Building Lifelong Community at the 2019 New Fellows Retreat

By Sarah Dobrowolski

85,721.5 miles—this is approximately how far the 34 2019 Echoing Green Fellows collectively traveled for their New Fellows Retreat in New York this month. Although these Fellows came from nine countries around the world and are working on a diverse set of social justice initiatives—from the use of film and multimedia as a platform for voices of incarcerated people, to mobilizing communities to share data about climate change impacts, to empowering Latin American communities to shape urban development—this class was able to share, empathize, and learn in a way that built community well beyond this retreat.

Echoing Green’s annual New Fellows Retreat is an opportunity for new Fellows’ paths to converge in a week of communion and genuine fellowship. Fellows have the space to anchor their community in shared commitment to bold change. Fellows reflect on their own leadership and start to lean on one another and Echoing Green for support in their development.

The Echoing Green team and advisors served as thought partners and facilitated workshops and discussions tailored to the social entrepreneurship experience. Fellows also began accessing the Fellow Support team’s suite of resources for their organizations, including recommendations and nominations for other opportunities, connections to advisors and professional service partners, and a number of toolkits in fundraising, advisory boards, and more.

Alumni Fellows imparted leadership insights to new Fellows, too. We were fortunate to be joined by Lauren Burke ’14, Eric Dawson ’96,  Rebecca Hui ’16, Keno Sadler ’97, Ben Smilowitz ’08, Paul VanDeCarr ’95, Tony Weaver, Jr. ’16, and Zoe Wong ’16. These Alumni demonstrated how their sustained relationship with Echoing Green amplifies lifelong social impact.

The New Fellows Retreat initiated conversations on building a community that can travel great distances together. As Fellows, Alumni, staff, and advisors spoke, bold ideas were sparking and growing beyond the retreat. Continue reading for three themes and takeaways below.

1. Meaningful solutions are often rooted in lived experiences.

“Our work is a mandate for us. It is a culmination of both life and community experiences that led us here and determine how we show up in our communities.”

– Tolulope Sonuyi, co-founder of Detroit Life Is Valuable Everyday (D.L.I.V.E.)
Social entrepreneurs are close to the problems they are addressing and feel the impacts personally. For many, they grew up experiencing a broken status quo that shaped who they are now. Echoing Green Fellows hear and understand their own community and cannot turn their backs on inequities. At Echoing Green, we call this a moment of obligation, but there are often numerous moments that powerfully point to what feels like a mandate. Social impact leaders address real needs in a way that stays true to their community. They lead with optimism and transform systems for a world that works for everyone.

Raymond Winans ’19, Paul VanDeCarr ’95, and Tolulope Sonuyi ’19 during a workshop at NFR.

2. Relationships are often an entrepreneur’s most valuable asset.

“We need to create economies of collaboration to compete with economies of scale.”

– Daniel Brown, co-founder of Rust Belt Riders
Narratives around entrepreneurship often center on the business: the profitability, ROI, and efficiency. While these elements are important, Echoing Green’s focus on leaders as whole people fuels a different competitive advantage. It’s challenging to be a social entrepreneur in a profit-driven world, but Echoing Green Fellows know the irreplaceable value of the relationships—and even partnerships—they forge with their peers. Echoing Green’s cohort model provides space for experts in different fields to relate and collaborate with one another. A Climate Fellow and Black Male Achievement Fellow’s work may differ, but they’re able to spot potential overlap others can’t see and create synergies that drive innovation.

Daniel Brown ’19, Julie Blumreiter ’19, Michael Robinson ’19, and Cielo María Holguín Ramirez ’19 during a workshop at NFR.

3. Vulnerability makes leaders stronger.

“As a role model for girls who’s usually called strong or formidable, I know that by being vulnerable we can teach them to trust us, open up, and get the help that they need.”

– Delphine Konda, founder of Girls Excel
During the retreat, Fellows engaged in discussion about the role of personal wellbeing in their leadership. Entrepreneurs may feel expected to work tirelessly, but it’s necessary to take time to nurture themselves. Echoing Green Fellows often embrace the safety of confiding in one another about their challenges, and this year, Fellows also considered how to bring this practice into their communities. Vulnerability strengthens one’s ability to be a role model. It’s natural for anyone to experience difficulties and low points, and being honest about that makes a leader more accessible and all the more impactful.

Sarah Strader ’19, Echoing Green Chaplain Shaundra Cunningham, Austin Martin ’19, Tanay Tatum-Edwards ’19, Julie Blumreiter ’19, Daniel Gathigai ’19, Delphine Konda ’19, Arthur Woniala ’19, Philip Kao ’19, and Halim Flowers ’19 during our “Echoing Green Olympics.”

We look forward to positive social change the 2019 Fellows have yet to make, along with continued discussions and learning opportunities with the Echoing Green Fellowship community.

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