Every fall, Echoing Green gathers world-class social entrepreneurs for several days of leadership workshops, productive cross-sector dialogues, and to provide space to recharge before they return to their crucial work. In our 30th anniversary year, the October 2017 All Fellows Conference brought us to San Francisco, where we visited local social enterprises and also hosted the inaugural Echoing Green Summit. The Summit convened more than 400 guests–including Echoing Green Fellows, other social change leaders, philanthropists, investors, and civic leaders–to engage in timely dialogues concerning what’s next for social innovation.
The San Francisco Bay Area is a bountiful ecosystem for social change with deep potential to influence progress all over the world. Many Echoing Green Fellows are working in Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley, and beyond, in a region with an extensive history of activism and opportunity. This landscape is open for innovation and, in large part due to the wealth generated by the tech industry, is a place where philanthropy and impact investment are consistent points of conversation. As we consider the future of social entrepreneurship, how funding is accessed plays a critical role in which organizations, leaders, and approaches thrive. We can’t have conversations about funding without also surfacing the contexts in which social change is happening. The conference created an opportunity to dissect how key issues–including responding to and anticipating climate change, growing human rights movements, and 21st-century leadership–are impacting the outlook of the field.
In a time when new questions seem to arise daily about how best to dismantle structural barriers and social inequities, there’s much to learn about how to make progress by reflecting on our beginnings. During the Summit, we presented the inaugural Echoing Impact award to honor the innumerable contributions of Chuck Feeney, founder of General Atlantic, Atlantic Philanthropies, and businessman who pioneered the duty-free industry. His philanthropic philosophy–giving while living–has inspired other philanthropists and resulted in $8B of investments through Atlantic Philanthropies to address intractable issues worldwide. Through his example of trusting in the promise of people to lead the way toward progress, and his early investment in Echoing Green, his legacy extends through the Echoing Green community and beyond. Governor of California Jerry Brown; Amit Chandra, managing director of Bain Capital; Chris Oechsli, president of Atlantic Philanthropies; Steve Denning, chairman of General Atlantic; David Hodgson, managing director of General Atlantic and Echoing Green Board co-Chair; Josefina Alvarado Mena ’96, CEO of Safe Passages; and Alan Khazei ‘91, co-founder of City Year and founder of Be The Change each shared reflections on how Mr. Feeney has influenced their own impact in the world.
So what’s next for social innovation? Where do we go from here? As Echoing Green President Cheryl Dorsey noted, “one of the benefits of identifying tomorrow’s transformative leaders today is not only access to emerging trends in the sector but also the ability to see through their eyes the world as it could be rather than the world as it is.” From this vantage point, there are three major takeaways Echoing Green will continue to carry forward into our next decade:
Build Community with Intention
In addition to forming partnerships with field-building partners to inform programming and spread the word about this year’s conference, Echoing Green’s community truly goes back to the beginning. Fellows from nearly every Fellowship class attended the conference, bringing their wisdom to their conversations while also learning from our newest classes and partners. (Check out this blog post for more of our reflections on community.)
Embrace What You Don’t Know (Yet)
The All Fellows Conference and Summit brought together leaders from different geographies, issue area focus, perspective, and more–and all that diversity is invaluable to progress. By entering into this space willing to learn while also valuing and offering your own perspective to conversations you might not have in daily life, the opportunities to co-design new solutions or iterate on old thinking can have compounding returns on our work.
Name Those Persistent Issues You Notice
As Cheryl Dorsey noted during her remarks, part of progress is embracing making the path by walking. Sometimes, along that path we are also required to have tough conversations for the sake of fixing broken systems and achieving the change we wish to see. While we know it’s not enough to just talk about the issues faced on the path to achieving dramatic social progress, it’s an essential component of taking informed action to address them.
Stay tuned for an upcoming highlight post on the conversations held at the 2017 Echoing Green Summit!
For more photos from the conference – including site visits, the Echoing Green Fellow marketplace, and conversations in action – check out our Facebook album and revisit Summit highlights on social.