Indigo Founder and CEO Sheri Smith:
Spiritual Entrepreneurship is Foundational to a Just and Inclusive Society
April 3, 2022
Last week Rev. Rich Tafel of the Church of the Holy City sat down with Indigo Founder and CEO Sheri Smith, one of the thought leaders in the field of spiritual entrepreneurship. Sheri created an education company called Indigo, with a vision to usher in an education system that shifts away from standardization to one that empowers people to ultimately find work they love. Sheri’s book, “Spiritual Entrepreneurship: Raw Reflections of a Female CEO” is due to be published later this year.
Rich: Sheri, thanks for joining us here in Washington, DC, at the Church of The Holy City – our capital’s first spiritual entrepreneurship hub. Just to get us started, tell us a little about your spiritual biography?
Sheri: Well, I grew up in Michigan, rural Midwest, in a very Protestant family. We moved a lot, and so I had a lot of different influences from different kinds of churches: Methodist, Baptist, non-denominational, Pentecostal. I grew up quite traditional, and very religious.
And then in college I wanted something a little more exciting, more passionate. I wanted to do something for God and ended up joining a pretty intense, legalistic, evangelical church that a lot of people would say is a cult. That whole experience ended up being very painful and not what I expected. And then I ended up leaving my husband and the church and God, pretty much when I was 24. I was not done with God, but I was done with organized religion.
So, then how did you find your way to Swedenborg and the Church of the Holy City?
Years after that painful experience I was actually working with some energy healers (who aren’t even part of the Swedenborgian Church). They introduced me to Wilson Van Dusen’s Vann’s book, The Presence of Other Worlds, which was so exciting! And when I read about Swedeborg, much of my life made sense, Christianity made sense.
Wow, ok… What’s fascinating is that you now call yourself a spiritual entrepreneur, which, of course, is something we here at Church of the Holy City are looking to build out. So, what is your definition of this new concept?
I don’t want to define this too narrowly, and so I’ve come up with two definitions that I mentioned in my book. One, is that it’s someone who starts an entity, or an organization, or business that evolves human consciousness, or somebody whose idea or work in the world is about like the kingdom of heaven on earth.
The big difference is that they include the soul and spiritual development of who they are, and who their employees are, as part of their path. And it’s not just about working in this world. It’s also about working in tandem with the spiritual world to do what the scripture said: to store up your treasures in heaven.
And I think that’s a big difference: there’s an explicit space for the soul.
Can you expand on that? What, for instance, makes spiritual entrepreneurship so unique?
[We see that] entrepreneurship, even social entrepreneurship, often bases its principles on exclusivity. It’s about ranking and sorting, which is the opposite of God.
On the other hand, spiritual entrepreneurship is about inclusivity. It’s about abundance and “enoughness” – the idea that who we are is enough, that what you’re creating is enough.
The “currency” is not money, but love and serving others.
You mentioned “enough”. Young people, in particular, are more and more cash-strapped, particularly in cities. In that atmosphere, we also have people making fortunes. So what is enough?
It really depends on the person. God always seems to work with people on a very individual basis, especially when it comes to spiritual entrepreneurs.
I compare it to the manna system, – if we think back to the Israelites that were walking through the desert. God would reign down the manana for them to eat, and they would only be able to collect what they could collect that day.
So let me put you on the spot. Do you think that having too much money is a spiritual burden? If you were talking to your network, and I mean people with millions of dollars, would you ever just say to them, “Give away your wealth?”
So that’s part of the spiritual entrepreneur framework: instead of being like, “I need to have a transaction, I need to have a very specific reason to give money,” what if some of these wealthy people gave because they felt in their heart, that’s what they should give to?
It’s not about strings. It’s not about tax rebates. It’s about, “I feel compelled to be a part of this ministry, and it could be a lot of different things.” And just giving freely from that kind of heart, – doesn’t this grow love? Doesn’t this grow God’s kingdom on earth? And again, maybe there’s money there at the end, and maybe there is not. But that’s the shift in focus.
Let’s flip that a bit. How would you respond to entrepreneurs who are looking at spiritual things with skepticism and saying, “You come and you pray, and you’re in these small little groups, and you talk to each other and you read the Bible, and I’m out there building things. I’m creating jobs. I’m making a difference. Why don’t you just make your millions and then you’ll have all the money you need to be spiritual?”
Right, but it doesn’t work that way, because then you’re totally diverting your focus. You’re saying, “Okay, I’m gonna basically worship this idol [money], and once this idol has given me what I want, then I can go worship God and do better things.” It’s a very backwards way of thinking about it.
I think we need new ways of investing, and I think we need to think about investing differently. Maybe there does need to be money involved, but that shouldn’t be the goal. If we think about it as moving capital towards evolving humanity, why wouldn’t we wanna do that? Then the measure of what matters in that framework is very different.
And how do you get investors and navigate that world of money now?
At the beginning I was getting investors in a traditional way and it gave me a lot of case studies, but it really wasn’t a good fit. We did raise almost $1M dollars in capital and we wouldn’t have a company without them, but now we have made our company completely self-sustainable [through sales], it’s just way better energetically.
I’m not opposed to capital, but I definitely want more aligned capital. Part of the change is that you’re not chasing people with money, and you’re also not having to behave around them a certain way.
And a lot of this is also racial. I mean it’s, I see a lot of white guys approaching white guys. It’s harder for women, and we see the statistics around people of color.
Thank you for exploring the idea of this. You helped us understand how we could understand both the spiritual and the entrepreneurial aspects. Tell us about Indigo. How did you start it? What does it do?
I started Indigo in 2013, with the belief that the current education system wasn’t serving our students and helping them feel intrinsically valuable. Swedenborg had this idea of uses – the idea that every human being was created for a purpose, and that they have a use, and that use serves others, right? That’s not really part of the education system.
The education system says, “Do what you’re told, fit in, check all the boxes, and then somehow magically you’re gonna be successful. And that model never really worked at any equitable state, but it did work for certain segments of society. And so I asked, “What if we brought humanity into education?”
Indigo is about helping people see themselves. Today we’re in public schools in 30 states and we’ve worked with nearly 150,000 students. And we just pivoted towards a free site. Anyone could check it out:indigo pathway.com for job seekers.
We also have a mini version of our assessment. And again, it’s for anybody like anybody who’s looking for a more fulfilling use: how do you know yourself and how do you find a job that aligns with your gifts.
That’s beautiful. It sounds like you’re working to help young people identify their greatest purpose, the way they could be useful. And it’s saying to them that, “You’re valuable. You are made in the image of God and God loves you. And there’s something special about you.”
Yes, and we translate that into secular society, because you wanna be respectful of people of no faith, and of many faiths. We certainly don’t wanna push faith.
So we do use the word “purpose” and we also look at measures: we ask what kind of behavioral styles does a given student have? What kind of motivators? What skills?
And we’re trying to neutralize some of the inherent biases. For example, entrepreneurial students experience bias in the system. And if they’re people of color, or from a poor area, the stigma is even worse.
At the end we learn to game the system, essentially to survive, but at a great emotional pain and loss of self-esteem. It happened to me too. Growing up, I lived in poverty, and I wanted out, so I bought into the system.
It seems to me that the great spiritual entrepreneur ideas come out of pain out of a struggle, something that we suffered through and that we don’t wanna have other people or the next generation to experience. Is that fair?
Absolutely, pain is one of the greatest teachers and the greatest motivators. If it can be shifted for good, that’s such a spiritual principle.
Before we close out, you have a book coming out. Tell us about it.
It’s called, “Spiritual Entrepreneurship: Raw Reflections of a Female CEO.” It’s coming out this year.
I think the real difference between my book and I think a lot of other books is that they’ve already made it. And, as a spiritual entrepreneur, it’s very confusing and complicated because the system is the opposite of how we think. In my book I don’t claim to have the answers. I am not the expert. I’m a practitioner. I talk about what I learned in my own practice, and through my lived experience.
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The Church of the Holy City holds a vision to create a space where spiritual leaders seeking to bring heaven to earth through transforming organizations will be able to obtain office space, mentoring, coaching and investment. CHC works both with spiritual leaders launching their own enterprise and also is a resource for business leaders seeking to develop their own spiritual life. Our work is not denomination or religion specific and is open to all faith paths seeking to do good in the world.
Rich Tafel is a transformative leader in the areas of faith, politics and social impact. As the Managing Director of Raffa Social Capital Advisors he matches impact investors to vetted social ventures. Partnering with investors his team provides back office support, public policy and strategic coaching to social ventures. Tafel is also pastor of Church of the Holy City in Washington DC, where he launched a spiritual entrepreneur hub. Tafel is the founder of Log Cabin Republicans. Before moving to Washington DC, Tafel was Adolescent Health Director for the State of MA and served as Assistant Minister at Harvard’s Chapel.