History tells us that social change happens through networks. It requires the actions of many–institutions and individuals–to create positive social change at scale. In a world where there are many ways to contribute to addressing enduring social challenges, the role of social entrepreneurship is to operate at the intersections of sectors to see and create value in communities where others may not. For social entrepreneurs, the type of problem-solving required to disrupt the status quo involves thinking outside the box and using the tools at their disposal to influence change.
Inherent in this approach to changing systems is a significant amount of risk. Social entrepreneurs see a problem and cannot look away, and so they are willing to try a new approach to address the root of a social issue, instead of primarily alleviating its symptoms. But because we believe that talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not, Echoing Green’s role is to invest in meeting these early-stage leaders wherever they are. We know some entrepreneurs are fortunate to be able to kick start their work by tapping into existing networks and relationships. Others may bootstrap their startup while working another job. And still, others are left with their idea on paper, seeking creative ways to bring it to life. Access to early stage seed funding is one part of that story, and where Echoing Green comes in.
A great leader is more than just a reflection of their business plan. Because we are investing in developing leaders, it’s not enough to write a check and hope that their launch goes well. There are many incubators and accelerators that have cropped up to support models looking to achieve double- and triple-bottom-line impact and they often utilize a model that puts organizational outcomes at the center. Our slice of support is to focus on leadership outcomes.
In these early days, the latitude to experiment and the safety net to experience failure are critical. With that in mind, as one component of our suite of supports, Fellows receive unrestricted seed funding and health care reimbursement over the course of their Fellowship. We’ve always thought about this as quit your job money. Our goal is to give Fellows the cushion they need to focus, full time, on their idea and project. For many of them, this seed grant is their first funding, but what we’ve learned is how to ensure that we’re not their last funding.
How they choose to invest their seed funding to grow their nonprofit, for-profit, or hybrid enterprise is their decision. But to sustain high-impact leaders over the long haul and grow the potential of their collective impact, we believe it’s also important to provide configured support to our Fellows with consideration of the needs of the whole person. Remaining committed and nimble in the social innovation space requires ongoing maintenance of skills and passion to fuel their ability to do the hard, often lonely work of launching an organization.
The Echoing Green Fellowship has been an important part of the journey of Tomorrow’s Leaders NYC. Over the last two years, my relationship with my portfolio manager Tiffany has helped me continue to prioritize my leadership skills in a way that I’ve become more strategic and can readily spot opportunities to share my work with funders, partners, and schools. With her thought partnership I’ve gotten more and more traction and support, allowing me to deepen our impact with kids citywide. – Toyin Ayanfodun ’15
A couple of years ago, we shared our Philosophy of Fellow Support which highlighted the four building blocks that Echoing Green believes are universal capacities social entrepreneurs need. At the center of understanding these blocks is a relationship between the Fellows and their dedicated Echoing Green portfolio manager. They provide technical support, diagnose challenges, and give practical advice and connections to these Fellows as they dream big while simultaneously performing the daily tasks of managing a new organization.
The Building Blocks of Fellow Support
- Raise money in appropriate amounts for their stage and size of need.
- Operate according to clear, written short-term plans and goals.
- Internalize a philosophy of regular measurement against a documented theory of change.
- Remain committed to continuing work on their issue or organization at a high level of passion and energy in the years following their Fellowship.
The overall structure of the Philosophy of Support provided clearer pathways for mapping out a tailored support plan for each Fellow. But we learned that there is value in further defining the activities a Fellow should undertake in order to measure their progress along the building blocks. For our newest class of Fellows, we introduced a new element to our experiential leadership development curriculum: a defined, measurable, and universal skill set that early stage social enterprise leaders need that Echoing Green can support using specified interventions. These core competencies represent areas a Fellow can develop over a lifetime of leadership, such as strategic planning skills or managing and developing purpose in their work. By providing a framework for Fellows to get specific about their goals and areas for growth, our goal is for them to become increasingly resourceful, strategic, and passionate about their work and their leadership journey.
Here’s what’s next:
As the Fellows continue to report or their progress against the curriculum framework over the course of their Fellowship, we will have a better and more robust dataset to inform our programmatic measurement and evaluation regarding the interventions we use to help Fellows achieve their goals. These are measurable ways to test our theory that by structuring a plan and curriculum around growing social and human capital, our Fellows will be able to go further faster. It is this hypothesis that we will continue to test and iterate on as we learn more from our data. We look forward to sharing more about our Fellowship metrics and other Knowledge efforts later this year.