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Women Lead: Celebrating Paths of Empowerment

March 21st, 2023


Working with mission-led, impact-focused organizations has afforded Cutting Edge the opportunity to partner with individuals representing a wide array of communities. This month, we’re featuring women-led/women-founded organizations pioneering change in their communities and beyond. Learn more about these leaders and what drives their mission in our Q&A below.


Rochelle Mills

President & CEO
Innovative Housing Opportunities

Q: How did you become involved in impact work? How did you become a leader at your current organization?

Rochelle: My parents instilled in my sisters and me a responsibility to give back. As a result, I’ve always been interested in the footprint I leave behind. I was asked to oversee the construction of affordable housing projects and thought it was a great gig while I looked for new clients for my design studio. After two years, when the economy tanked, I had that “come to Jesus moment.” I began to think that my background in architecture, cultural tourism, community development, and marketing, my experience as an area planning commissioner and design review board member, and my life-long residency in underinvested urban communities might have uniquely positioned me for this career. I asked to be the CEO that year. It took ten more years, three more asks, and three interviews to be taken seriously enough to get the position.

Vivienne Hsu

Founder & CEO

Vivienne: I founded LENDonate in 2015, after a long career in investment management. I was also a constant nonprofit volunteer with fundraising being a focus for almost 20 years. What became LENDonate is a culmination of both perspectives – a donor who wanted to better leverage my ability to give and an investor who wanted more choices to invest for good.

Sophie Mendelson


Sophie: My wife and I founded Sugarwitch, our ice cream sandwich company, while we were graduate students in 2019, and have since grown our operation to include 7 staff not including ourselves. While we care deeply about the frozen treats that we make, we care just as much about the people who work with us to make those delicious treats a reality. We have built a team of wonderful people that is majority queer and majority women/non-binary folks, and all of our leadership positions are currently held by queer women/non-binary people. As such, it is our first priority to create a workspace that is enthusiastically affirming and supportive of those modes of inhabiting the world.

Q: How does your organization’s mission align with your personal interests and values?

Jessie Nguyen

The Real People’s Fund

Jessie: The REAL People’s Fund is all about partnering with Bay Area entrepreneurs, worker-owners, and small business owners of color to co-create an equitable and inclusive economy that uplifts our power, prosperity, joy, and liberation. We do this through holistic business support, non-extractive capital, and building power in community.

Rochelle: As President and CEO, I have a direct opportunity to shape the organization’s vision. Our motto, “it starts with housing,” reflects our belief that a stable home opens up opportunities for personal and economic growth, attracts reinvestment to communities, and spurs the local economy. We are not just building housing, we are building homes, families, communities, legacies.

Vivienne: I wanted to build a more collaborative financial ecosystem for the nonprofit social sector – to empower mission-driven organizations with the tools and techniques of the investment sphere. I want to shine a light on the undiscovered, underdeveloped opportunities in the nonprofit financial system and explore the range of motivations of our investors, whether that is social impact over investment return or the reverse.

Sophie: Our ice cream sandwiches strike the balance between nostalgia and innovation, all named for bad-a** witches of literature and lore. While our flavors rotate with the seasons and our imaginations, our practices – from sourcing to labor – are always guided by a commitment to building a more equitable food system. We believe that nothing is more delicious than a frozen treat made with care and concern for people and planet.

Q: What is one thing you want people to know about the work you/your organization represents?

Jessie: We are a collective of black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) who identify as women and non binary folks. We are a team of Bay Area organizers, entrepreneurs, workers, innovators, and financial activists who are committed to walking entrepreneurs along a journey to make meaningful and equitable economic impact.

Rochelle: The work we do, creating affordable housing, is a long-term strategy. And when done well, the entire city benefits through strengthened families, a strong local economy, improved school outcomes, reduced public services, lower crime, and so much more.

Vivienne: We know we are better when we collaborate, so I welcome a connection with anyone who supports impact investing and/or philanthropy with funding ideas and ways to collaborate. If you find yourself thinking “I wish I could …”, let’s connect!

How would you encourage emerging women leaders, especially those navigating male-dominated spaces?

Rochelle: Stop reading other people’s headlines. Make your own! Bet on you!

Sophie: Surround yourself with other skillful, dedicated, creative women(+). We do this together. Together, we can do this.

Vivienne: Believe in your own abilities, but also seek out other women leaders, and male allies, to form trust circles. Propel each other forward, and do not forget to reach down to pull other women up along the way.