Suzanne West: Changing the World

by Kyle Kendall

“This beautiful space in between.”

Suzanne West is a pioneer in the energy sector. After spending years working in big oil companies and feeling like her voice wasn’t being heard, she “busted open her piggy banks” and started her own company, Imaginea.

Imaginea is an oil extraction and energy company that operates on triple bottom line principles: people, planet and profit. While skeptics might argue the three can’t live in harmony, and certainly not in the oil industry, Suzanne has made it her mission to change that narrative.

“In my industry, you’re kind of relegated to pick: you’re either a crazy tree hugger or a greedy capitalist,” she says. “And as an entrepreneur… I am sort of all of a sudden going, ‘Hang on, we are missing an enormous amount of opportunities, which is this beautiful space in between.’”

Suzanne brought in 300 million dollars in investment for Imaginea, and she uses that capital to bring to life innovative and sustainable energy solutions. Imaginea is currently developing a technology that converts the gas coming from flare stacks at industrial plants into energy – creating an on-site energy supply.

All it takes to cultivate this kind of innovation is the courage to look at the world’s problems in a new light, and that’s exactly what Suzanne does.

While it’s true that the traditional way of operating in the energy industry has created global environmental and social conditions that can decrease standard of living, Suzanne maintains that energy is a critical factor in our day-to-day quality of life.

“Energy is 30 percent of standard of living. It’s actually part of the solution,” she says.

Suzanne is one of thousands of women who are leading the global social entrepreneurship movement. They’re women who understand that it’s not an either-or equation: they can do good and make a lot of money doing it.

In the UK, for instance, a national survey found that women are leading 38 percent of social enterprises – compared to 19 percent of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and 3 percent of large companies. And only 9 percent of social enterprises have male-only leadership teams, compared to 49 percent of mainstream SMEs.


Social enterprise is a newer, more nuanced business model that recognizes that profit and social service can and do go hand-in-hand – but it’s also firm in the belief that profit should not be more important than the people behind it.

It’s a model that challenges internal conflicts women often have about being paid for things they’re really passionate about – which is that it somehow makes us, in the words of Marie Forleo, “less spiritual, less soulful, less authentic.” Women, like Marie and Suzanne, at the forefront of the social entrepreneurship movement are actively challenging this narrative.

They’re women like Jane Chen, who, along with Dream, Girl director Erin Bagwell, is a front-woman for Clinique’s Smart Ideas campaign.

Jane founded Embrace Innovations, a social enterprise that started as a class project at Stanford University. Jane came up with the idea for an infant warmer to treat premature and underweight babies – and help prevent high rates of infant mortality – in developing countries.  The Embrace Infant Warmer costs less than 1 percent of traditional incubators. Since then, Embrace has evolved into an enterprise that develops many different strategies to promote maternal and infant health.

And not only are women leading the social entrepreneurship charge, studies also show that our presence on the boards of companies that don’t have explicitly social mandates translates to better social responsibility records.

A study by Catalyst and the Harvard Business School found that companies with 25 percent more women corporate officers made charitable donations that were 13 times higher than companies with no women corporate officers.

And just to drive the point home further: “For each percentage point increase in women corporate officers, yearly donations increased by 5.7 million dollars.”

Another study done in 2010 found that companies with women on their corporate boards were more likely to engage in community involvement – sponsoring or creating organizations that benefit their surrounding communities.

The researchers make no mistake about it: “The effects of social responsibility on employees, public image, and surrounding communities are far-reaching, and many companies look for any available advantage in these areas. By bringing women on their boards, companies can open up a world of opportunities and advantages.”

And while it’s revolutionary that companies are starting to take notice of the correlation between women’s leadership and social good, what’s even more inspiring is that there are so many women like Suzanne West and Jane Chen who aren’t waiting to be brought onto corporate boards.

They’re starting the companies that will change the world on their own terms.  


What about you?
Do you have a world-changing plan for your industry? We want to hear about it! Comment below or join the conversation in the official Dream, Girl facebook group.

Erin Bagwell