This summer, Echoing Green welcomed our first-ever Social Entrepreneur in Residence. As an organization that strongly believes in supporting entrepreneurs who challenge the status quo to achieve social change, it’s exciting to think about infusing the entrepreneur perspective in new ways into our staff. Purposeful innovation makes us all go further, faster in the name of social progress.
We’re especially proud to have Melinda Weekes-Laidlow join us as our inaugural Social Entrepreneur in Residence with a focus on racial equity. Melinda runs a consultancy that offers organizational development, facilitation and capacity building to the social innovation, racial equity, and arts and culture spaces. She sat down with Echoing Green president Cheryl L. Dorsey to chat about the significance of the role for Echoing Green, the unique mindset she brings to the organization and to her own work, and what infusing an organization with new ideas and perspectives can do to accelerate social progress.
Cheryl Dorsey: Melinda, we are honored to welcome you to the Echoing Green community as we embark on this journey together. How would you describe your entrepreneurial development that brings you to the Social Entrepreneur in Residence role?
Melinda Weekes-Laidlow: There are a few key factors that have helped me frame my work as entrepreneurial. In the early 2000s, while a graduate student at Harvard’s Divinity School, I first learned of the field of social entrepreneurship. This was an intellectual breath of fresh air! It was a field of practice that embraced those like myself who were not primarily driven by a desire to make money, but who were values-driven and committed to deploying our skills towards the collective whole.
As a Black woman born just after the Civil Rights era, my parents and community instilled in me a commitment to using my gifts, talents and abilities to improve the conditions of my community, and ultimately, of our entire nation. It was a matter of continuing a legacy. That legacy is anchored in a belief that those most affected indeed possess the talent, ingenuity, and intellectual resources to create lasting, breakthrough solutions for our nation’s most pressing social challenges. This generative, solutions-oriented outlook has marked my career path and choices every step of the way.
Cheryl: I’m moved by the thought that you, and others who do the work to make change happen, are continuing a legacy. What experiences catalyzed the shape of that legacy?
Melinda: As a facilitator, trainer, and process designer at the Interaction Institute for Social Change, I discovered my passion and prowess in process, design thinking and collaboration – key skills I helped to build up in leaders across the nation. And as a member of the senior management team at Race Forward, the United States’ leading multi-racial racial justice organization and publisher of news site, Colorlines, I had the privilege of innovating alongside some of the nation’s top thinkers, practitioners and journalists on the topic of race, structural racism and racial equity. Now, with Weekes In Advance Enterprises, I draw from these experiences and more to insert my own voice, ideas and ventures into the public conversation and marketplace. As a leadership coach and consultant to many, and for many years, it is time for this coach to get on the court and play along with the All Stars!
Cheryl: You’ve had a journey that connects your perspective around social change to the world of entrepreneurship. A part of that entrepreneurship world includes markets, investments, and wealth. How are you thinking about these elements in connection to social change?
Melinda: I’ve noticed that many of us have a fraught relationship to wealth and money. Some have undervalued money’s significance in our personal lives, some possess political critiques that have driven us away from market-driven work altogether, and others have allowed a scarcity or a sacrificial mindset to lower our sights for what we see as possible or desirable financially. So as I interact with many networks around the country, I am heartened to connect with leaders who are valuing wealth creation as part of the transformative and liberating work needed for equitable and sustainable living. Some practical insights are to be gained at intersection of social entrepreneurship and social justice, and in my own venture going forward I will be looking to connect with others who believe that wealth, especially through entrepreneurship, has a viable role in our personal and societal change-making.
Cheryl: I agree – that intersection between the entrepreneurial mindset and a commitment to creating positive social impact can greatly accelerate change for the better. In that vein, what makes Echoing Green the right fit for the next phase of your leadership? How do you envision this role will strengthen and expand Echoing Green’s work, and your own?
Melinda: The Social Entrepreneur in Residence post is a wonderful way to leverage my nearly 25 years of experience as a social change agent, attorney, nonprofit manager, systems thinker, professional facilitator, capacity builder and leadership coach. Based on my expertise in the field of racial equity, my work as a program developer and previous client work in the Black men and boys’ space, shortly after I launched my consulting practice, you came up with an even more brilliant idea and offered me the post of Echoing Green’s first ever Social Entrepreneur in Residence, with racial equity as my particular focus.
As an official member of the Echoing Green ecosystem, I am eager to share my diverse networks, areas of expertise and love of learning with the Echoing Green community. I hope to strengthen Echoing Green’s ability to think about systemic racial equity in and through the lens of the social entrepreneurship sector, as well as explore opportunities to continue Echoing Green’s track record of thought leadership within the field. Further, with me in this post, Echoing Green has racial equity specialist in-house. In that way, I am also serving as a resource to advice and support the organization’s ongoing diversity, inclusion and racial equity capacity building work.
Cheryl: What’s particularly exciting about this experience for Echoing Green is the opportunity to expand and deepen our community through the capacities you bring to the Social Entrepreneur in Residence role. How do you envision engaging with the Echoing Green community will create new opportunities for you, and vice versa?
Melinda: As an independent consultant and solo entrepreneur who also happens to be an extrovert, it helps to have a “home team” to consort with, learn with, problem-solve with – on matters both great and small.
Now I’m in the process of launching an entrepreneurial venture that will fuse together my passions for creatives, systemic social change and racial equity. I am thrilled that through this collaboration, I have access to the dynamism of the entire Echoing Green community – as thought partners, a community of practice, an idea incubator and ultimately, as a cheerleader when I launch it into the marketplace. More on this soon!
Melinda Weekes-Laidlow is president of Weekes In Advance Enterprises, a consultancy that offers capacity-building, coaching, and facilitation with a specialization in arts and culture, social innovation, and racial equity sectors. Tweet her at @MelindaWeekes.