As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about empowering women who are encouraging and doing incredible things with their ideas in society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cammie Jones.
She is the CEO of J. Jones Consulting, LLC which was launched during the pandemic and provides support to colleges/universities and nonprofits in establishing and advancing equitable civic and community engagement strategies that result in mutually reciprocal involvement and a long-term impact on communities and organizations. J. Jones Consulting offers custom-designed solutions, strategic planning, community engagement, diversity education, and tailored training to ensure institutions meet the needs of their communities.
Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I live in Westchester, New York. I’ve been in New York for almost a decade, where I pursued my work in higher education following postgraduate studies at LSU A&M. As a first-generation college student from Dallas, Texas, higher education has always been important to me. Higher education has opened many avenues for me, allowing me to combine my passions of civic participation and education in a unique way.
During my time at Bard College, I was an Assistant and Associate Dean of Experiential Learning and Civic Engagement, where I oversaw experiential learning and campus/community collaborations both internationally and domestically, including a significant civic engagement conference in Budapest. In addition, I’ve held senior administrative positions at Dutchess Community College, Marist College, and Barnard College.
Women and Leadership, Women and COVID-19: Activism, Leadership, and Global Engagement, and most recently Women and the Pandemic: Global Equity, Leadership, and Empowerment are among the courses I teach at Bard College to help amplify the voices of the next generation of leaders. I also organized a number of international and domestic conferences on civic engagement, youth leadership development, and women’s rights in the future.
Yet, higher education has also been the reason for me, deciding to launch my own company. After several years in the field and managing consulting projects on the side, I decided it was time to take a bet on myself and establish something that is sustainable for me and aligns with my values and heart space work around community participation.
I also serve as the Bard Center for Civic Engagement and Open Society University Network (OSUN) Senior Fellow where I provide leadership on global and domestic civic engagement projects, DEI initiatives, and leadership development programs.
What do you specialize in, and why should someone choose you over your competitors in your field?
For over 15 years, I have continually developed pathways to education access, social justice, and civic engagement in the higher education and non-profit sectors. As a transformative leader and team player, I’ve set the norm for exemplifying moral standards throughout all organizations, building an ethical work environment with defined values, vision, objectives, and standards.
I work with colleges, institutions, and non-profits all over the world on project management, civic and DEI executive coaching, organization expansion, and strategic planning. I have extensive experience in curricular/experiential learning, community-campus partnerships, board development, faculty/staff/student engagement, institutional and organizational culture, community engagement initiative implementation, and speaking engagements on human rights, gender, equity, and inclusion, and women’s/femmes rights.
My life’s work and passion are education, community advocacy, and civic involvement. I’ve been doing this work successfully in urban and rural areas locally and abroad since I was 9 years old, and I do it sincerely through cooperation and open communication. Building mutually reciprocal and respective projects, organizations, and institutions is an honor for me.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The biggest mistake I made when first starting my business was not fully believing I could do it. I had this belief of where you had to be in life, who you needed to know, and who could be an entrepreneur. I didn’t see women who looked like me start businesses in this particular field. As I progressed, I realized I had a lot more strength, perseverance, and determination to establish my company, build a network, and achieve my goals. More importantly, I discovered I had a community behind me all the way, which gave me comfort when I didn’t think I had the abilities or resources to execute it.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’d establish a movement to ensure that everyone had equitable compensation for equal labor in healthy, safe environments that are respectful and allow for all employees’ growth. Many talented people who love what they do are forced to leave their career aspirations and professions of choice due to income disparities, racism, ableism, sexism, fear, a lack of support and professional advancement, and other factors. Individuals desire to be recognized and valued. This would result in a thriving society and higher worker retention rates.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
To promote secure workplaces, society should provide the following:
- Create policies that support wage disparities and pay equity.
- Provides access to child care to assist parents with attending school, work or both
- Create programs to encourage people to enroll in vocational schools or colleges for free
- Implement re-entry programs for people who are reintegrating into society after being incarcerated.
- Provide action-oriented diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives and resource groups, as well as systematic workplace change.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Women should be founders because we are entrepreneurs every day. Women are innovative, confident, and action-oriented in all that we do. They have the wisdom and foresight to be change agents and bring about long-term change for the common good, and we need women and femmes at the table now more than ever. Women founders are problem solvers with distinct perspectives. Women also understand how to capture the spirit of collaborative leadership while also being fearless and a passionate advocate in the pursuit of leadership greatness, paving the road for future women to follow in their footsteps.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
The most important myth to dispel is that there is never a good time to start; you should simply start. If you have a desire or a goal, pursue it. There are more programs supporting startups and women entrepreneurs than ever before. The universe works its magic and doors start to open once you take the initial step and start connecting with like-minded people.
Another myth is that you have to be wealthy to start your business. This could not be further from the truth. I believe that knowing what services you give, how your work is distinctive in the marketplace, and being able to creatively express why others should support what you do is more critical. People are drawn to your narrative and ethics. Supporters who are enthusiastic about your efforts will back you up. Above all, it’s critical to put in the effort, conduct research, establish online networks through social media and professional sites like LinkedIn, and begin to create your business.
What’s your piece of advice for people who want to quit their 9-5 job and start a business?
I would recommend saving funds for at least 6-12 months to provide yourself the time and space to fully immerse yourself in the work required to launch your business and create your brand. This will allow you to not stress as much about covering living expenses.
Another crucial aspect of the puzzle is connecting with your network. Make connections with people who are familiar with you and your work ethic. These folks will either be able to directly help your company or will be able to connect you with people in their network who need your services.
I’d also recommend looking into local business mentorship programs. I contacted SCORE and was able to not only participate in the process of launching my business, but also consider marketing and branding in a realistic approach that met my needs.
Finally, I’d stress that you’ll never know everything. No matter how many books and articles you read, there will be surprises along the way, so check into online and community networks that can guide you through the process and provide communal support!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Be patient! It will take longer than planned to finish proposals and contracts, but with patience and effort, it will all come together.
- Obtain liability coverage. Liability insurance for a small business protects yourself and the work you do especially if you begin to sign contracts and do external work.
- Allow yourself some grace. It’s perfectly OK for a potential project to be discussed, has the possibility of potential but does not come together in the end. Lessons are learned through every interaction and project you participate in.
- Don’t be hesitant to tell people what you’re doing. At times I felt self-conscious about beginning my own business after working in the higher education profession for so long but as I began to share my experience and vision, others were receptive and wanted to support me!
- Have a place where you may scribble down business ideas at all times. Ideas will come not only when you begin or build your business, but also when you meet new clients, make new contacts, go for a run, or read an article. Inspiration is always around you and it’s fantastic to have the option to write it out and save all those ideas in a think tank place. Although the ideas may not materialize right away, they are seeds for the future.
What would you tell yourself ten to twenty years ago that you wish you knew then?
That your life is constantly changing and always will. Friendships, occupations, and even yourself will evolve and change as you grow and explore your life. That’s the joy of life: there’s always something unexpected around the corner, and it’s best to go with the flow rather than resist it.
What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting or running your business?
The safety of accepting roles that do not correspond with my company’s vision and beliefs is the biggest sacrifice I’ve made in launching a business. It’s challenging to establish a new brand, and it’s easy to say yes to getting your foot in the door when possibilities arise. For me, it’s critical that you do something that you enjoy, can grow in, and flourish in, while also taking into account your knowledge and values. This will result in a long-term, mutually beneficial partnership.
What is your no-fail go-to when you need inspiration or to get out of a creative rut?
I have art in my office that says the following and helps me get out of creative ruts:
I want you to be bold, gracious, accountable, connected, present, joyful, responsible, daring, positive, honest, selfless, kind, original, diligent, unique, generous, clever, loyal, imaginative, respectful, friendly, fearless, smart, grateful, creative, brave, self-aware, determined, YOU!
This piece of art helps me stay grounded whether I’m feeling anxious, unsure about my decisions, or just need a boost to keep going!
Lastly, what do you think this world needs the most?
Care and empathy. So much has affected us as a result of the pandemic. So many changes have transpired in our lives, leaving us fatigued but hopeful. Yet, I believe it’s imperative now more than ever that we recognize each other as people doing our best in a world in flux if hope is to thrive in an ever-changing society.
Our community members will feel seen, and cared for, and can perhaps realize that we all have a purpose on earth and deserve to be here if we share more care and empathy. There is so much that the human race needs, but we cannot progress unless we empathize with our fellow beings.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series!