Corcoran  0:13  

I welcome everyone John Corcoran here, the host of this show. And every week I talk to smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs of all kinds of companies. Check out our archives, Netflix Kinkos Activision Blizzard lending tree Open Table got lots of great individuals that you want to go check out those past episodes. I’m also the co founder of Rise25 where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And our guests here today. I’m so excited to have her name is Carrie Santos. She’s the Chief Executive Officer of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, which is a global business network of 15,000. I think it might be 16,000 plus leading entrepreneurs 200 Plus chapters around the world. I’ve been privileged to be a member of EO for not too long, and it’s an amazing organization. But prior to joining EO, Carrie’s got an amazing background, she worked eight years at the American Red Cross. She also spent about 10 years at the State Department. And she also has a PhD in Political Science and was a Fulbright scholar to Poland is communism clap. So we’re gonna ask about all of those different various experiences. And as someone who worked in government, before getting into entrepreneurship, I love the connections and I love the conversation. So this episode, of course, is brought to you by Rise25 Media, where we help b2b businesses, direct clients, referrals and strategic partnerships with done for you podcast and content marketing, go to, to learn more about it. Alright, Carrie, so excited to have you here today. We got these kind of shared experiences, we got the Bay Area, we got government, we got EO and entrepreneurship. So we got a lot to talk about. But I want to take you back first to march 2020, you’re leading this organization of I think it was about 13 14,000 members worldwide of entrepreneurs, running a zillion different companies. And here comes COVID. And I went through that experience. And I’d love to know, from your perspective, you know, what you were thinking, and what you what you did as this major crisis, the the biggest we’ve ever seen, came down the pike affecting all of your members.

Carrie Santos  2:25  

So for us, it started as a regional event very much in mainland China and Bhutan. And that part of the event was kind of familiar to me, because it reminded me of some of my work for international disaster response from the American Red Cross. And I knew things about your coordinating calls and having your lead person on the ground. And it was tricky. And we were very, very worried about our members. But the the members and the staff in China, were just doing amazing work trying to find out who needed what, how do they need it. And at that point, we were actually helping members mobilize masks and other protective equipment to go into China. So that felt very familiar. And, okay, how are we going to help that region around the early dates in March that you mentioned was when it became global, we started kind of move a little bit to Italy, we were like, Okay, this is this is coming. But when it became a something for all of us not like watching over there, or helping over there, it was quite different. nothing I’d ever really dealt with to this degree, we had to decide to cancel a university in Sydney.

John Corcoran  3:38  

I think I think four days before, yeah, a couple of people that were like on their way there are already here.

Carrie Santos  3:44  

Yeah. So that was quite difficult to decide to figure out how to roll out that communication, how quickly to make it. And luckily, we have iOS staff all over the world. So we have our staff members based in Australia who are giving us you know, their best data source because it can be hard from further away to just you know, you don’t want to rely on just your government, but they were giving us okay, well, there was this thing and these hospitals in these cities and watching that trend right there on the ground was extremely helpful. That information versus like just the who really, really helped to see that medical staff were getting hit in Australia and hospitals were having trouble responding because too many of your doctors were sick. And that gave us a lot of fear that even though they have a really strong healthcare system, they weren’t gonna be able to manage and I think most of you remember your Tom Hanks and his wife got sick. I tell you that happened to begin the day after we decided and I was like, Okay, I think the right decision, but yeah, it would help people to understand and we literally went from being a business that I’d say was 98% in person, and like 2% online to being 100% online and that massive switch. Nobody thought was even possible. Up until then, we had lots of debates, oh, you can’t do EO online. Oh, you can’t do it virtual. Oh, about human connection. And oh, let’s think about some pilots. And we were like thinking about what pilots we were going to do. And then boom, the whole organization was in a pilot. And it’s amazing.

John Corcoran  5:23  

Yeah. And from my perspective, I know you jumped into a lot of education, a lot of webinars, a lot of teleseminars. A lot of just sharing of information. And I imagine that was evolving, or was there a, was there any sort of roadmap to follow?

Carrie Santos  5:40  

Right? So we had one full time person whose job was called Virtual Learning before COVID. Now, I’d say like, all of us are jobs for children, but there was one person who got a job. And so I think it was No, there wasn’t a roadmap at all, it was very much, what’s next, what’s next, and keeping the member front and center. And luckily, seeing what they were doing in China helped us know, so knowing that businesses were going to be in crisis, because they already were finding different ways to get coaching prices, material to businesses, you know, how do you manage your cash? How do you stress test? How can we get you a virtual coach for your business right now, that helped seeing what the members needed a couple months ahead in China and thinking about what would be good ways to disseminate that same kind of information?

John Corcoran  6:31  

Yeah. So talk about, you know, some of the different experiences that you’ve had you mentioned, you were at the American Red Cross in the State Department, you dealt with crises before, but nothing like this before. I imagine. So, you know, in what ways did that help prepare you for this experience, or did it at all?

Carrie Santos  6:51  

Did a little bit in that way in crisis is your day to day you have a tempo and a pace. So I felt very comfortable with with the tempo and the pace, and you know that there’s like a daily communication need, you need to, like once a day, give your update once a day, go give the headline. So we kind of quickly set up an internal architecture of information that I was familiar with, and other work, what we didn’t have, for people who already knew how to do that job, like so we had regular communications people, but not people who knew like how you build like a daily update. Yeah, it’s not too hard. But so some of those things really did help and the confidence I had that, okay, you know, you just have to start to set up some normal processes have go decision making, at a certain time of day, get the right people there, what was different, I’d never done any of this with a member board. So I, I have no idea, I’d like to go back to my calendar and check the number of board meetings we did during COVID. It was like, I don’t know, quadruple the numbers of some crazy amount, because we need to we’re a membership organization, you always need the members involved and aware, giving their feedback and sharing. So we just kind of I think we were on a weekly meeting with the whole board, but then smaller groups all week. So that part was a little intense of being like, Okay, we need another presentation for the board another piece of tissue to kind of keep the whole organization moving along, not just like the back office, that keeping all the members informed. Was it really heavy part of that.

John Corcoran  8:25  

Right. Now, in many ways, you were the perfect person for this role at this moment in time, even though I’m sure. You know, that wasn’t the reason you were hired, you know, that sole reason in anticipation of there being a global pandemic. But I mean, going back in your career, you started your career, you were a Fulbright scholar in Poland, during the fall of communism, and you traveled around behind the Iron Curtain during the USSR. What was that experience? Like?

Carrie Santos  8:53  

It was it was a be right. It’s a little bit like that where you have to negotiate every step. You know, there’s no playbook for how to live in an ending communist country, you know, those those systems are kind of crumbling apart. So figuring out how to negotiate anything was really a big part of survival. So I was given as a student in Poland as a Fulbright student, I was given a meat ration card which is like this big and little, flimsy, flimsy cheap piece of very cheap paper and I figured out that the best thing to do with my meat ration card because meat wasn’t anything I was going to prepare, I would give it to the administrator of the university who was like responsible for my paperwork kind of like the Secretary and I cared about me actually garden that kept me pretty far. And I also like figured out how to rent an apartment which wasn’t allowed but you know, sort of your friend and a friend they’re you know, they’re not they’re not supposed to do anything capitalist like that. But But I did and I got like a three bedroom flat because you know, nobody has no one. We need a small place. That was kind of fun, a lot of like constant negotiation of how do you do your next step?

John Corcoran  10:06  

How does being in that world where there’s no entrepreneurship? How does that inform what you do now, as the executive director, CEO of this 16,000 member, entrepreneurship that is around the globe, espousing the virtues of entrepreneurship.

Carrie Santos  10:25  

So the thing is, there’s entrepreneurship everywhere. I don’t think there’s any part of the globe that has ever been able to eradicate entrepreneurship, it’s constantly there, I mean, I Gosh, and communism, the the black market for everything, but like the currency market, like, you will always find people who are figuring out what are the gaps in any economic system and how to fill them. And the more you have a system that’s controlling, the more gaps there are. So the entrepreneur, like every person living in a communist country was an entrepreneur, because he would basically figure out what goods and services they had access to, and how to trade them for what they needed. I probably learned more there than anywhere. Another interesting example is after a disaster. So you know, I was part of natural disaster responses for American Red Cross, and you would see how quickly an individual could set up a stand that was selling anything. And I mean, just, it happens before, before any international relief, national relief comes in, you have individuals, figuring out how to get your, what you can sell what goods are available, how to take the debris and start selling it off, because some of its useful, that spirit always inspired me watching, you know, like a single mom and the Philippines and the typhoon high. And, you know, we would have a program in American Red Cross to help them with really, really small cash grant that they could turn into business. And this woman like, bought a used used vehicle, and she started using it to like, get the downed cocoa trees and sell them. And we’d come back two months later, three months later, and she’d have four vehicles, like she just grew her business out of anything, and watching that human spirit where people take a difficult situation and realize that there is a way to help connect who needs what and how to grow in that setting. There’s always people who can do that.

John Corcoran  12:21  

Yeah. And, and elaborate on that a little bit further, because I know we were chatting beforehand, and you said that it was really your more your experience at the American Red Cross? You know, more so than your experience at the State Department that really got you more interested in working with entrepreneurs?

Carrie Santos  12:40  

Yes, we were very lucky that the types of donations we would receive from American Red Cross gave us the ability to ask the tough questions about what works well, what doesn’t work. Well, what can we experiment with? You can’t just sort of rest on oh, we’re going to give people pox in a blink like, yes, you can. But how can we do more? How can we do better. So often, we were partnering with entrepreneurs locally on how to just do better for one, how to help them help their economies and their communities recover and how to do better. Like we had an interesting program in Nairobi, where we were partnering with entrepreneurs who were setting up smart smoke detectors, for the the low income slums like so a fire is the biggest problem that will happen you there’s no way that the fire department will get their fire will just, you know, destroy hundreds of people’s homes very quickly. And so these entrepreneurs who figured out how to create really, really cheap smoke detectors that could set off alarms, like through multiple blocks at once. And so then you don’t get people in a vulnerable situation by losing all their property, save it up front where they’re able to put the fire out. So I the ingenuity involved in thinking, you know, how do we make a difference for people who don’t have a lot of resources? That kind of thinking was super inspiring to me. And when the opportunity to come to EO and work with entrepreneurs around the globe solving problems presented itself I was all in.

John Corcoran  14:12  

Hmm, fascinating. One of the things that’s struck me about EO is its unique organizational structure. And I imagine it relates in a sense to what you said with American Red Cross. Much more so than obviously federal government more top down organization very centralized, EO is so incredibly decentralized. Right. And it’s taken a little while for me to wrap my head around that as an organization, so much power to the local level. So talk a little bit about that structure and how it shapes the work that you do.

Carrie Santos  14:46  

Yeah, it’s fascinating I’m glad you picked up on it because a lot of our members are really familiar with corporate structures like this right? And so you have this feeling that you must be similar but in fact, we are a very decentralized network and I think that’s how We get the best ideas that there’s no EO jail. There’s no EO, like boss, like you can experiment and try everything. We have 15,000 innovators, we have 200 centers of innovation chapter wise, and it’s like a network effect, you know, brings out the market, it brings out all the best ideas. And I think that’s what makes it the very best. But what people don’t realise is the Red Cross being a volunteer network, it’s primarily a volunteer run all around the world, you know, 1010 20 million volunteers, and it runs the same way, decentralized, there’s nobody in charge. So you have to go corral people to be interested in your approach, you have to persuade them that it’s, it’s good. And you know, the best ideas can run forward, if you have, I just thought that was a beautiful part of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement that people were just contributing their time and their talent for a greater purpose. And the fact that EO has the same of, you know, how we can globally have that really local footprint that wishes the best, you know, you’re offering the best because it meets the local needs, and then still collaborate in a network. It’s, it’s really amazing.

John Corcoran  16:15  

Yeah, must have been very familiar to you having come from that previous type of structure, I want to ask you about, you know, as an organization, EO has involved in a lot of different initiatives, global issues, sustainability issues, it’s got involvement at the UN UN level. Before I get to that, though, I want to ask you about one experience. You’ve been at the State Department went to the American Red Cross. And then you had some friends who were back at the State Department, and they said, Hey, this will be fun. Come on back, Mama, you come, come work here. And so you wouldn’t, and you took a job as head of refugee admissions in September 2016.

Carrie Santos  16:55  

Policy, I wasn’t at a refugee admissions, I was helping on the policies that

John Corcoran  16:59  

got it got it. Okay. But still in that area. Of course, a couple of months later, you know, the Trump administration comes in. And it must have been a bit of a turbulent time kind of navigating those waters and figuring out what you’re supposed to do and what you weren’t supposed to do with different various different court rulings coming down.

Carrie Santos  17:21  

Yeah, the speed of change at the beginning of the Trump administration was like nothing I’d ever experienced. And again, in many government roles, we’re working in a crisis setting very quickly, like, you know, airlifting things, and quickly moving with a war. But what we were dealing with at the beginning of the Trump administration, where they were very set on rolling out certain policy initiatives, you know, we would hear about them on the news, you know, we found out that there was going to be what, people labeled a Muslim ban pretty much on the news, and then you’re trying to parse through the statements and figure out, okay, what am I supposed to do tomorrow, and especially when they shut off certain countries from coming to the US is very, very complicated process for us working on refugee admissions, because there are people all around the world who are in a pipeline to travel from here to there. So like, let’s say you have three stops to get from Kenya to the US, like people are in that pipeline, if you turn it off, and they’re stuck in Belgium, like you got to figure out what to do with them. So we had never shut down the refugee admissions program before we basically had to like figure out, Is there a knob? And how do you turn it off? A lot of discussion with everyone in Homeland Security and people responsible for airport security, and, you know, airline officials trying to let them know what this policy was. And then all of those decisions were challenged in the court. So we would have like the radio on trying to figure out what was the court ruling going to be? And the next day, were we supposed to turn it back on? If that’s what the court rules and how would we turn it back on and very unique situation in a city like Washington, DC, where they kind of know how to how to get things moving in the government. But that up and down twist and turn was really fascinating. And the pace was incredible. Just trying to keep up with what was coming out in the news every day to know what our jobs?

John Corcoran  19:20  

Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about how entrepreneurs are getting involved on global issues. sustainability issues, got the UN sustainability goals. What do you see as the role of entrepreneurs in global issues?

Carrie Santos  19:41  

Well, what’s really amazing is how entrepreneurs bring a different mindset problem solving. The large organizations, international organizations like the UN and governments that give out a lot of aid. They really think at a big macro level, okay, you know, $20 million is going Hear a billion dollars is going there and can give it to governments and it’s going to trickle down. And eventually we’ll get a road like this. And maybe you will maybe you want actors, like entrepreneurs are so much better able to look at the gap and find the solutions for a gap. So like supply chain issues, things you’re getting to the last mile, those are things that big, big organizations don’t know how to do that come like second nature to an entrepreneur. So what’s really cool having this framework, the UN Sustainable Development Goals is very open clear. They’re things that any business can look at and decide is relevant to them, like clean water, or education, or empowering girls and women, and you can look at your own business and decide where you might have an impact. In fact, actually all entrepreneurs have an impact, I’m gonna get it wrong, I think it’s SDG. Eight is I’m creating sustainable jobs, oh, entrepreneurs are doing that right now. And it’s your jobs where you’re treating your your workers and your staff equitably, like everybody in you is doing that because they’re on their own journey with value. So I’m having a way for members to see that they they’re, you know, already just by creating jobs or contributing to alleviating poverty in the world or something where maybe they’ll get more interested or they’re seeing about how to adjust their supply chain to, you know, help clean water or some other issue, it’s really great that it’s open for you to see. And then what we’re seeing in EO is our members are talking about what they’re doing in their own businesses, and inspiring other members to make other changes that might be relevant for their businesses. So that sharing that we do an EO is really opening up ideas for members like what their next business would be, or how to future proof their business from future regulation, really looking for those opportunities.

John Corcoran  22:01  

You know, one of the things that I’ve been struck by is the way in which members of EO are really focused on mental health focused on, you know, having a positive mindset, a growth mindset, but also airing, you know, times when they’re not feeling great times when they’re in a dark place. I’ve interviewed so many amazing members, entrepreneurs who have talked about that, and the the role of like having peers and for mates who can help you through those difficult times. I literally just interviewed someone else earlier today, who she said member of EO and she said that it being in her form inspired her to patch things up with her father she’d been estranged from for 35 years. So talk a little about what you’ve observed, and how you’ve seen members kind of take on the role of mental health.

Carrie Santos  22:56  

Yeah, I think COVID was a really stark example. Because members are facing all these business problems for sure, like, massive, yeah, I’ve lost my clientele. I’ve lost my country, I mean, massive business problems, but how a lot of our members dealt with that was by taking care of their own mental health first, because I think most of our members are smart enough, and have the resources and know how to access resources to figure out, Okay, I’m gonna need this loan, or I’m going to do this on cash. But you can’t make those decisions if you’re not in the right mental space. And that is really where the support from other members really, really comes in. And you’ll see a member share like this is the amazing thing people meet each other at an in person event and they’ve known each other over the years, we are all locked down at home during COVID. And all they have is WhatsApp and zoom calls and so they’ll post on there WhatsApp, oh my gosh, I have to lay off all of my stuff today. I can’t believe I have to do this. And then someone will chime in, you know, I actually did that five years ago is the worst day of my life. And here’s how you’re gonna get through it. And just knowing that there are other people who’ve been through the same thing really helps entrepreneurs do what they know they need to do but just with that extra speed, care, compassion, you know, not delay not going around in circles like okay, I’ve got to do it and that that clarity and the support you get to face you’re really difficult times I think it’s just helped everybody thrive through very, very trying circumstances.

John Corcoran  24:33  

Carrie This has been so such a pleasure talking to you. I know we’re running short on time to wrap things up the question I was asked, I’m a big fan of gratitude. I’m a big fan of expressing gratitude publicly, especially maybe to those that we don’t get to all that often. So, you know, if you look around at your peers and contemporaries or mentors, you know, however you want to define that pretty respect. Who do you admire? Who’s some people that you would want to publicly acknowledge for helping you along In your journey.

Carrie Santos  25:01  

Sure. So um, we have this thing called the O family. So there’s YPO. The young professionals organization is also one called CEO, which is a group of YPO members. And both of those CEOs in the EO family really reached out to me and helped me as peers and mentors. So there’s Jennifer Leeman Wang from EO who has virtually the same job as me, like someone who actually has the same job. And he’s just been terrific to go to lunch to and, and realize that, oh, it’s not just us who’s crazy. This is just the way the job is. And then Scott Mordell, as well from YPO was was a great help. And I don’t think I have thanked them publicly for just kind of embracing me as I got into this world, because there are people who worked in this old world 10 20 years and I was definitely an outsider, they were very much kind of forum sharing and helpful to me, there’s someone else, I would just love to thank who probably is thanked by many people, but never thanked enough. And that is Christina Harborage, who’s a member right there in EO, San Francisco. She’s a legend in her own right in terms of what she’s accomplished in her business, in her art in her you name it, just someone you need to interview. But I definitely had a chip on my shoulder when I came to EO that I wasn’t good enough public speaker because there’s so many if someone gets on the stage, and they’ve blown them away, and I oh my god, I can’t do like how I was hired to be a public speaker and I went to Illumina view event, Napa Valley. And on day one, Christina Harborage, gave us all public speaking training. And I was like taking my notes and like trying to learn how to do it. And I didn’t realize that I was supposed to be giving a keynote at the end of the women of EO. And so day one told you Well, I thought it was gonna be a panel, I was just gonna like, comment. There’s like, there were keynote kept like, Wait a second. So I literally took out Christina’s notes. Okay, I can do this. Yeah, I can put us in the moment, I can tell a very specific story, I can make it come to life. It can be real. And I just wanted to do so well for the women for for that group for EO. And I gave this speech of my life where I just had never, ever like on a trapeze without a net. Just okay, I’m gonna lay it all out there and terrifying, exhilarating. And Christina, like ran up to me. At the end of it. She’s like, Carrie, you’re like, the best student ever. I can’t believe you learn that because I, I did follow all of her tips. And she’s someone who’s continued to work with me, I highly recommend. If you feel like you need to find a different level of speaking. That’s not necessarily you know how to book but how to be yourself. She was so good and so encouraged you. So like the fact that I gave a speech that Christina thought was good. I’m like, oh, like I’m done.

John Corcoran  28:01  

Yeah. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Yeah, I interviewed Sean McGinnis, who was CEO and President of YPO at the time, a couple years ago, amazing guy loved him.

Carrie Santos  28:14  

So gracious. I actually saw him two weeks ago, in his new role and he continues to be that helper that paddy he introduced me to someone like with us, he gave me like this great, great bio like shot. I’m not that good. You know, really, really sweet. Here very, very supportive of everybody.

John Corcoran  28:34  

He is He is and you know, one of the things I was I was struck by that I think, I think it was in my interview with him where he talked about the cooperation that happens YPO EO level, you know, that they could be seen as competitors, but they collaborate on so many different things, mentorship and things like that. So that’s really cool to say, yeah, yeah, we do. Carrie this has been wonderful. Where can people go to learn more about you and connect with you learn more about Entrepreneurs’ Organization?

Carrie Santos  29:02  

Sure, we are at so just EO network and there’s information there about how to find your local chapter, how to find out more about us and very much it’s local organization so it’s about getting you in touch with who entrepreneurs are near us. So you can join a local network, get some local support and then go from there then the whole world opens up and you can find an EO member anywhere on the planet.

John Corcoran  29:33  

Absolutely and accelerated program I put it in plug for that as well which I went through spent three years in that program pivoted multiple times in that period of time. Great for businesses that are getting started or that are around $250,000 in revenue want to get above seven figures, wonderful organization as well and program within within EO Carrie, thank you so much.

Carrie Santos  29:54  

Thank you, John. It’s really been a pleasure.

Outro  29:57  

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