Echoing Green All Fellows Conference

CONVENERS.ORG FOUNDING MEMBER Join hundreds of Fellows, from our earliest years to our most recent classes, representing more than 50 countries and countless communities, as they reconvene for four inspiring days. Private sector visionaries, impact investors, and local champions of social entrepreneurship gather with Fellows for issue-focused roundtables, peer-led site visits, and open discussions. Fellows and guests return to their own work with new connections, fresh perspectives, and renewed committment to positive social change.

Atlanta has a unique history of community-led solutions—as a city with the resilience to rebuild after the Civil War, at the crossroads of a long fight for civil rights, and home of a number of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Today, Atlanta is a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity in the U.S., and is home to some of the most successful and recognizable companies in the world, yet it also continues to have the largest income inequality in the country. Atlanta offers Echoing Green Fellows and our community the opportunity to explore and deepen their understanding of the intersection of social justice and social innovation.

Change, Justice, Equity: The Optimism of Echoing Green's Solutions Week


Photo courtesy of The Green Space.

Echoing Green, a Founding Member, kicked off its 30th year with a series of timely conversations in partnership with WNYC and The Greene Space. Change, Justice, Equity Solutions Week brought twelve Echoing Green Fellows to a series of conversations with WNYC Radio’s Jami Floyd, host of All Things Considered. Over the course of four nights, these Fellows shared their visions–and their optimism–for addressing the ways that racial inequality limits opportunity and the collective imagination in the United States.

These timely dialogues explored the intersections of racial in equality and tech, big questions for justice reform, how race affects access to healthcare, and thinking critically about accessing power and employment. Each night, Fellows shared how they’re tackling the challenges and in conversation with the audience, they also offered some hope by way of tangible solutions individuals could apply to help move the needle on these systemic issues.

How can we change the culture of tech?

Tech is a driver of the way we communicate and learn in addition to being a core element of sectors beyond the tech industry itself. Laura Weidman Powers ’13 (Code2040), Kalimah Priforce ’13 (Qeyno Labs), and Kathryn Finney ’16 (digitalundivided) are thinking about what it means when the builders of tech don’t reflect the communities engaging with the products and the long term economic and exclusionary effects this has.

“Having a diversity of things we want to impact is critical. The key is that you’re stepping out beyond yourself on a daily basis…Think about how you can show and be visible for a cause you care about physically or digitally.” - Laura Weidman Powers

Watch Race and Changing the Culture of Tech featuring Kathryn, Kalimah, and Laura.

How can we return justice to the criminal justice system?

The effects prison industrial complex and mass incarceration in the United States are hard to ignore: more than 2.3 million people are incarcerated, with more than 11 million people jailed annually (most remaining un-convicted). Glenn Martin ’14 (JustLeadership USA), Gina Clayton ’14 (Essie Justice Group), and Deanna Van Buren ’16 (Designing Justice + Designing Spaces) are tackling the issue by urging us to rethink the role of justice as we conceive it.

Glenn urged the audience to not shy away from holding people accountable to their commitments but also to ensure that we listen to people directly impacted by the problem. “Take direction from people affected by the system…Be bold and audacious so that solutions match the scope of the problem.”

Watch Race and Justice Within Criminal Justice featuring Gina, Glenn, and Deanna.

What intersections need to be addressed to make healthcare equitable?

Access to healthcare is not just an insurance issue: race and language are significant barriers to receiving effective treatment and understanding your health. Anurag Gupta’16, Maria Vertkin ’13, and Vineet Singal ’13 think about this challenge at the individual, provider, and institutional levels to improve access to healthcare while also addressing how bias plays a significant role in locking people out of options.

Anurag is working to break bias at the institutional level, beginning with hospital networks where eliminating bias from the medical decision making process can improve treatment options and quality of care for all. His suggestion for tackling unconscious bias at the individual level? Engage in a long dialogue with someone with whom you disagree, and begin with story and humanity to establish common ground. Ask them “what breaks your heart? And what brings you alive?”

Watch Race and Equity in Healthcare featuring Anurag, Maria, and Vineet.

How can we create equitable access to power?

Jordyn Lexton ’15, Donnel Baird ’12, and Jessamyn Rodriguez ’08 see their work as fundamentally intersectional with other issues discussed throughout the week. As Donnel put it, their work is about converting waste–of potential, talent, and resources–into opportunity.  By listening and co-creating solutions with people often locked out of economic opportunity, they are working across sectors to address this issue with the urgency it requires.

When it comes to understanding – and then doing something about limited pathways to employment in the United States – Jessamyn urges optimism around the incremental progress made to sustain energy around the work in the longterm.

Watch Race and Pathways to Employment featuring Jordyn, Donnel, and Jessamyn.

Our Commitments

Thirty years of supporting leaders implementing dramatic and effective solutions for addressing the world’s most overwhelming issues has taught us that everyone has a role to play. The resourceful, solutions-oriented perspectives of this community make it clear that to truly bring change to the fore, it’s important to listen first and then be specific about how you want to show up. Taking a cue from our Fellows, we've thought about the concrete ways we can show up to continue the conversation. In the spirit of not only seeking to understand the problems but creating opportunities to be part of the solution, we’re sharing three commitments we can achieve within the next 10 days, 10 weeks, and 10 months at Echoing Green.

  • 10 Days: A conversation on racial equity. Within 10 days, Echoing Green is hosting UpStart with Melinda Weekes-Laidlow, Echoing Green's inaugural social entrepreneur in residence. Melinda is the founder of Beautiful Ventures, an investment fund for creative entrepreneurs of color, and will be in conversation with Andy Shallal to answer how we can address anti-blackness through the creative economy.
  • 10 Weeks: The Path to the Class of 2017. Within 10 weeks, we commit to finalizing the selection of our Finalist pool. Taking a tip from Anurag's work to break bias at the institutional level, we are continuing our effort to remove unnecessary barriers from our selection process.
  • 10 Months: The Stakeholders of Social Entrepreneurship. Within 10 months, this conversation will continue in the Bay Area as we contribute to the social innovation conversation at All Fellows Conference 2017.

This post originally appeared in the Echoing Green Blog and is republished here with permission.

Holding Each Other Accountable

At a recent dialogue Echoing Green hosted on the future of social entrepreneurship, attendees grappled with our central question: whether social entrepreneurship is still a relevant mechanism for social change today. For Echoing Green, where we view social entrepreneurship as a force that operates at the intersection of social innovation and social justice, the answer is yes. There are many ways to define social entrepreneurship, but where the boundaries between the business, government, and social sectors can be blurred in service of ideas that create new, shared value is where we believe there exists a crucial role for leaders with purpose, committed to addressing inequality and systems that disadvantage communities over generations and threaten the ability of people to thrive in the future.

Over our 30-year history is a multiplicity of moments where inequality is reinforced by systems and institutions. What is the role of social entrepreneurship in those moments? In part, its role is to be wielded by leaders, close to the injustices they want to address, who understand that their work crosses fictional boundaries. Among Echoing Green’s community of Fellows are people who are addressing disparities in education, racism in policing, climate vulnerability from the United States to the Himalayas, and confronting preventable death in healthcare. They, along with their peers, know that their work cannot be approached in silos.

Of course, systems intersect in ways that have consequences across discipline and sector that reinforce inequities. Health care outcomes are often issues of economic and racial justice; in U.S. communities where education is underfunded, they are likely to be over-policed; and climate vulnerability can be tied to agricultural progress, policy determinations of other countries (see the United States' Federal government determination to leave the Paris accords), race, nationality…the list goes on. There are plenty more intersections among these issues and the work of our other Fellows. Within Echoing Green’s community of leaders, supporters, funders, and advisors are people who seek to understand these intersections and do their part to create and support solutions. This speaks to the continued relevance of this field, but more importantly, to the importance of widening the tent to bring more perspectives and actors to the table.

It’s important to us that people can come together across disciplines to exchange ideas, learn from one another, and bring their full selves as they pursue their work. Beyond this, we know how important it is that, when our community convenes, they have space to not only consider who all the stakeholders are in their work but also to understand how power and agency play a role in achieving equitable outcomes. If we acknowledge that the issues are intersectional, and we value our community for their ability to draw wisdom from one another, make connections across geographies and communities, and to be accountable to themselves and those directly affected by the work, Echoing Green’s continued commitment to working alongside more, diverse voices will only strengthen our work.

The Takeaway: Access does not equal participation or inclusion. It’s not enough to bring people together. Our community holds itself–including Echoing Green–accountable to taking action with what we learn.

People from all walks–including social entrepreneurs, community partners and stakeholders, funders, business leaders–have unique roles to play to deepen and grow social impact. When we consider the present and future of social entrepreneurship, we know that justice and agency are important for the communities directly impacted by the work, and also for the leaders themselves. Knowing this, how do we construct programming for our ecosystem? And how do we think about those experiences across perspectives? And, what happens after they leave: What is our role to play knowing that for some, after exchanging ideas and learning at a conference, a retreat, or a community of practice, they leave only to face bias-driven barriers to operationalizing their ideas? The pursuit of these answers is part of our accountability to the social entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Echoing Green is privileged to have a community that is unafraid to exchange feedback and holds one another, and us, accountable to working in partnership and collaboratively. As a leadership development organization that views our community as our most valuable partner in creating the world we want to see, it’s also important that we amplify voices, do our part to contribute to the conditions that will help our global community of Fellows to thrive, and most importantly, remain accountable to those directly affected by the work we do. As TandemED co-founders Dorian Burton (also of William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust) and Brian Barnes (and of the Tennessee Achievement School District) urge in their must-read article, "Shifting Philanthropy from Charity to Justice", "…we must acknowledge advantages, privileges, and power dynamics, and approach our work alongside individuals to fix or replace broken systems."

Here’s what’s next

We know that leaders who are unflinchingly committed to bringing new thinking to how the world’s injustices are addressed  will lead to meaningful and lasting change. They cannot have this impact alone and it will be much harder if they are not an active voice at tables where decisions concerning policies, funding, and partnerships are made. On that note, we’re excited to ring in our 30th year with our 2017 class of Echoing Green Fellows.

“Find the people in your community who are doing powerful work already and figure out how to tie those various threads together. I’ve been lucky to work alongside a group of people who were all thinking about this together and we all came from different sides of the community. We were all doing little pieces of the work, and what we’ve done is knit our work together to create a stronger whole.” - Lela Klein '17, founder of the Greater Dayton Union Co-op Initiative

These 36 transformational leaders may be in early days with their organizations but, much like the larger Fellow community they join, they are positioned to embody their leadership and impact for a lifetime. Their promise is not just in their innovative approaches across a range of issues – it’s in how they view the role of collaboration, agency, and power in their work. We look forward to collaborating with each of these leaders to take action on creating a stronger whole as we support their journey along the way.

This post originally appeared in the Echoing Green blog and is republished here with permission. 2017 is Echoing Green’s 30th year. To mark this milestone anniversary, every month they are taking stock of lessons learned, sharing how these perspectives inform their work and the field at large, and ways they’re applying these lessons to help contribute to more social transformation over the next 30 years. Read the full series here

3 Principles for Collaboration and Impact at #EGSummit2017

Every fall, Echoing Green gathers world-class social entrepreneurs for several days of leadership workshops, productive cross-sector dialogues, and to provide space to recharge before they return to their crucial work. In our 30th anniversary year, the October 2017 All Fellows Conference brought us to San Francisco, where we visited local social enterprises and also hosted the inaugural Echoing Green Summit. The Summit convened more than 400 guests–including Echoing Green Fellows, other social change leaders, philanthropists, investors, and civic leaders–to engage in timely dialogues concerning what’s next for social innovation.

The San Francisco Bay Area is a bountiful ecosystem for social change with deep potential to influence progress all over the world. Many Echoing Green Fellows are working in Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley, and beyond, in a region with an extensive history of activism and opportunity. This landscape is open for innovation and, in large part due to the wealth generated by the tech industry, is a place where philanthropy and impact investment are consistent points of conversation. As we consider the future of social entrepreneurship, how funding is accessed plays a critical role in which organizations, leaders, and approaches thrive. We can’t have conversations about funding without also surfacing the contexts in which social change is happening. The conference created an opportunity to dissect how key issues–including responding to and anticipating climate change, growing human rights movements, and 21st-century leadership–are impacting the outlook of the field.

In a time when new questions seem to arise daily about how best to dismantle structural barriers and social inequities, there's much to learn about how to make progress by reflecting on our beginnings. During the Summit, we presented the inaugural Echoing Impact award to honor the innumerable contributions of Chuck Feeney, founder of General Atlantic, Atlantic Philanthropies, and businessman who pioneered the duty-free industry. His philanthropic philosophy–giving while living–has inspired other philanthropists and resulted in $8B of investments through Atlantic Philanthropies to address intractable issues worldwide. Through his example of trusting in the promise of people to lead the way toward progress, and his early investment in Echoing Green, his legacy extends through the Echoing Green community and beyond. Governor of California Jerry Brown; Amit Chandra, managing director of Bain Capital; Chris Oechsli, president of Atlantic Philanthropies; Steve Denning, chairman of General Atlantic; David Hodgson, managing director of General Atlantic and Echoing Green Board co-Chair; Josefina Alvarado Mena ’96, CEO of Safe Passages; and Alan Khazei ‘91, co-founder of City Year and founder of Be The Change each shared reflections on how Mr. Feeney has influenced their own impact in the world.

Mr. Feeney was presented with the Echoing Impact Award to highlight his commitment to social progress, and the echoing effect and impact that his work has had across generations, countries, and the world.

So what’s next for social innovation? Where do we go from here? As Echoing Green President Cheryl Dorsey noted, “one of the benefits of identifying tomorrow’s transformative leaders today is not only access to emerging trends in the sector but also the ability to see through their eyes the world as it could be rather than the world as it is.” From this vantage point, there are three major takeaways Echoing Green will continue to carry forward into our next decade:

Build Community with Intention

In addition to forming partnerships with field-building partners to inform programming and spread the word about this year’s conference, Echoing Green’s community truly goes back to the beginning. Fellows from nearly every Fellowship class attended the conference, bringing their wisdom to their conversations while also learning from our newest classes and partners. (Check out this blog post for more of our reflections on community.)

Embrace What You Don’t Know (Yet)

The All Fellows Conference and Summit brought together leaders from different geographies, issue area focus, perspective, and more–and all that diversity is invaluable to progress. By entering into this space willing to learn while also valuing and offering your own perspective to conversations you might not have in daily life, the opportunities to co-design new solutions or iterate on old thinking can have compounding returns on our work.

Name Those Persistent Issues You Notice

As Cheryl Dorsey noted during her remarks, part of progress is embracing making the path by walking. Sometimes, along that path we are also required to have tough conversations for the sake of fixing broken systems and achieving the change we wish to see. While we know it’s not enough to just talk about the issues faced on the path to achieving dramatic social progress, it’s an essential component of taking informed action to address them.

This post originally appeared in the Echoing Green Blog and is republished here with permission.