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Echoing Green

Empowering Students to Succeed: An Interview with Mark Hecker

mark-heckerIn this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, I’m talking with Mark Hecker, Executive Director of Reach Incorporated. Reach develops confident readers and capable leaders by training teens to teach elementary school students, creating academic benefit for both. Mark’s passion for those being failed by today’s educational structures led him to create Reach in 2009. By trusting learners with real responsibility for real outcomes, Mark believes that our young people can drive the change needed in today’s schools. He is the 2006 Washington, D.C. Social Worker of the Year and a 2011 Echoing Green Fellow and writes for the UnSectored blog.

You can read past interviews in the Social Innovation Interview Series here.

Nell: Reach Incorporated has a really innovative approach to literacy tutoring in that you use struggling adolescent readers to teach younger children how to read. Given the countless approaches to teaching literacy that have been around for decades why do you think that yours is the right approach and what results are you seeing so far?

Mark: Throughout time young people have been most successful in schools that connect student learning to the students’ experience of the world. As the contemporary education reform movement has created a growing disconnect between the learners and their lives, Reach represents a return to the most effective ingredients of successful education across the years: individualization, relevance, inspiration, and trust.

We know two things about reading. First, students only see improvement when they practice at, or just above, their current reading level. Second, as students age, motivation overtakes obedience as the driver of student engagement. In DC, 85% of public school students get to high school reading below grade level. In a world of specific standards and rigid learning objectives, there is simply no place in the high school curriculum for students to get the targeted literacy instruction they need to experience improvement. Today’s teens – because we have failed them – require the opportunity to experience dramatic academic improvement in an environment that is both empowering and engaging.

Beyond the mechanics of our model, a familiar adage from Ben Franklin captures it well: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” We trust students to be significant participants in their own education. It’s the only way that real learning occurs.

Though still young, we have seen some promising early results. Our program is after-school, but our tutors have seen GPA improvement of up to 125%. Additionally, participating elementary school students have seen reading growth above that of non-participating peers. Finally, our tutors see significant reading growth, improved school engagement, increased rates of promotion, and exceptional school retention rates.

Nell: How have you gone about finding funders willing to invest in an innovative model like Reach? What is your approach to financing your organization?

Mark: When asked this question, I generally reply by smiling and saying, “I’m really charming.” That’s obviously not the truth.

I have an incredible passion for this work, and I get to share the stories of the amazing tutors and students impacted by the work we help them do. By telling the stories of our participants, we are able to inspire others to invest in the possibility that our participants present. Currently, approximately 50% of our funding comes from foundations. We also have an incredible army of 300-400 individual supporters that are committed to our young people; they provide about 35% of the organization’s funding. The remaining financial support comes from corporations and special events.

While the world of social innovation talks often of efficiency, outcomes, and scale, I’ve found that many are drawn to our work because of their strong belief in justice. DC students are not getting the education they deserve. Reach, with the help of our tutors, offers a multi-directional intervention that improves outcomes for all participants. Our supporters believe in possibility, and they are excited by the potential of our model.

As Reach’s Board of Directors and I look to the future, we know that financial sustainability must be a constant consideration. To build the foundation to support our eventual growth, our focus now is entirely on program quality. We understand that, for the immediate future, we will be entirely donor dependent. Proof of concept takes time.

By pursuing greatness, we believe that we will eventually have opportunities to create revenue through training, curriculum development, and maybe even children’s book sales. For now, we will build the program our kids deserve by finding supporters that believe in our path.

Nell: As a small nonprofit how do you manage increasing pressure to measure outcomes with a lack of available evaluation funding?

Mark: We’ve simply made an organizational commitment to evaluating our work. We do this knowing that our financial investment will not yield immediate returns as it takes time to develop organizationally appropriate metrics. So, to be brief, we simply look at evaluation as part of the cost of business. It’s overhead. It’s necessary.

That being said, it’s exceedingly frustrating that we have never once received funding to be used specifically for the purpose of evaluation.

For now, we respond to this tension by narrowing our focus on five specific metrics: progress toward grade-level reading, GPA growth, efficacy beliefs, promotion to the next grade, and school retention. While we don’t have the capacity to measure everything, we can measure these five indicators – and each has a strong correlation to our long-term goals: high school completion, college success, and stable employment.

To be frank, the recent focus on outcomes measurement leads many organizations to simply lie about what they know about their work. True evaluation takes time and money. To balance this tension, we narrow our focus and work within our means.

Nell: You were named an Echoing Green fellow in 2011. How has that experience been? What have you learned and how has it helped Reach so far?

Mark: Being part of the Echoing Green family has been one of the most powerful experiences of my life. While I could speak about it indefinitely, I’ll limit myself to highlighting three ways that the fellowship has supported my leadership and Reach’s work.

  • When I speak to educators about my work, they generally start asking technical questions about curriculum and content. When speaking to other Echoing Green fellows, conversations happen outside this specific content. They know they’re not experts in literacy just like I know I’m no expert in Kenya’s sanitation infrastructure or Liberia’s health system. By skipping the surface level content, the conversations quickly go to a place of values, leadership, and strategy.
  • Though this hasn’t always been the case, Echoing Green has recently made an effort to build up the strength of the alumni network. It has been particularly exciting to see how responsive Echoing Green alums have been. When I’ve reached out to leaders at some established and exceptional organizations, I’ve been shocked by the alacrity with which they respond. The level of support has been amazing and humbling.
  • Lastly, the community is valuable simply in that it provides knowledge that we’re not alone in this work. Starting an organization has been the loneliest and most difficult experience of my life. Through Echoing Green’s network, I can now reach out to others experiencing similar challenges and know that they have an understanding of the difficulties I face on a regular basis. Because of Echoing Green, I no longer feel alone.

Nell: In a recent blog post on UnSectored you talked about the nonprofit trade-off between effectiveness and faster growth. What are your plans for Reach’s growth and how will you accomplish it?

Mark: Reach’s work is subtly revolutionary. When we say we believe all students have the ability to contribute to the learning of others, everyone agrees. When we ask that those students (our tutors) be trusted with real responsibility, adults get scared. To be sure, the most important thing we must do is to demonstrate that this work can be done. For that reason, we’re currently much more interested in being great than being big. That may mean staying small for a while; we’re okay with that.

To understand what growth can look like, one has to understand the context in DC. Approximately 4,000 students entered high school in DC this fall. Recent statistics would indicate that 3,400 of these students are reading below grade level and approximately 2,300 of them are more than two grades below level. Currently, we serve approximately 50 of these students (and they serve 50 elementary school students). We aim to make DC a better place; that significantly influences the way we think about growth. We have to think about the level of saturation needed to impact a city’s population.

We plan to grow 200-300% in the next three years. This goal, adopted during a recent strategic planning process, will drive our first stage of growth. Over the next three years, we’ll measure the efficacy of our intervention. This programmatic success will drive our future rate of expansion, with a specific focus on those schools with the largest populations of struggling readers. It’s at this second stage of growth, in years 4-10, that we would expect to explore partnerships with DC Public Schools, develop additional programs, and consider expansion beyond DC’s borders.

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Echoing Green Fellowship Application Goes Live Soon

It’s that time of year again. The Echoing Green application is about to go live. In their annual competition, Echoing Green looks for promising entrepreneurs starting up new organizations aiming to create large-scale social impact. The Echoing Green Fellowship awards up to $90,000 of start-up capital and two years of technical assistance to help get your organization off the ground. They fund nonprofit and for-profit startups.

The application will be open online from December 4th to January 7th, but you can get a head start by:

  • Reviewing the application questions
  • Reading the guide about how to answer the questions
  • Watching a few short videos on the application process
  • Signing up for informational webinars targeting underrepresented applicants (including African Americans, US Latinos, and women)

And while you are waiting for the application to go live you can also read my past interview with Lara Galinsky, senior vice president of Echoing Green and my review of her book, Work on Purpose.

To learn more about the Echoing Green fellowship or to access the application when it goes live, go here.

Good luck!

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10 Great Social Innovation Reads: September 2012

September was an amazing month in the world of social innovation. There were so many great articles and conversations that I really had a hard time narrowing down to 10 great reads. My original list was 50+.

I know we are all busy and keeping up with the chatter grows increasingly difficult, but this month provided some really thoughtful, long-form pieces that are well worth the read. I think change happens in fits and starts and this month was perhaps about taking a step back and contemplating where we’ve been and where we’re going. And I love it when writers force that kind of reflection.

Below are my top 10 picks for what was worth reading in September in the world of social innovation. But please add what I missed to the comments. And if you want to see an expanded list, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest.

You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.

Here is my pick of September’s 10 Great Reads in Social Innovation:

  1. In a beautiful New York Times op-ed titled When Capitalists Cared, Hedrick Smith describes a time in the first half of the last century when the American economy was a “virtuous circle of growth, [where] well-paid workers generated consumer demand that in turn promoted business expansion and hiring.” How did we move away from that?

  2. The Echoing Green blog showcases the many social innovations remaking Detroit, once a city on life support. This is an amazing transformation story where social innovation becomes an urban development savior. So exciting!

  3. I’m a huge proponent of the connection between strategy and outcomes, so I loved Arshad Merchant’s description of how Boston-based nonprofit Bottom Line dramatically improved student outcomes by taking a more strategic approach to their work.

  4. The Nonprofit Tech 2.0 Blog gives a great roundup of recent studies and reports about nonprofits, philanthropy and technology.

  5. Mashable highlights a very innovative campaign by UNICEF on social media network Pinterest. It really makes you think about social media, and nonprofit marketing in general, in a new way.

  6. Writing on the PhilanTopic blog, Derrick Feldman describes 8 trends and how they will affect fundraising. From crowdfunding, to one-click technologies, to Yelp and beyond he blows traditional fundraising out of the water.

  7. Social Innovation Fund Director Paul Carttar left his post in September, but social innovation is still very much a focus at the White House, given the White House Forum on Philanthropy Innovation.

  8. There was a bit of controversy in September about whether board members should be forced to raise money for their nonprofits. Kate Barr of Minnesota’s Nonprofits Assistance Fund argued that not all board members should fundraise. But a new study from the Nonprofit Research Collaborative found that nonprofits with active fundraising boards are more likely to meet their goals.

  9. And for those of you who struggle to recruit great board members, LinkedIn launched Board Connect, which looks amazing. Geri Stengel describes how to make it work.

  10. In a very thoughtful post on the Forbes blog, Tom Watson compares and connects two important September events in the world of social innovation: the Clinton Global Initiative and the Giving Pledge reaching 90+ members.

Photo Credit: x1klima

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Calling All Nonprofit Social Entrepreneurs

There is a really interesting research study about social entrepreneurs going on at the University of Massachusetts and you may want to join in.

John Walker, Finance Director at Echoing Green and Nardia Haigh, Assistant Professor of Management in the College of Management at UMass Boston are investigating social entrepreneurs who went through a process of deciding whether to establish their organization as a non-profit, a for-profit, or a hybrid. They want to understand the range of circumstances under which social entrepreneurs identify which type of business model fits best for different situations.

While they have already interviewed many for-profit social entrepreneurs, they are having a hard time finding nonprofit social entrepreneurs, which is where you come in.

If you are a social entrepreneur and struggled with the decision about whether to form a for-profit/nonprofit/hybrid entity, Nardia would like to interview you about your organization’s strategies, structure, and direction.

According to Nardia, there are many circumstances under which hybrid organizations are established, and to date, two distinct variations of the hybrid business model are evident: Multi-entity and Integrated:

  • Multi-entity hybrids link for-profit and nonprofit entities – often through contracts and/or ownership. A nonprofit may establish and own all or part of a for-profit subsidiary (e.g. Embrace and Embrace Innovations), or a for-profit may establish a nonprofit and provide it with equity or other means for it to derive non-discretionary revenue.

  • Integrated entities are either for-profit companies with a strong social or environmental mission deeply embedded within its business model (e.g. TOMS Shoes or Maggie’s Organics, and companies registered as L3Cs), or are nonprofit organizations that use for-profit methods to generate revenue (e.g. Ten Thousand Villages or Ecosia.org).

In this study, they seek to understand the decision-making process entrepreneurs go through in choosing which to pursue.

Nardia’s research at UMass Boston focuses on business models and strategies that address large-scale sustainability issues in positive ways. And John has significant experience as an entrepreneur, an executive, and as a board member in a range of industries, where he specializes in financial analysis, capital raising, and structuring acquisition and investment deals.

If you are a social entrepreneur and would like to participate in this research study, contact Nardia at Nardia.Haigh@umb.edu.

Nardia has promised to share the results of the study with Social Velocity readers when it’s completed. I can’t wait to hear what they find out.

Photo Credit: piermario

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10 Great Social Innovation Reads: July 2012

I was out of town for the first half of July (and mostly away from social media), so I’m probably not qualified to give a 10 best list for the month, but I’m still going to try (ha!). As always, please add what I missed (particularly this month) to the comments.

To me, July was about outcomes and measurement. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is a growing drumbeat for social change organizations to measure what (if anything) they are changing. Some readers commenting on that post argued that measurement is not a new thing for the nonprofit sector. True, it’s not new, but its importance (to funders, ratings agencies, government agencies, etc.) is increasing dramatically. So those in the social change world must heed the call and understand the new reality.

As always, you can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.

Here’s July’s 10 Great Reads in Social Innovation:

  1. In two back-to-back posts on the Full Contact Philanthropy blog, David Henderson explains how nonprofits have to get “smarter about how we allocate our scarce resources.” First by getting strategic about who they serve and then by focusing on outcomes.

  2. Bill Shore of Share Our Strength adds to the drumbeat by arguing “nonprofit organizations are failing to grapple with the threshold questions on which all else depends: what specific objective are they trying to achieve and how will they measure whether they have or have not done so. “

  3. In the Los Angeles Times, Jared Billings takes social innovation darling, Teach for America, to task by asking whether TFA can actually change student achievement if the majority of their teachers leave the profession after only two years.

  4. On the Mission:Innovation blog Nicole Wallace reviews Andrew Zolli’s new book Resilience and his argument that nonprofits must embrace a “new mind-set, one that emphasizes improvisation, ad hoc networks, and adaptation.”

  5. On the Forbes blog, Victor Hwang recapped this month’s Global Innovation Summit and the 10 Lessons on Growing Innovation that emerged from it.

  6. Maybe not everyone should be a social entrepreneur says Lara Galinsky, who (shockingly) works for Echoing Green, one of the biggest supporters of social entrepreneurs.

  7. And maybe not every nonprofit should scale, says John Brothers in a great two-part series on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog.

  8. On what is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs (Unsectored), Mark Hecker recounts the story of true collaboration between public, private and nonprofit sectors when a drug raid was turned into small business development and job creation.

  9. It looks like women may be changing the face of philanthropy in exciting ways. “Women are exerting a greater influence on how philanthropy is done as they accumulate wealth and use their clout to change the way funds are raised and distributed.” Cool!

  10. Echoing the comments of Vikki Spruill from the Council on Foundations, Rick Cohen argues that foundations need to be more transparent in their work.

Photo Credit: briarpress.org

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A Career Guide For a New Generation of Change Makers

Billy Parish and Dev Aujla’s new book, Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money and Community in a Changing World, is a career guide for the generation that finds themselves on the precipice of some pretty monumental global challenges.

Parish and Aujla argue that 3 major trends are creating an unprecedented opportunity for people to find “the sweet spot between altruism and selfishness.” The trends are:

  • A rise in global empathy, or the ability for people separated geographically to be bound by common desires and goals
  • The Internet as a platform for global collaboration
  • Breakthrough smarter and greener technologies

These trends have resulted in “enormous new opportunities to change the world.” Far from the bleak unemployment picture facing the Millennial generation, this book turns that challenge into an enormous opportunity. This generation won’t enjoy the same careers that those who came before them did. They will create their own careers by combining the need for an income with a desire to make the world a better place.

Part self-help book, part social entrepreneurship primer, Making Good at times verges on the feel good, but for a generation faced with staggering unemployment, a really messed up global economy, and the inheritance of other equally crippling social and political problems, they probably need a little hand holding.

The authors start by laying out the opportunities that exist within seven major industries that are undergoing tremendous turmoil (crumbling education system, weak transportation infrastructure, inadequate healthcare system, broken food chain, to start.). It seems there is an endless list from which this new generation could carve out solutions.

Then they go into the 6 steps for moving from idea to action (Reflect, Adapt, Connect, Design, Launch, Organize), which is sort of like the What Color is My Parachute for the social change set. The book is a nice companion to the more case-study heavy Echoing Green book, Work on Purpose. But what is interesting about Making Good‘s approach and different than most social entrepreneurship books, is that these authors see social change work in a broad spectrum, from new start up companies and nonprofits, to freelancing, to being a social intrapreneur (within an established company).

Perhaps in some ways, though, this book is trying to cover too much ground. Probably because it is one of only a few books in the emerging social change career genre. My hope is that as social change becomes a more established industry there will be many more books like Making Change that help those entering the working world and those trying to make a move within it to embrace social change careers.

In the Introduction to the book, Van Jones, special advisor to Obama on Green Jobs, writes “”We don’t know yet if we are going to be in a continued vicious downward cycle politically, economically, culturally, and spiritually–or whether this is just volatility preceding a beautiful rebirth and rebuilding…we could be seeing the beginnings of a positive ecological U-turn, one in which democracy is renewed by a new generation taking the stage with new information technology and cooperation tools and the economy is renewed by new models of commerce that respect people and the earth.”

The authors of Making Good seem to think that by giving the Millennial generation a road map for translating their desire for change into a sustainable way to make a living we will find that ecological U-turn. I tend to agree.

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Are You the Next Echoing Green Fellow?

Echoing Green has launched their annual search for social entrepreneurs. Each year, Echoing Green identifies promising social entrepreneurs with bold ideas to solve society’s most pressing problems and provides them with up to $90,000 in seed funding, strategic support, leadership development, and a powerful community of nearly 500 other Fellows and alumni. To date, Echoing Green has invested nearly $30 million in seed funding to almost 500 social entrepreneurs and their organizations.

Echoing Green is a great organization and a real pioneer in the social entrepreneurship space. To find out more, you can read my interview with Lara Galinsky, SVP at Echoing Green, and read about English at Work an Echoing Green fellow and Social Velocity client transforming the lives of ESL service workers.

Echoing Green’s online Fellowship application will be open from December 5, 2011 to January 9, 2012. You can find out more about the Fellowship application process here and you can sign up to receive the latest news on the process here.

Good Luck!

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Building the Social Entrepreneurship Movement: An Interview with Lara Galinsky

Lara GalinskyIn this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Lara Galinksy. Lara is an author, career expert and senior vice president of Echoing Green. Over the last two decades, Echoing Green has invested $30 million in 500 social entrepreneurs around the world. Galinsky is the co-author of Work on Purpose, which provides a framework for aligning passions with talents to achieve personal fulfillment and societal impact. She is also the co-author of Be Bold: Create a Career with Impact (2007).

You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.

Nell: Echoing Green was in many ways one of the first instigators of the social entrepreneurship movement, founded in 1987 and having launched some of the darlings of the movement like Wendy Kopp of Teach For America, and Michael Brown and Alan Khazei of City Year. How do you think the social entrepreneurship movement has evolved over time? How is the field of social entrepreneurship different now than it was 20+ years ago?

Lara: The most wonderful way in which the field of social entrepreneurship has developed over the past 20+ years is the fact that, today, questions about the “field” can even be asked. Twenty years ago social entrepreneurship was not a field. It was not a movement. It was barely even a term.

Just five years ago a young woman approached me and told me that she wanted to be a social entrepreneur. I took a step back. I had never heard anyone say that they had wanted to be a social entrepreneur before. Now, I hear it all the time.

Universities now offer specializations and masters degrees in social enterprise. A number of new organizations are emerging to fund, support and incubate social entrepreneurial organizations. And more and more people identify themselves as potential social entrepreneurs. This year alone, we received nearly 3,000 applications for our Fellowship.

Nell: How has Echoing Green’s model evolved over time? What are you doing differently and how do you continually reinvent your organization and your contribution to the social entrepreneurship space?

Lara: Echoing Green has always been a very nimble organization, largely because we have been responsive to the evolution of the field of social entrepreneurship. As the field develops, new trends continuously emerge, changing the way we work.

Right now, we are seeing an increase in for-profit and hybrid organizations in the social entrepreneurship space. This year, 31% of the organizations that applied for our Fellowship used one of these two models. A few Echoing Green Fellows that use either a for-profit or hybrid model are Pharmasecure, Sparked.com, and FarmBuilders.

We are also seeing more product development within the space. Some Echoing Green Fellows who epitomize this trend are Global Cycle Solutions, EGG Energy and Mobius Motors.

There has been an increase in mobile technology. Some of our Fellows working within this field include Mideast Youth, Frogtek. You can read more about this particular trend in our recent blog series on mobile technology.

Finally, over 55% of our semifinalists have identified themselves as younger than 35 for the past four years. Inspired by the altruism of the Millennial generation, we have been giving more attention to the career needs of Millennials at large through our new program, Work on Purpose.

Nell: Some have cautioned that the social entrepreneurship movement focuses too much on individual, charismatic social entrepreneurs instead of institutions or broader/deeper efforts for social change. But Echoing Green is very much interested in individual social entrepreneurs, so how do you counter that argument?

Lara: We know that the individual is absolutely key to the success of a social entrepreneurship project. The power of someone who has found their unique contribution to the world—which we call the individual’s “hustle,” the perfect balance of their heat and their head—is undeniable. However, we believe that it is not enough to put strong young social entrepreneurs in the world. We must also create a world that will support these social entrepreneurs and their ground-breaking ideas.

When we began to envision our newest program, Work on Purpose, a few years ago, a number of individuals had already identified Echoing Green as uniquely positioned to help them ignite a career in social change—including those who were not social entrepreneurs. We came to realize that with our 25-year history of sourcing and supporting social innovators who have successfully created personally meaningful, world-changing careers, we had access to career-creation methodologies that were desperately needed among those who want careers in social change, particularly Millennials.

With this in mind, we developed a new book, Work on Purpose, which shares the best practices of our Fellows with a wider population of individuals interested in careers with impact. We are now developing an online platform, workshops, keynote speeches, panel discussions, course workshop guides, small group discussion guides, and other tools for deep exploration to supplement the book. The cost of our failure to harness the potential of the Millennial generation’s altruistic energy by not providing them with the inspiration, the tools and the resources they need to create the social change careers they want is simply too great to ignore.

Nell: Echoing Green provides a very needed injection of capital to startup social entrepreneurs, as do the burgeoning contests and other startup capital activities out there, but there is still a lack of capital at the next stage (growth) for social entrepreneurs. How do you see that capital space evolving, and what will encourage it to grow?

Lara: Of significant importance in expanding the level of capital provided to this space is greater overall recognition and understanding of the activity that is already occurring and studies on the successes and failures that happen. We need to develop our knowledge of what investment instruments make sense for social businesses and how they lead to requisite returns for investors.

The government could encourage capital in the sector by protecting the social investor from loss (downside protection), through collateral provision and other measures. They could also structure investment support in such a way that it amplifies returns to the investors by making public capital available but allowing disproportionate returns to private investors. Both these concepts have been used to effect in the UK.

Finally, greater use of PRIs by foundations and public charities will significantly increase capital flow. There is insufficient understanding around the IRS consideration of valid PRI approaches, and we need more progressive investments to demonstrate the true charitable impact of this type of capital.

Nell: What’s next for the social entrepreneurship movement? What needs to happen to continue to build support for and interest in social entrepreneurship?

Lara: The most important goal is for social entrepreneurs to demonstrate, collectively and over time, that they can tackle the world’s biggest challenges with scalable impact. Social entrepreneurs are nothing if not ambitious, and the field has set expectations of social impact very high. With a meaningful amount of money, attention, and human capital now in the field, Echoing Green hopes to see a steady stream of rigorously evaluated outcomes.

Below that over-arching goal, Echoing Green is particularly hopeful about two areas for continued progress in the field. First, we would like to see a much greater diversity in the social, economic, and geographic background of social entrepreneurs. At a minimum, the social entrepreneur community should mirror the diversity of the communities where social entrepreneurs work.

Secondly, we hope that the broader ecosystem of support structures for the field continues to develop. This includes the vital human capital represented by projects such as Work on Purpose, as well as the political environment, financial system, etc.

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