Solonia Teodros Co founder- The Change School
Solonia’s career story has been one of exploration, self discovery and reinvention across Life and Work Chapters in the US and Asia. Her early age career aspirations were largely influenced by her Taiwanese- Ethiopian parents. Three words that best describe her career journey to date: Creative, Enterprising & People Driven.
With a deep interest in Sociology Solonia pursued a research career at Harvard University’s Initiative for Global Health. After three years enamoured by the pulse and creativity of New York City she decided to take a job in a fast growing product sourcing and development company seeking a mandarin speaking New Business Director which helped her build confidence and competence.
After three years of working long hours, under high pressure, and heightened awareness about lack of passion for her work she dabbled in freelance projects for former clients in the Fashion industry before signing on as a Studio Manager and Representative to internationally-renowned portrait photographer Ben Baker whose most notable works featured world leaders and business tycoons such as Warren Buffet, Donald Trump, and President-elect (at that time) Barack Obama. “This phase marked the start of my creative career as it required me to learn on the job – everything from talent scouting to celebrity outreach and media pitching and project management for leading print publications such as Time and Fortune magazine. I was being stretched far beyond my comfort zone and thriving in the face of such steep learning only strengthened my belief in the endless possibilities for career reinvention”, she says.
She experienced a key turning point in her career during the Wall Street crash in 2008. After a year of traveling, re-immersing, and exploring opportunities in Hong Kong, Australia and finally Singapore she decided to make a career in PR. After two years of freelancing she landed on what she thought was her dream job. During this time she discovered her work values: authenticity, creativity, empowerment and a positive workplace culture. Lack of these values drove her to career burnout which gave the impetus to find new career opportunities that aligned with her personal value and work philosophy. The end of her corporate chapter marked the start of her entrepreneurial journey and values-driven career and she co founded The Change School.
Read the interview below to know more about her journey.
What led you to the path of entrepreneurship?
The first few months after leaving the agency were rough. I was burnt out, emotionally drained, and clueless about what I would do next. I still consider myself to be an ‘accidental’ entrepreneur because it was never something I’d aspired to or envisioned for myself. But my agency experience left me with two key takeaways: (1) A clear gap existed between purpose-driven organizations and their ability to get their positive message out to the world, and (2) My strengths and experience in strategic planning, marketing communications, and community building could help to fill this gap.
Recovered and recharged from my career burnout, I found a renewed determination and purpose to support socially-driven businesses to amplify their impact and social influence. I setup my company, SolWorks Pte Ltd (2011), to offer consulting and strategic marketing services to social enterprises such as Impact HUB Singapore. In parallel, I volunteered my time to global movement initiatives like the Worldwide Feast, Jane’s Walk, and Mashable’s Social Good Summit to launch chapters in Singapore and founded a ground-up initiative, The Hawker Sessions, nominated for the 2014 President’s Awards, Volunteerism and Philanthropy category.
The pivotal moment came in 2014 when I had some key career decisions to make: continue my journey as a solopreneur or accept one of three offers to launch an entirely different venture in partnership with three entrepreneurs whom I admired and respected. It was a difficult choice to make; each option had its pros and cons. A key deciding factor was recognizing that being a solopreneur was a lonely journey; at this phase of my career, the idea of having a co-conspirator and co-creator was exciting and inspiring! This was also the moment that I realized I was on the path of entrepreneurship for the long haul, and I finally embraced it.
How did you come up with the unique idea of The Change School?
The Change School was born out of personal experience – my own and my co-founder’s (Grace Clapham).
Reflecting on our respective journeys, we made some key observations about what people need the most at times of change and transition:
1. Space. To understand our next step, we need to reconnect with ourselves – away from the distractions and noise of our everyday lives and within a conducive space for reflection and deep inner work.
2. Learning. At times of change and transition, we seek opportunities to advance ourselves – learn a new skill, experience something new, or stretch ourselves mentally and physically.
3. Community. To help achieve our goals, we need support structures and systems – communities, networks, challengers and cheerleaders to help us stay accountable and moving forward. We envision a world where change is a force for good – empowering people to design their lives, create opportunities, remain resilient in face challenges, and bold in their career pursuits.
This vision is at the heart of The Change School. It is our why, what we personally believe, and what the school stands for.
Since we started in 2013, we’ve run a variety of Experiences for Change – holistic retreats, public/private workshops, corporate team trainings, and on/offline talks and events – aimed at inspiring, enabling and catalyzing personal change and transformation. We also incorporate transformative Tools for Change – profiling assessments, online courses, products and coaching – to support individual/group change journeys. Today our focus is on career change and transition, since this was really the starting point and ‘trigger’ for our own transformative journeys.
How did you meet your co founder?
Grace and I were friends from middle school; we both attended United World College SEA. Both our parents were working as diplomats at the time, and we shared a love of people, cross-cultural issues and making a positive impact in the world. We parted ways in high-school (Grace moved to Australia with her family and I moved to the States) and were reunited 9 years later in New York.
We shared my flat for a couple of months while I was freelancing and Grace was exploring similar opportunities in the fashion world. We were exploring similar career paths and eventually moved back to Singapore.
By the time I’d left my corporate agency role, we were both burning out and feeling ‘stuck’ at a career crossroads. We would jokingly say that the only two options seemed to be getting an MBA or going on a yoga retreat. We saw this gap as an opportunity to create something more holistic and action-oriented for anyone going through change or a pivotal moment in their life/work. In hindsight, it was only a matter of time before our paths converged to create something great together.
Who is your greatest inspiration and why?
I’m kind of obsessed with Brené Brown right now. I love her message and body of work on vulnerability, courage and the gifts of imperfection. To me, she is the embodiment of authenticity, intellect and compassion. Though I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting her in person, I love the energy and collected confidence she exudes in her talks and interviews. She is my hero and greatest inspiration right now. Marie Forleo and Simon Sinek would be close seconds.
If you were to do one thing differently, what would that be?
I don’t really believe in regrets – only learnings. I sometimes wish I’d discovered my ‘calling’ or ‘passion’ sooner – or had the courage to become an entrepreneur earlier on in my journey – but I don’t think there’s anything I’d wished to have done differently. Our experiences shape us and teach us about ourselves, and timing is not something you can rush or control. Sure, it may have been ‘easier’ and less financially strenuous to choose a profession early on and stick with it. But the diversity and breadth of experiences, and the adversity I faced have come to be my greatest strengths.
Today we are seeing more people who’ve followed a linear career path, now struggling to shift or change careers, or feel pigeon-holed in their current profession. Sometimes following a single path can cause us to wear blinkers that limit our ability to see adjacent possibilities and leverage transferrable skills for new opportunities.
I am grateful for my journey for teaching me to embrace and adapt to change, listen to my intuition, and be resilient and persistent in my search for purpose and meaningful work. I am fortunate to be doing work that challenges me to grow and fulfils my personal and professional values and needs. Today, I live with less fear and self-doubt, more conviction in our vision and mission, and trust in serendipity.
I truly believe that entrepreneurship is one of the most spiritual and soul-search journeys you can have in your professional life. This has led me to find peace in knowing that what has been is, and what will be is part intention and part destiny. All we can do is put in the hard work, focus on the big picture, and keep believing in the mission.
What is your perspective about being a Citizen of the World?
To me a citizen of the world is not about how many countries you’ve lived in, or how many languages you speak. It is a mindset defined by a sense of belonging and connection to something bigger than ourselves. It is also about making a contribution to social change and international development. We live in a hyper connected world and stepping up to global citizenship is embracing the opportunity and invitation to make a positive difference in the world – leveraging our personal and shared values and collective strength to co-create new possibilities, solutions and innovations for the future.
What would you like to achieve in the next coming years?
So many things! A big focus for me right now is carving more time for my own personal and professional development. Earlier this year, I enrolled in a mini MBA course with IME Singapore and look forward to completing my 200hr Yoga Teacher Training at PURE Shanghai next year. I’m also exploring ways to build up my coaching repertoire and, potentially, offer basic conversational Mandarin lessons as a side-hustle. I think most entrepreneurs would relate to having multiple interests / passions, but a lot of things can easily end up on the back burner particularly in the early stages of starting up – when all your time and energy go into raising your ‘baby’. It’s been nice to be a formal student again!
It’s also been a pivotal few months for The Change School as we’ve recently embarked on a major initiative to bring our programs and products online. It’s been an exciting journey and steep learning curve, but it definitely feels like a positive and natural direction for The Change School ‘2.0’.
In addition to launching Change School TV, we’ve just wrapped our first 5-week online course How To Confidently Create Your Bold Career Move and have just opened up early-interest registration for our next in-take in January 2018. We’re also super excited for our very first Change Planner to launch on Amazon next week!
I’d love to see The Change School continue to move from strength to strength whilst continuing to stretch and achieve my personal goals. Exciting times ahead!