The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Edward Fitzpatrick at email@example.com.
This week’s conversation is with Rebecca L. Twitchell, president and founder of half full, llc, a Providence consulting firm that helps corporate teams and individuals strengthen business and personal development plans.
Question: What is half full, when was it founded, and where is it based?
half full was founded in 2005, and our current office is in a former elementary school at 400 Smith St. in Providence. Three of us started the business, and I acquired it after five years. We help teams and individuals overcome obstacles – what they perceive to be impossible. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we did in-person events – workshops, retreats, and team-building sessions. But it’s not a cookie-cutter ropes-course approach. We are very customized and design our programs around the vision, mission, and values of the organization we are working with.
Q: How does your personal story shape the company’s work?
The backbone behind our work is my story of overcoming the adversity of living with Symbrachydactyly Syndrome – having only two fingers on my left hand – and the stories of others on the team. That started me off with a lot of insecurity – not feeling like I fit in and not feeling confident – when I was growing up. But I started understanding that, as part of the healing process, I needed to embrace what made me unique and turn that into a strength.
Sharing my story sets a tone of trust with the groups we work with. It gets you out of the usual expectations and demands of retreats and opens up communication so that people can have an open mind and overcome obstacles as a team. To be a good leader, we have to embrace what makes us unique and come to grips with insecurities.
Q: What does half full do in addition to working with corporate clients?
The “half” portion of half full is about being a for-profit business, and the “full” part is about giving back. That is our values-driven model of corporate social responsibility. Pre-COVID, we offered our retreats at no cost to teenagers. We called them Forwards rather than retreats. We would offer as many as we could in the summertime.
Adewole “Wole” Akinbi is a facilitator at half full who oversees the youth development side of the business – planning and recruiting teenagers for the Forwards. He helps to ensure that we listen to community residents and that they have the resources they need. Right now, because of COVID, we can’t facilitate our retreats in person, but we are hosting virtual sessions on Wednesdays, with many kids who are Zooming in. It’s called “Wednesdays with Wo.”
We facilitate our sessions with youth the same way we would with adults – the same type of workshops where you take a deeper dive personally. With companies, we take a deeper dive into what the company wants to be and where it wants to go. With teenagers, we focus on what is going on in high school, their goals, and their opportunities after high school. We focus on the challenges they are facing. We help them build their confidence and embrace their own uniqueness.
Q: What contributed to half full receiving the 2020 Microenterprise of the Year Award for Rhode Island and New England from the U.S. Small Business Administration?
I graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, and we are so grateful that they nominated us. The award recognizes our revenue and employment growth. Five years ago, it was just me. But I decided Wole would be my first hire, and every year since then we’ve been hiring one employee per year.
We now have five full-time employees and five interns. We are very much a teaching business and love working with interns to help with their own personal and professional development. Our most recent addition to the team is a phenomenal woman who had lost her job because her previous employer went out of business due to COVID.
Q: How have you carried out this kind of work during the coronavirus pandemic? What changes have been necessary?
We pivoted right away and started working remotely and set up systems to bring all of our in-person systems online. Now we are helping companies pivot and adapt to the pandemic. We are all going through it together. There is so much going on. A lot of clients are using us from a consulting standpoint to develop strategies, and we work with leaders who could use guidance and someone who will just listen. It can be a very lonely position.
Q: What are some examples of the advice you give to organizations facing obstacles created by the pandemic?
One thing I’ve been encouraging folks to think about is this: Control what you can control. The pandemic’s impact is so vast, and we just can’t control all of it. We can do what we can do. Look to the future and have an open mind. Be creative. And if you are not creative, surround yourself with people who are. Also, it’s important to develop partnerships and collaborate. People can work together to strengthen their current brand and get through it together. Expand your network.