Written by: Nicole Black
Kyle Westaway: Lawyer and Social Entrepreneur
That there is still an active sex trade in the 21st century amazes--and appalls--Kyle Westaway, a New York City attorney and founder of Westaway Law: “Sex trafficking--people see it as a woman's issue, but I see it as a human rights issue. That someone is being raped 10 to 15 times a night is shocking. It’s unbelievable that slavery is still happening in my lifetime--something that should have ended with the Emancipation Proclamation.”
It was this deep sense of injustice that motivated Kyle and a few of his more creative friends to establish Biographe, a socially conscious fashion brand that employs survivors of the commercial sex trade in Bangkok.
As Kyle explains, Biographe grew from their desire to help the victims of the sex trade in the short term by providing jobs and empowering them long term by providing life skills: “Our goal was to give them a job skill that’s transferrable to the larger economy because we don’t want this to be an ending point. We want them to go on to bigger and better things. So, after they create the apparel and jewelry in Bangkok, we market and distribute them here. Then, we take 100 percent of profits and reinvest to fight the commercial sex trade.”
Making a difference, both in and out of court
While in the process of getting Biographe off the ground, Kyle also made the life altering decision to launch his own law firm. After graduating from law school, he worked for a large corporation for a short time, but it didn’t take him long to realize that it wasn’t the right path for him. So, he threw all caution to the wind and launched his law firm, which now caters to social entrepreneurs.
According to Kyle, that decision was pivotal: “So in 2008, I did the stupidest or smartest thing in my life, really almost fresh out of law school. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted my practice to be and the people I wanted to work with, so I launched my own firm in New York City."
Although he initially represented artists, activists and entrepreneurs, over time his practice became more aligned with his passion. He began to serve primarily social entrepreneurs, representing them at all stages of growth, from startup to acquisition.
As he explains, the shift in focus was a gradual one that has served him well: “When I realized there was an entire sector called social entrepreneurship that uses business to solve some of the world’s greatest social issues, I realigned my firm to be in line with that passion. So the way I think about it now, I work with activists and entrepreneurs; but I do most of my work in the area where these two overlap into social entrepreneurship. And, because there aren’t very many people who are doing what I’m doing, there’s certainly an upside.”
Reaching a unique, focused market
Just as Kyle’s practice is unique, so too are the tools he uses to reach potential clients, which include an arsenal of traditional and more contemporary marketing methods. For example, in addition to lecturing on social enterprise law at Harvard Law School and Stanford Law School, he also uses social media platforms to showcase his expertise and network: “Once I focused on building my firm around social entrepreneurship, I launched the first blog on social enterprise law called Socentlaw. In addition to my own blog, I also write for bigger publications that have a more widespread audience, such as Venture Beat and Huffington Post. By taking time to write, I reach many clients that I otherwise wouldn’t come in contact with.”
Kyle has also found Twitter to be extremely useful and explains that when using social media, it’s all about giving, not taking: “I think the importance of Twitter is understanding the ecosystem and conversation that’s going on in your sector. Influence is the currency of our age. You obtain influence by giving, not by taking--by providing real value to the conversation. And then clients follow. The best practice is to give away as much as you can.”
Words to live by
For Kyle, a quote from a U2 song, “Moment of Surrender,” sums up his life philosophy and explains what drives him to be a force of social change, both in his personal and professional life; that line is “vision over visibility.”
He explains what it means to him: “For me, ‘vision over visibility’ is the idea that to change the world you have to be able to see over the horizon, have a vision, see past what is to what could be, and to work hard to bring what could be into reality. It’s about faith; it’s about striving beyond what you can see and making things happen.”