Meet Anna-Mieke Anderson, a pioneering visionary in the laboratory-grown diamond industry. Founder and CEO of MiaDonna & Company and The Greener Diamond Foundation, her company is the leading retailer of beautiful, ethical and affordable fine jewelry, she is one of the top 50 inspirational CEOs and Top 100 CSR leaders and CEO of the year in the jewelry industry by World Biz Magazine, a dedicated mother, an avid philanthropist.
Who is Anna-Mieke? Define yourself?
Most people think my passion is diamond science, but my passion is people. I’m a humanitarian at heart. I came into the diamond industry as a woman, mother, friend, and concerned citizen. I started my company MiaDonna, my foundation, The Greener Diamond, and pioneered the lab-grown diamond industry, as an activist first and an entrepreneur second.
You are a native of New Zealand, however, you spent your childhood in Australia, how were you as a kid?
I was lucky enough to grow up in Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, which I believe is one of the most beautiful and environmentally conscious places in the world. My father was an avid environmentalist and instilled in me an awareness of my carbon footprint. Reluctantly, I spent many childhood hours watching documentaries about issues facing people and the planet. Obviously, now I’m thankful for this experience as it developed my passion for protecting the environment and humanity, and was the right training I needed to create my foundation and pioneer the lab-grown diamond industry.
"My recipe for success is being authentic and leading with a feminine leadership style. It’s a woman’s natural instinct to lead with compassion and empathy. We lead from a place of community and we focus on the “we” instead of “I”
You have an associate degree in Science and Business at TAFE why did you choose that course of study?
As a young teen, I was the sole caregiver for my single mum while she battled multiple cancers and ultimately passed. With a focus on caring for my mother and being present for all of the hospital visits and doctor appointments, I didn’t have much time to focus on my studies. After navigating through foster care for a while, I eventually left high school.
Growing up with this childhood forced me to be an entrepreneur from a very early age, which led me to get an associate’s degree in business.
You moved to the United States when you were 19 and currently resides in Portland, Oregon, what was the reason to change of residency?
I was born a free spirit and had no permanent ties in Australia, so why not. I had a one-way ticket to America and all my worldly possessions in a backpack over my shoulder.
You were a fashion model and you worked as a high fashion and special effects makeup artist, how did you jump from that point to found your own company MiaDonna? which pioneered the lab-grown diamond industry to offer consumers beautiful, ethical and affordable fine jewelry, that is truly conflict-free jewelry using 100% recycled metals and lab-grown diamonds and gemstones.
In 2005, when I learned my engagement ring most likely contained a conflict diamond, I wanted to right things in my mind so I started sponsoring Ponpon, a 7-year-old boy in Liberia, Africa. Through our letters, I got a first-hand look at the harsh realities of living in a diamond mining community. But it was when he wrote to me, “I had a great summer because only one of my classmates was killed,” that I knew I had to do more. My mission at the beginning was simple - sell conflict-free fine jewelry to sponsor more children and their mothers.
In the search for an ethical diamond, I soon found out that nothing from the earth can be considered truly conflict-free, so that is when I turned to science to grow one in a lab.
However, at the time, the technology to grow diamonds was in its infancy and we could only grow small diamonds and they were yellow in color. I started working with scientists to fine-tune the technology to grow stunning gem-quality diamonds that we would all be proud to wear. In 2016, MiaDonna scientists grew the largest colorless diamond at the time, grown in the USA at 6.28ct.
Since the beginning, MiaDonna has led the evolution of the lab-grown diamond industry and has now empowered thousands of women and children to thrive in a life outside of diamond mining. As for that little boy Ponpon, he recently graduated from University and runs our foundation’s projects in Liberia, Africa.
"I don’t measure success based solely on revenues and proﬁt margins. I have speciﬁc social and environmental initiatives that drive my business and I put equal importance on proﬁts, people, and the planet"
The Greener Diamond is MiaDonna’s foundation. Every MiaDonna purchase passionately funds projects to repair the lives and land negatively impacted by the mining industry. Tell us more about this project.
MiaDonna is a social enterprise and The Greener Diamond is its non-profit foundation. Every purchase at MiaDonna funds our foundation’s projects that go back into mining communities to repair the land and lives negatively affected by the diamond industry. We focus on projects that address training, education, and food security, but we also jump in during emergency situations, such as the Ebola outbreak and COVID-19. We do more than just write checks and hope we make an impact. We personally develop our own projects by listening to what the locals need. Because of conscious consumers purchasing MiaDonna’s fine jewelry, we are able to truly change the lives of the people suffering at the hands of mining.
You are internationally recognized as an environmental and humanitarian activist and you have made history by becoming a pioneering visionary in the laboratory- grown diamond industry. You are considered one of the top 50 inspirational CEOs and Top 100 CSR leaders and CEO of the year in the jewelry industry by World Biz Magazine. What´s the recipe for your success?
My recipe for success is being authentic and leading with a feminine leadership style. It’s a woman’s natural instinct to lead with compassion and empathy. We lead from a place of community and we focus on the “we” instead of “I”. Study after study shows that women do better in leadership roles and are more likely to reinvest their profits back into their community, not just their immediate family. I have seen this first hand, not only here in America, but also with my work in Africa. When you invest in a woman you are investing in the whole community. It has a multiplier effect.
When I started in the male-dominated diamond industry, I figured I had to lead from a masculine point-of-view to succeed and “fit in”. However, the day I was brave enough to lead with my feminine voice despite the risk of being ridiculed by those who viewed it as weak, was the day I truly started succeeding. The most successful female leaders I admire lead with compassion and empathy. It’s those natural talents that we have been told to suppress, that actually benefit us in business
"We as women put too much pressure on ourselves and each other! No one expected Bill Gates or Steve Jobs to make two dozen expertly decorated cupcakes for the school bake sale or sew a costume for the Halloween party on their way to the boardroom"
What is the reality of your day-to-day?
I am a single mum of two teens, a CEO and run a foundation. Let’s just say my days are very fluid.
Do you have any particular philosophy that guides your career decisions?
Never second guess myself. The best thing I ever did was stop second guessing my intuition. Although intuition can be a trainable skill, the ability to connect, listen and act on your intuition is a gift women naturally inherit. Unfortunately, it’s often ignored because society has told us it’s a foolish concept exclusively reserved for the self-help world. However, there’s actually a neurological basis for it. This is a competitive advantage that women possess, so use it.
What do you love most about your job? & what is the most difficult part?
As the CEO of a social enterprise, I love seeing the impact we make. I don’t measure success based solely on revenues and proﬁt margins. I have speciﬁc social and environmental initiatives that drive my business and I put equal importance on proﬁts, people and the planet. I started my company, MiaDonna, to be the sustainable funding source for my foundation, The Greener Diamond. By selling truly conﬂict-free ﬁne jewelry not only are we protecting natural resources and the earth, but we are also funding projects that empower locals living in diamond mining communities to grow food and own small businesses instead of relying on the mining industry and donated aid to survive. So I measure my success and career satisfaction not so much in how much proﬁt we make, but rather how much social and environmental change we can create.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else does?
As an entrepreneur and CEO, you have to be agile and willing to adjust and pivot quickly. 2020 is a great example of this. Literally overnight, businesses had to create a new commerce model addressing stay-at-home orders, social distancing and consumer fears.
This is also applicable as consumer demands evolve over time. We are seeing the rise of conscious consumers who want the companies they do business with to match their moral values and beliefs. Just like the DNA of a biological organism must adapt to survive, so must businesses and industries. If they do not, history has taught us they will not survive. We are seeing this in the diamond industry- the organizations that refuse to modernize their business model will not survive.
"I was ostracized from the industry; articles were being pulled right before print, I wasn’t allowed to enter jewelry design contests, I was banned from events, I was given an “unofficial” gag order and many cease and desist letters. They were bullying me and trying to intimidate me. I definitely had to play by a different set of rules than the rest of the industry"
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Slow organic growth versus a large capital injection in the beginning gave us a strong, long-lasting foundation. Time and time again, I hear of startups raising a ridiculous amount of capital but without a strong foundation, time in the market and a clear identity. The capital raised is used poorly and there is too much trial and error. This creates a vicious cycle of constantly needing more funding, taking you away from focusing on growing the business and you never build that strong foundation.
What is the meaning of a diamond for you?
I love the dreams diamonds represent. But at what cost? That’s why I love lab-grown diamonds. We can now have the sentimental value of a diamond but without the negative effects on people and the planet.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Spare time? Haha, what’s that? If I do have time in between running a corporation and foundation, helping kids with homework and driving them everywhere they need to be, I like to recharge by paddle boarding or reading.
Many authors say women can and must strive to have everything – a shining career, blossoming family life, and a perfectly balanced lifestyle all at once, others point out that– then women are placing unrealistic expectations on themselves if they believe they can have it all, you are a mom of 2 children so according to your experience, what do you think about these statements?
Women can definitely have it all! But perfect balance is an illusion. We should stop expecting to have balance in all areas of our lives, all at the same time. It’s about finding balance over a week, a month or a year. Some days all of my attention has to be on the business and the kids are eating cereal for dinner. Other days I can take the entire day off to chaperone a field trip or spontaneously throw a team dinner for 15 teenage boys.
We as women put too much pressure on ourselves and each other! No one expected Bill Gates or Steve Jobs to make two dozen expertly decorated cupcakes for the school bake sale or sew a costume for the Halloween party on their way to the boardroom. When your kids are grown, is it more important that they have a picture of a handmade, Pinterest-inspired birthday cake, or the drive and passion you shared with them on your journey of building a business?
"Girls need to get "unstuck" from the limiting beliefs of who they really are and change their self-talk. Once they change their perception of themselves, they will raise their standards and the world will rise to meet those standards!”
How are you as a mom?
I had a non-traditional childhood. I was unfortunately the sole caregiver for my single mother who battled multiple types of cancer during my early teen years. I entered the foster care system and after she passed, I left school. Because of this experience, I want to make a lot of memories with my kids and take them on as many adventures as possible. My daily grind may be grueling, but I’m fortunate that I can take extended periods of time to focus on the kids and show them the world. I love exposing them to other countries and becoming immersed in other cultures for weeks at a time. This connection with humankind is a special gift that gives them a unique perspective on the world.
What are your plans for the future?
I learned long ago to never share my next move. :)
There is still the glass ceiling for women in the world: Fewer opportunities, jobs underpaid just for that fact of being a woman, etc. Have you experimented with the glass ceiling? If yes, what are the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
The diamond industry is the pièce de résistance of patriarchal values, so my ability to lead or be taken seriously while being not only female but a single mum was often questioned. That coupled with the fact that I didn’t come into this industry as an heir or business tycoon meant further push back.
I was ostracized from the industry; articles were being pulled right before print, I wasn’t allowed to enter jewelry design contests, I was banned from events, I was given an “unofficial” gag order and many cease and desist letters. They were bullying me and trying to intimidate me. I definitely had to play by a different set of rules than the rest of the industry.
Even my own team questioned my abilities. I can remember sitting in a room of lawyers (all male) and one said to me, “I don’t see how you are going to be a single mother, CEO, run a foundation and go up against the most corrupt industries the modern world has ever seen.” This just fueled me even more.
While many women hitting the glass ceiling opt to start their own business, the discrimination continues. The average loan size for both men and women is the same, yet men receive financing 20% more often than women. This is truly mind-blowing and unacceptable considering female-run startups are proven to be more successful and have a greater ROI than male-run startups.
It is my hope that one day we won’t have to talk about men leaders and women leaders, and that we can focus solely on the traits and accomplishments of fair and competent leaders. I dream of a world where women run half the countries and half the businesses and men are responsible for running half of the households. But until then we need to encourage our girls to assume roles of leadership. We need to lift up our sisters through mentorship and opportunities, and we need to fight like hell to take our seat at the table.
What tips, can you give to young girls who want to become an entrepreneur like you in the male-dominated jewellery industry?
Regardless of the industry of interest, I’d tell young entrepreneurs to block out the noise and love and trust yourself.
I’d tell them, “The one thing that is holding you back right now is your perception of yourself - The one thing! In our youth, we often develop beliefs about who we think we are and what we are capable of doing. The narrator in our minds speaks from conditioning not from truth. That becomes the self-imposed glass ceiling that controls us for the rest of our lives. You are worth so much more and you are insulting yourself every day if you let these beliefs limit your potential. If only you could see yourself the way the outside world sees you, you’d be amazed and proud.”
Girls need to get "unstuck" from the limiting beliefs of who they really are and change their self-talk. Once they change their perception of themselves, they will raise their standards and the world will rise to meet those standards!
I think in your position, many people may have the wrong idea of who you are (personally), and what do you (professionally), with this idea in mind, what is being Anna, and what´s not?
Many people look at me and assume I come from a place of wealth and prosperity, and that is the reason why my company and foundation are a success. The reality is that my mum was sick for as long as I can remember, we raised each other on welfare. I dropped out of school so I could care for her, and I entered the foster care system when she passed. I came into this industry with no money, no formal education on the subject and without the support of a spouse or family.
Growing up with this childhood gave me the empathy to pursue philanthropy, which turned me into a social entrepreneur. I know what it feels like to be hungry or what it feels like to have no place to sleep. I know what it feels like to watch a parent die. That is why I am so passionate about the work I do. People can, and will, always question my intentions, but frankly, what other people think of me is none of my business.
Who is the woman you admire most and why?
Her name is Maria and she is a mother living in Monrovia, Liberia. Our paths crossed in 2005 when I began sponsoring her son, Ponpon. Maria and I bonded over motherhood and the stories of our children.
Maria gave birth to twin boys when she was 26 years old. It was during this time that Liberia had become completely cut off from foreign aid, the streets were a scene of vicious street fighting that turned into a full-blown civil war funded by diamonds and gold. A few months after their birth, her little boys died in her arms from starvation -- the senseless and preventable act of starvation.
I was the same age as Maria, 26 years old when I had my first child, Mia-Donna and we nearly didn’t survive the birth. After 32 hours of labor, poor Mia and I suffered major trauma. I was told that Mia and I would have died that day if we had not been in a state of the art medical facility.
It was the sheer luck of my privilege of being born in a first world country that meant we got to live but her babies did not. The weight of this was enormous and broke my heart. The uncomfortable truth was that I had personally contributed to the death of her children by unknowingly purchasing conflict diamonds. I promised Maria I would do everything in my power to prevent this from happening again.
I admire Maria as she has shown me strength and determination but also extreme optimism like I have never seen before. I am grateful for Maria, as she made me brutally aware of what needed to be done.
Name: Anna-Mieke Anderson
Company: MiaDonna & Company / The Greener Diamond Foundation Designation: Founder and CEO
Website: MiaDonna- www.miadonna.com
The Greener Diamond- https://www.miadonna.com/pages/the-greener-diamond