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State of Social Entrepreneurship 2015

This year, Echoing Green received 3,165 applications for the Echoing Green Fellowship program and 432 were already selected as Semi-Finalists. As we continue to review individual candidates, we are also looking to aggregate and analyze data from the entire applicant pool to spot trends, improve our work, and share our learning with the broader field of social impact. The trends below are based on comparisons of the last four years of Echoing Green applicant data.

What’s clear from looking at this year’s applicants is that ideas for social change can come from many places, people, and motivations. I encourage you, as you consider our trends below, to ask yourself how you can help shape the future of Echoing Green’s work to identify, seed, and support the next generation of leaders in the social impact field.

Applications from For-Profit and Hybrid Organizations Surpass Nonprofits

We saw a significant increase in applications from for-profit and hybrid organizations, which made up 50% of all Fellowship applications (26% hybrid and 24% for-profit), and totals the largest number of applications from hybrid organizations (830) and for-profit enterprises (743) since we began tracking this data in 2012. This may stem from the growing availability of venture capital dollars for social ventures, and more feasible opportunities for enterprises to do good in the world while generating profit.

For social entrepreneurs like Michael Wilkerson, 2014 Global Fellow and co-founder of Tugende, an organization that offers a pathway for Ugandan boda boda drivers to lease-to-own their motorbikes, the goal isn’t to get rich quick for an idea that happens to have a social benefit. In fact, the for-profit structure is what enables him to achieve a deeper impact with his work. In a recent Voice of America article, Michael says, “Ownership helps drivers make more money. It actually doubles their take home income. But more importantly it gives them the ability to think longer-term and plan for their family’s financial future.”

Gender Imbalance Persists

In continuation of a trend we’ve noticed over the years, 60% of our 2015 applicants identify as male, while just 40% identify as female. While we aim for gender parity among our applicants and Fellows, this trend mirrors some of the challenges and imbalances we see in the larger business and social enterprise sectors.  For example, in 2013, the percentage of venture capitalist deals going to women-led businesses was just 13%, even though VC investments in women-led businesses performed better than all men-led businesses.

Among our applicant pool, we notice that this uneven gender split is most apparent within our for-profit and hybrid applicants; the split is most exaggerated among the Climate Fellowship applicant pool.

This trend mirrors existing challenges we see in diversifying the tech industry, meaningfully extending access to STEM education and job opportunities, and making capital investment available to women and other historically underrepresented groups. Inclusivity, diversity and shared backgrounds among organization leadership, boards, staff, funders and the audiences we serve will allow for stronger organizations, better ideas, and the people driving them to thrive.

More Applicants Working on Programs Focused on Civil & Human Rights and Food & Agriculture

The two biggest jumps we saw between this year and last year were applications categorized as Civil & Human Rights (up by 32%) and Food &  Agriculture (up by 27%).  The increase in Food & Agriculture may be driven by the introduction of our Climate Fellowship (established in 2014); since 2013, we have seen a 38% increase in ideas looking to address challenges associated with the program area. While a direct correlation is harder to identify regarding the  increase in Civil & Human Rights, it may be driven in part by our Black Male Achievement Fellowship (established in 2012), in response to the civil and human rights challenges in America.

4Surge in Applicants Working at an International Level

Echoing Green asks applicants whether they intend to serve one community (Local), multiple parts of one country (National) or more than one country (International). This year, we saw a 26% increase in applications proposing an international scope. It’s possible that this correlates with the rise of applications proposing web- and mobile-based solutions, which often breaks boundaries and extends the scale of their impact beyond a single country or region.

Over the years, we’ve seen these global solutions harness mobile and cloud technologies to address a social challenge. Eneza Education, founded by 2014 Global Fellows Kago Kagichiri and Toni Mariviglia, is spreading education in rural Africa by offering virtual tutors and teacher assistants through a simple low-cost mobile phone.

Lesley Silverthorn Marincola, 2013 Global Fellow and founder and CEO of Angaza Design, is changing the solar energy landscape in Africa through pay-as-you-go mobile technology.

5Deepening Roots in International Social Innovation Hubs

While Echoing Green’s earliest Fellows worked primarily in the United States, our increasingly international pool showcases a surge of applications from countries and regions where there are identified and concentrated networks, or hubs, of social innovation. In particular, we saw an increase in applicants from India and the surrounding regions; we’ve also noticed steady growth in East African applicant representation (an increase of 32% since 2014, with heavy representation from Uganda and Kenya in particular).

Specific growth from Indian, Ugandan, and Kenyan applicants may be connected to our increased international efforts, working in partnership with USAID. Last year, we hosted a major conference in India, and leveraged the opportunity to inform more entrepreneurs and social impact supporters working there about our Fellowship program. We hope to do further networking in East Africa in the coming year.

Programs Benefiting Women & Girls Trending Way Up

This year, we saw a 40% increase among organizations seeking to help women and girls, and received the largest number of applications focusing on this population we’ve seen since we started tracking this data in 2012. This year, applicants who identify as “African, African-American, Black” have offered 50% of the organization proposals targeting the Women & Girls populations.

We’re excited to see more solutions targeting this population. Data shows that investments in girls and women reap high returns and that empowering girls and women will catalyze a ripple effect of positive outcomes, central to driving global development and progress. According to The World Bank, for example, improvements in a woman’s education, health and agency are directly linked to her country’s economic growth. We look forward to seeing more progress come from the work proposed by these applicants.

Data Showcases the Importance of Betting Early, Especially in Black Male Achievement Fellowship

We ask applicants to select which category of “operating time” best relates to their organization: Not Yet Operating, Less Than One Year, One or Two Years, More than Two Years. Since 2012, the Black Male Achievement (BMA) Fellowship has had the highest proportion of organizations “not yet operating” compared to the breakdown of our other Fellowships. And, organizations applying for the BMA Fellowship that have fundraised have had the lowest average amount raised upon application submission, nearly 20% less than their Global Fellowship counterparts.

We see some data to explain this fundraising disparity – BMA organizations are among the youngest in our pool, and BMA submissions are more likely to be nonprofit organizations. But beyond the fundraising disparities by Fellowship, we’re also seeing disparities in funds raised by race and ethnicity. Of the U.S.-based applicant pool that has fundraised, organizations with applicants identifying as “African, African-American, Black” raised two times less than organizations with applicants identifying as “European, Caucasian, White”. This data showcases a need to unpack this reality to not just understand the disparity, but solve for it. Early-stage seed funding, a core tenant of Echoing Green’s work, remains an important catalyst for solving these issues. As Echoing Green’s president Cheryl Dorsey often says, being an angel investor is in many ways about betting on the jockey, not the horse.

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