Talie smith | Smith + Connors

Portland, Oregon, USA. Co-founder and CEO of a creative agency. Buddhist and believer in empowering communities. Mother. Zebras Unite founding member.

A Zebra is

… a business modeled after the female code: I believe that as women we gravitate towards a social code of community.

We are a fabric, not a thread. 

We step up and we support others. We don’t take for ourselves until we know that the rest are supported. Of course, I must provide for the basic needs of my family first. But along the way, I can also plant seeds that help create a more equitable future for my kids, for my community, for the next generation. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Zebras mentality is born out of the fabric of support that women weave naturally.  

The cult of American individualism

American culture was founded on the idea of independence. But the idea that we each rise and fall by the force of our own will is not a realistic or fair model when there are forces built into our society that work against the liberty and mobility of so many people, that favor some and discriminate against the rest. 

I think we have taken the pioneer ethos too far: We are celebrating the notion that we all just need to be our own force in the world, which became the idea that people who have less or are oppressed did something to put themselves in that position. I call bullshit on that. If the headwinds are so strong against you, you can fight and fight and fight and still not be able to keep your head above water. The evidence of this fact is all around us.

Talie’s vision for the future

My ideal future would be a place where people with different ideologies could all thrive equally and alongside one another with respect. But that requires a system in which everyone’s basic needs are met and the success of some are not at the direct expense of others. I want excellent education for all across all socio-economic, racial, and geographic demographics. I want achievement and success to be measures of effort that starts from an equal baseline. The people who can excel can still do that, but not on the backs of others. In my dream world, we’re all stakeholders in each other’s futures, and that we’re all better off for it. 

In my ideal future, one person’s success does not come at the expense of others.

The Great Capital Shift: From niche to investing in people & planet

We need to rethink capital and what it can do. Right now, impact investing still feels very opportunistic, like a problem that is looking for a solution. The playing field for impact-focused capital is still very narrow. In the next economy, investors and funders would begin to see the bigger picture: Choices about how we live, how we consume and do business in such a way that benefits both the planet and the people. Check out the work of Jason Ingle, whose ideas have really inspired me to think more deeply about the role of capital in creating a more future-oriented economy!

The Great Community Shift: From top-down to decentralized decision making 

In my ideal future, the people who live in the neighborhoods, the local businesses and families raising their kids, have a lot more power and say in political, legislative and infrastructure questions.

Under the current paradigm, the wealthy much too heavily influence decisions that concern us all. 

In my dream world, the community pulls together as a fabric of many interwoven single threads, because they’re given more power, more access to information and decision making. A community knows best what it needs in order to thrive. They should have a say in whether or not they want a dollar store in their midst or what access to excellent education and healthcare needs to look like in their neighborhood in order to make it accessible to all. Imagine that! 

Imagine communities having a say in what their future looks like, rather than the wealthy making those decisions for them. 

The Great Value Shift

Mutualism is a deeply rooted value I share with Zebras Unite. We are all connected, even if each of us views the world a little differently. Believing that “we” is more powerful and important than “I” is key to creating a mutually beneficial existence.

Compassion. I study Buddhism to help me bring my wise mind to the fore. We all have base human instincts in us: fear, greed, anger, envy. We allow these parts of ourselves to rule our actions, or we can operate from compassion. It takes great discipline to be compassionate in the face of life. I believe this to be humanity’s true purpose: to transmute all of the negativity into compassionate joy. 

Courage to imagine a different way, to give something up for the greater good, to try something scary and innovative for the betterment of all. Being an entrepreneur is incredibly risky. To create something from one’s own vision is a test of faith and perseverance, especially without exploiting others. It is not for the faint of heart, and I feel comforted and honored to be among the Zebras community of entrepreneurs.  

Talie’s contribution

My two partners and I, Becca Connors and Scott Smith, co-founded Smith + Connors to support purpose-driven organizations and businesses that are moving our world forward toward a more equitable future. If my everyday work contributes to this change, then I can put in the long hours that I do and sleep well at night knowing I spent my life working for a greater purpose. 

I believe that good branding and clear communications are critical ingredients for change. If people don’t understand what you stand for, they won’t feel the magnetic pull to be part of it.

We strengthen values-aligned brands through messaging, stories, websites, and visual assets.  We have had the great honor of designing the family of brands for Zebras Unite. We listened to the founders carefully to make sure that we were creating something that expressed both the mission and personality of the movement they were helping to ignite. The gradients represent diverse voices, the graphics convey a bold mission. The Zebras brand is as iconic as the founders and entrepreneurs it represents.  

What does support look like?

Spread the word about Zebras Unite! We are a small but mighty co-op, and there’s a lot each of us can do to elevate the movement and get others on board with our mission!

One question for the community

I would like to understand what Zebras around the world struggle with.

What are the barriers you face to really flourish and get traction in your business? What forces are working against you in your communities or regions?


  • Jason Ingle is a pioneer in the social venture space. His mission is to transform economic and market systems to become in harmony with our planet. 
  • Heart Creative: Mollie Harris and Jennifer Bryman are two badass founders whose mission it is to change people’s relationship with food.
  • Bonnie Richardson, of Richardson Wright LLP, founded her law firm with a vision of a new kind of practice that celebrates diversity and is designed to support the whole person.

Talie Smith

Portland, Oregon, USA

Co-founder and CEO of a creative agency. Buddhist and believer in empowering communities. Mother. Founding member of Zebras Unite.