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Lifelong Support for Lifelong Leadership: Echoing Green's Grad Week

Jeffrey Neal ’18, founder of Loop Closing, lists “the help and support from and for my fellow Fellows on applications, connections to people, strategies, and fun times together” as the number one thing he’s gained from the Echoing Green community.

This October, Echoing Green held its first-ever virtual Fellow grad week event celebrating the 2018 and 2019 classes of the Fellowship and their transition into the alumni Fellow community. We know that lifelong leadership and impact are anchored by lifelong support, which is why you’ll often hear us saying, “Once a Fellow, always a Fellow.” And as partners deeply invested in the visions and success of our Fellows, it is crucial that we show up for the long haul and holistically support them beyond their active Fellowship term.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our 2018 and 2019 Fellows faced the challenge of adapting to a virtual Fellowship program and navigating early-stage entrepreneurship while tackling the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their communities. Tarjimly co-founders Atif Javed and Aziz Alghunaim ‘18 offered free translation and interpretation services in 60+ languages for immigrant and refugee communities to access critical aid and care; and William Evans ‘19, founder of Neighborhood Benches, responded to the inequitable enforcement of social distancing against communities of color by mobilizing community leaders. During an extended and collective moment of grief, loss, and anxiety, our Fellows reminded us once again that the best way forward is through community. 

Over the years, we have cherished the “stickiness” of the Echoing Green community. Whether it be through mentorship, serving on each other’s boards, or visiting each other’s organizations when they’re in town, Fellows show up for and support each other personally and professionally. During a global pandemic that halted in-person gatherings and convenings, it was important that we implement creative approaches to creating and sustaining this camaraderie. Through community calls with our secular chaplains, we held safe spaces for Fellows to share their experiences as they navigated the pandemic as proximate leaders. Additionally, by virtually transitioning our Brain Trusts, our version of a strategic brainstorm that was formerly limited to U.S.-based Fellows, we were able to engage and support over 40 Fellows across the globe. 

As we have learned during this pandemic, crises also present opportunities to reimagine traditional ways of working and build back better. Read on for some guiding principles that continue to carry us through this time:  

  • Create Space For Community
    For Echoing Green, it was essential to carve space for Fellows to come together and share perspectives and experiences, both negative and positive. In these spaces, Fellows were encouraged to show up as their fullest selves without worry and to lean on Echoing Green for support. Through our new community groups and mentorship program, we are continuing to curate safe, collaborative spaces for Fellows to gather, connect, and grow together in very intentional ways.
  • Create a Deeper Impact Through Unrestricted Funding
    Knowing the pandemic would expose and exacerbate global inequities, while also anticipating that funding would retrench from the philanthropic space at a time when it would be needed the most, Echoing Green swiftly disbursed funds through emergency grants. To allow emergency grant recipients to use the funds for whatever they needed—operational pivots, strategic decisions, salaries—we explicitly made these grants unrestricted, sustaining work of our Fellows, who were delivering services to communities on the front lines of the pandemic’s impacts.

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