Atlanta is a city of innovators with a rich past, present, and future rooted in the pursuit of justice. Today, the city continues a long tradition of bringing people together to imagine and generate pathways to a just, equitable future, setting the tone for progress in communities around the world. In November alone, the city was host to several gatherings that highlight this commitment, including the Facing Race conference and On the Frontlines of Inclusive Growth. And as a place that develops solutions for social progress by bringing together organizers from the social sector, government, and private sector leaders, Atlanta was a perfect setting for Echoing Green’s 2016 All Fellows Conference. Nearly 400 Echoing Green Fellows and guests convened in downtown Atlanta to explore ways social entrepreneurs work to drive social justice in communities worldwide and define new routes to propel their work further, faster.
With people from six continents in the room sharing stories from their communities, there was no better time for the Echoing Green community to come together to look forward. “There is no more powerful force than all of us here together,” noted Echoing Green President Cheryl L. Dorsey ’92. She acknowledged that while the Echoing Green community is comprised of leaders who serve as lighthouses who help steer the world toward justice – they’re not in it alone. By bringing people together and creating space for real conversation, social change leaders exchanged ideas, philanthropists and investors considered what role they could step into and fortify to continue progress, and other leaders defined ways they could foster social innovation within the private sector.
Each of us has a role to play–this conference was as much about bringing people together in community as it is about creating spaces for dialogues that advance the work of leaders working in Atlanta and around the globe. Here are a few highlights of lessons learned at the conference:
Action Required: The Center for Civil and Human Rights was the setting of the conference Welcome Dinner, featuring remarks from Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed and the presentation of the 2016 Edwin Cohen Community Steward Award to Laura Weidman Powers ’13 to honor her incredible continued commitment to the Echoing Green community. A journey through the museum’s galleries reminds us that social change does not just come on its own–justice is tied to the actions of people.
Go Back and Forth: Fellows brought their perspectives, questions, and curiosity to site visits at 14 organizations operating around Atlanta. They learned how city leaders are thinking about opportunities and challenges in the city and how the community is working to address them. After seeing the present and future of Atlanta, Fellows visited history on a walking tour through the Historic Old Fourth Ward. The journey took Fellows to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. They walked through Ebenezer Baptist Church, gazed at Martin Luther King’s childhood home, and toured the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame before discussing the continued struggle for civil rights at a screening of Ava DuVernay’s 13TH with Cory Greene ’16, who is interviewed in the film (as are Gina Clayton ’14, Van Jones ’94, and Glenn Martin ’14).
Perspective Matters: Morehouse College President Dr. John Silvanus Wilson Jr.’s plenary keynote kicked off a day where the focus was doing the work to not only talk about the work but to affirm paths forward. As he reflected on the challenges Morehouse students will face as would the people in the audience, he urged for each to do the work to understand themselves and the future they want to help create. “Perspective is worth 100 points of IQ.”
Know Your Role – Then Act: Dr. Bryant T. Marks (Morehouse College), Ed Chang (New Org), and Lisa Flick Wilson (Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance) were joined by Echoing Green Fellow George Srour (Building Tomorrow) to discuss how collaborative approaches help to grow a supportive ecosystem committed to achieving social progress across sectors. Lisa notes that “benevolence, reliability, and competency” are three key ingredients to building trust in collaborative partnerships.
Take Control: After facilitated brainstorms and Spark Sessions, where participants dug deeply to understand the roles of impact investing, corporate social responsibility, and individual philanthropy in driving social innovation, Echoing Green hosted a special edition UpStart. Laura Weidman Powers ’13 (CODE2040) and Rohit Malhotra ’15 (Center for Civic Innovation) discussed what they’ve learned about proactively carving pathways to participation in the innovation economy. Before networking among local leaders, aspiring entrepreneurs, Fellows, and thought leaders, Laura and Rohit pressed the room to build community authentically. “Diversity is an exercise of putting people in a room together,” says Rohit. “But inclusivity is making sure they have the power to be making decisions about what it is they are going to be doing for the rest of their life.” Watch the full UpStart on Facebook.
Thank you to all of our conference guests, presenters, Fellows, and staff for an incredible week. We are especially grateful to our Atlanta Host Committee, 17 leaders who helped to shape the conference, lead conversations, and helped to grow the Echoing Green community on this journey to Atlanta. The engagement does not stop here as each of us continues to work to spark change in our communities, dispersing with our eyes set toward the future.