PDF Version with Hyperlinks: CSIL Weekly Update 14
Frontier Market Scouts alum Drew Foxman is the founder and chief creative officer of the organization Giant Steps. The flagship program of Giant Steps is the Music Action Lab—an international platform which brings together musical innovators so that they can collaborate creatively and produce original music and art that to address and advance global social issues. Drew spoke with CSIL’s Outreach Associate, Clare Margason, about the connection between music and impact, and the potential for social entrepreneurs to utilize music as a vehicle for social change.
Please describe yourself/background.
I grew up in a jazz family. My dad is a scientist, but, outside of his professional life he had over 12,000 jazz albums, and contributed to a lot of publications. These were classic records that came before bebop. I was raised with these incredible jazz musicians, but over time I began to reject that world. I started playing sports and got really into hip-hop, reggae, and rock music. However, my sophomore year of college I had the opportunity to study abroad in Paris and this is when things started to shift. While I was there, a friend of mine introduced me to John Coltrane’s album “Giant Steps,” and it was like I was hearing jazz music for the first time. From that point forward, jazz became a fundamental part of my life.
Besides the time I dedicated to studies and immersing myself in French culture, I listened to as much jazz as possible. I even met John Coltrane’s son and had the chance to work with him. When I finished my undergrad, I had very little direction other than my love of music, culture, and travel. I tried working as a musician, but then shifted to the tech world in order to pay the bills. Serendepitously, that didn’t pan out, but it funded a year abroad where I split my time playing music in Europe and doing volunteer development work on the Tibetan plateau.
When I returned to California, I was connected to the San Francisco Jazz Festival right after they had decided to become a non-profit, now called SFJAZZ. They set up an education department, and I was hired as the third employee. I had a rare opportunity to build out the community development through a variety of outreach and education programs, working with everyone from privileged, talented, and high-performing young musicians, and also with at-risk youth in the violent neighborhoods of San Francisco.
Tell us about your current work/position?
I decided to launch Giant Steps with the concept that is closest to my heart.
To me, the Music Action Lab is about creating a new global musical language that challenges and inspires, and works to address and advance global social justice.
In the Spring of 2017, we will release our debut album, “Foundation.” It is perfectly titled because we focused our first year on laying the necessary foundation for doing social justice work in the first place. Without this groundwork, social justice wouldn’t be able to take place. In the future, the albums and curricula that come out of the Music Action Labs could be about refugees, immigration, or other pressing issues. We will work to build a catalog of Social Action Recordings, and every album will have a specially designed curriculum that goes along with it. Giant Steps has the vision of creating a new global music genre dedicated to advancing social justice and a whole generation of musical social entrepreneurs and activists. During the Lab, they incubate their work with Music Action Projects (MAPs), social action projects that they take home to their communities and are supported by Giant Steps. People may come in as fellows and musicians, but they walk away as artistic changemakers. Take the example of one of our current members Derek Beckvold, a conservatory-trained saxophonist who spent the last four years doing music reconciliation work in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, and Sri Lanka. Since joining Giant Steps, he has been heading education programs at the Boston Philharmonic and has launched his own MAP called Teach to Learn, a free video-based music lesson initiative connecting talented instructors from the western world to learners in the developing world.
What is social impact to you? How did you first realize the potential for social innovation and music to collide?
There is an undeniable connection between music and impact. Historically, slavery, oppression, forced migration, all played a prominent role in music’s evolution and in fact led to many of the western world’s music genres, especially jazz and reggae. Music has also been a huge catalyst in all the human rights movements—whether it’s the civil rights movement in the US, apartheid, the fall of the Eastern Bloc, or the Arab Spring.
For me, I was really interested in creating and expanding movements with music. While there is such a thing as “music for good” it’s not yet a sector or field; it’s just a collection of rather disparate practices. Some of these practices are very effective and some of them are not. A lot of these practices come from the music industry, which means there is a lot of scope and opportunity for impact-led initiatives in music.
I liken this to the creation of SOCAP. Yes, it’s a conference, but it was designed to take this disparate field of impact investment and develop a platform for knowledge sharing and ideation in a meaningful and collaborative way. This is the ultimate vision for Giant Steps—building an infrastructure for “social impact music.”
Finally, a story. I was in Visitacion Valley during a time when a lot of murders were happening. We were working at a school on a project that combined the concepts of jazz and language arts, and one student used the project to express what it was like to stand over his brother’s grave. Everyone that was there could see the power of music for the healing process after a traumatic event, and for sharing deep personal stories.
What inspired you to work in the impact space?
On the one hand I think that music is such a powerful tool that is being underutilized. Half the time artists don’t make money to support themselves, even with so much consumption of music happening all over the world. There is huge potential for making a contribution through this vehicle which is completely overlooked in the impact space. There really aren’t many people working on this, and I want to change that.
On the other side of the coin, we have to look to the current political landscape in this county. We are seeing our leadership undermine the core values that, in my opinion, are what define humanity. If we were successful in embracing and progressing certain value systems, things like human trafficking, the conflict in Syria, and so many other crises and intractable problems wouldn’t be happening.
In response to these global phenomena, we have large scale, multi-lateral, target setting entities that are attempting to solve problems by a certain date. It sounds nice and gives people motivation and hope, but clearly the periodic re-setting of these targets mean we are stuck on a kind of “poverty alleviation treadmill.” If the folks behind the biggest networks of money and aid are only making marginal improvements, it seems we as a collective community need more creative and innovative approaches. So, I say, let’s look at these issues through a different lens.
Let’s use music, a tool that has now been scientifically proven to have positive impacts on our neurological, as well as psycho-social development.
Who has been particularly inspiring to you?
John Coltrane, the Dalai Lama, Bob Marley, Bill Belichik are a few that come to mind immediately. However, over the years I’ve had to build a lot of inspiration myself because I haven’t benefited from long term mentors. I’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors take me under their wing, but the majority of those relationships were transient. I feel like I’ve drawn most inspiration out of experiences that I’ve designed for myself. For example, when I wanted to learn about Tibetan Buddhism, I just went to Tibet and did it. The same goes for music.
I do recall an experience that was particularly inspiring to me. I was in the field with the American India Foundation. This was in western Orissa—a landlocked and very impoverished area in India. We were doing site visits and I remember being so moved by the continuous stream of music that greeted us wherever we went. The music was non-stop. It was multi-generational. And, it seemed like the music was part of the reason that people were so opening and welcoming. I’ve never seen or heard anything like it. Music ever-present, and with so much warmth and acceptance. I’m sure that experience helped me along the path to starting Giant Steps.
How would you describe your FMS experience?
Every year I try to do something intentional for my professional development. My choice in 2016 was Frontier Market Scouts. First, the focus on social enterprise was very attractive as I was close to launching Giant Steps. And I didn’t know much about impact investment, and felt that this would help build out my knowledge of the social sector. I guess you could say that I’ve become a generalist overtime. I’ve worn many different hats working as the director of marketing, development, programming, but I didn’t necessarily have a specialization. This is probably due to the fact that I am constantly yearning to create new things and to keep moving. I always want to learn new skills and hope to never stop being innovative and creative.
I really thought both aspects of the program, the instructors and their curriculum, as well as the cohort, were very valuable. The cohort was outstanding. It was representative of multiple backgrounds and experiences. One person had been running USAID projects for 20 years, there were graduate students with experience on every continent, I could go on and on. Additionally, everyone helped build a really supportive community. I liked how open people were, and how willing they were to learn from each other. I felt like the FMS was a microcosm of what development and impact work should be like.
During the FMS training, I connected with our first instructor, Morgan Simon. She is the founder of multiple organizations such as the Responsible Endowments Coalition, Toniic, and Transform Finance. I needed to complete my fellowship with Morgan’s firm, Pi Investments. I was actually able to use some of the financing from this work to launch Giant Steps!
Note to reader: Wondering how you can be involved? Giant Steps is raising funds for the 2017 Music Action Lab. You can learn more and support their work here. Applications will go live in Spring 2017. Like them on Facebook and visit the website to learn more.
Nenneya Shields, a recent MIIS graduate and young mother of a 3-year old, recently launched her career in the social impact space after completing the Frontier Market Scouts (FMS) program. Nenneya is the Director of Impact and Learning at Jibu and she is based in Kampala, Uganda. She spoke with CSIL’s Outreach Associate, Clare Margason, about her unique experience of managing a fast-paced leadership role supporting a social franchise and the daily demands of parenting a toddler.
What does Jibu do, how does it relate to social impact, and where does it operate?
Jibu is everything social impact – from the business model itself, to how we treat our customers, and to the products that we offer. I’ll walk you through the various aspects of our business and impact.
Jibu provides access to clean, safe and radically affordable drinking water in urban locations in East Africa. We operate using a franchise model. Local entrepreneurs invest in their own franchise using the branding and recognition of Jibu to launch their neighborhood store. Each store has its own filtration machine that filters previously unsafe water in multiple steps and packages the water in reusable bottles that can be brought back by the customer for a refill. A customer places a deposit on the bottle and then brings the empty bottle back when the water is finished, taking a new bottle but only paying for the water at a fraction of the cost. Relative to other bottled water companies in the area, Jibu has a strong price advantage because the refill model and localized production of water keeps costs low, whereas customers pay the full price of a new bottle each time when buying from competitors. Jibu focuses on ensuring quality and convenience by training filtration machine operators regularly and performing strict quality checks on each franchise with the ultimate goal of always providing safe and clean water to customers. With prices so much lower than other bottled water companies in the area, Jibu is able to reach customers that previously couldn’t afford safe water and who regularly boiled water for drinking, unable to decontaminate the water completely and resulting in the regular occurrence of water borne illness and disease.
Jibu’s main competition is boiling water. It is a very common practice in East Africa and a difficult behavior to change. Educating individuals about the health implications when boiling water helps bring awareness to the issue. It is true that boiling water can kill some bacteria with heat, but certainly does not get rid of other contaminants such as rust or metals found in piping throughout the city. Furthermore, once boiled and cooled for drinking later, water is often stored in such a way that many contaminants and bacteria reenter the water. For these reasons and more, people continue to fall sick with water borne illnesses that can be avoided by drinking purified water.
In addition to the health focus and convenience of neighborhood locations where customers can simply walk a short distance to refill their water, Jibu is passionately committed to creating entrepreneurship and employment opportunities. In East Africa, jobs are hard to find, even for the highly educated. Not only do we provide these opportunities to potential franchise owners and their employees but expand those opportunities by implementing a microfranchise model. Microfranchises are small boutiques that buy from the larger franchises and resell the water to areas that are outside of the franchise’s convenient reach. This brings water even closer to households. These microfranchisees also operate their businesses and provide even more job opportunities when they hire employees.
Jibu entrepreneurs and franchise owners pay a licensing fee for the rights to our brand, business support, training and technical assistance, but they are in charge of operating, and managing their business. We encourage them to look for the best way to reach their neighborhood and customers based on their business needs, recognizing that each franchise location has different opportunities and challenges. We currently have just under 30 franchisees, with some owning multiple stores and 100+ microfranchisees in Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. Today the Jibu network provides over 420 jobs in those countries alone and looks to expand to new regions and countries in the coming years. The franchise and microfranchise model allows us to reach more and more customers who were previously boiling water and households drinking Jibu water report a significant decrease in water borne illnesses now that they can afford purified water within walking distance of their home.
Can you describe your current role and responsibilities?
I currently work as the Director of Impact and Learning for East Africa. I’m based in Kampala, Uganda, but I work with our businesses in Rwanda and Kenya as well. On the “impact” side of things, my work is to track the aforementioned data and help us understand metrics such as how many customers we are serving, how many jobs we are creating and in what ways we are improving community health. We recently ran two city wide surveys of our current customers to gain better insight into their needs and preferences with regards to the products we offer, our price point and the quality of our water. On the “learning” side of things, my focus is on providing training modules to support our franchisees, microfranchisees and employees. We train each entrepreneur in business literacy skills and offer any operational support they may need. I deliver the training modules themselves and help facilitate trainings as well in order to provide the entrepreneurs with whatever business acumen they need to be successful and reach more customers. Since I am also impact focused, I make sure to bake Jibu’s mission into all of the modules and encourage trainings on mission alignment itself, since social entrepreneurship is a newer model in East Africa and many of our entrepreneurs are learning how to balance profit and impact for the first time. Examples of modules include training franchisees on how to fill and submit monthly P&Ls, how to submit local purchase orders to fill their inventory needs or training employees on customer service skills. In addition to the impact and learning work, I serve as Jibu’s Kiva Coordinator and help manage the process of posting and repaying loans for our franchisees who are now able to source funding through Kiva, helping them to pay for inventory costs and increasing their initial working capital.
Can you tell us about your daily routine?
Generally, I wake up around 5:30 A.M. to get some quiet time and prepare for the day. My son, Aiden Zikora, will wake up around 6 A.M. to have breakfast and I pack his bags and snackbox for the day. He is just under three years old and full of energy, so we usually run and kick the football around the grass in our compound before his school shuttle arrives by 7 A.M. Nowadays I jump on a boda (motorcycle taxi) to travel the short distance to work and once there, the Jibu team holds our morning huddle. This is a great start to our day and brings everyone together, passing a ball around offering our responses to that day’s topic. The topic may be to tell the group something positive about yourself, a favorite place in the world or specifically what you plan to concentrate on at work that day. This always gets us energized and it is awesome to start the day seeing everyone’s smiling faces before we break into our individual tasks.
From there, if it is a Tuesday, we have a weekly team meeting to catch each other up on what we are doing and find ways to support each other in our work. There are a number of action items that come from those meetings, so I’ll generally update my task list and spend some time responding to emails or sending updated documents and working on my excel documents. There is always an excel document, after all. Usually franchisees will either call me during the day, or I’ll need to discuss/schedule something with them and we will chat briefly. They often come in for trainings or meetings and it is always great to hear about how they are doing and the successes (or challenges) they are facing. These conversations generally finish with more action items as we think of ways that I can better support them. At Jibu, franchisees are our main priority and we always stop whatever we are doing in office to make time for them first if they pop in.
If it is a training day, we start with our pre questionnaire to assess their current understanding of the topic that will be presented and we eat a snack together before diving into the training. As the training is conducted, franchisees may ask questions or give comments that help me understand how I can adjust a training module for future sessions. We conclude the training and pass out a post questionnaire or assessment to gather more data about how the training can be improved and how comfortable they are with the topic now that they have completed the session.
I typically finish my day by checking in briefly with the CEO, Country Director and colleagues to see if there are any pressing needs for the next day. From there, I run out to pick up my son on time and we usually go right to our backyard hammock for reading and swinging. We eat dinner and play with trains or trucks or, well, anything with a motor and then sing him to sleep. Lately, we have been making puppet shadows using our headlamp while we cuddle under the mosquito net. I love watching him grow and seeing him use his imagination in creative ways, and once he is asleep, I always thank God that we made it through another day together and safe.
What are some of your passions and unique skills and what was the process of discovering them?
My passion for travel, language, culture and entrepreneurship have been steady constants in my life. I am extremely passionate about the African continent, and am particularly passionate about entrepreneurship there. I recognize the need for job creation and supporting job skills on the continent and around the world, including in the U.S. Local entrepreneurs understand the challenges that their areas face better than anyone and when they are creative and blessed with an entrepreneurial spirit, the solutions to those challenges can be offered through a unique business model or product design. I have always been inspired to support such projects and business ventures. In that way, the position at Jibu was great for me – I’m now working for a company that shares my same values, goals, and motivations.
In Africa we rely a lot on the government to provide jobs – they are often seen as the more secure jobs, but they are few and far between. And of course, when people do get those jobs, they tend to stay in them and there isn’t much turnover or opportunity for the younger generation. Uganda is one of the youngest countries in the world with regards to citizen age and you have a lot of youth who are acquiring great skills and attending higher education institutions, but there just aren’t jobs available. I’ve heard this time and time again. I’ve met many people that are eager, wiling, and ready to work, but they can’t find jobs in their country. If you can help encourage the spark that they already have for entrepreneurship and for wanting to make a difference in their community, and you add the business skills and the financing, then their ventures have a greater potential for success. In this way you can create jobs, while at the same time, people are serving the higher purpose of contributing to their own country, which every African wants to do. Additionally, the entrepreneurs will provide jobs for their peers, or others in their communities who also have the skillsets, want to learn, and are in need of work.
Has there ever been a point where you realized you had to learn a new knowledge or skill in order to move forward? What did you do?
Before coming to MIIS, I had experiences living and working or traveling to developing countries and separately some experience with business consulting and start ups, but I didn’t have any traditional experience in those areas and wanted to concretize the hard skills required to truly make an impact in those career paths. I enrolled in the dual degree MBA/International Policy Studies degree in order to focus on both international development work and international business. Today, passions for development and entrepreneurship merge well in the field of social impact, so I was particularly drawn to that subset of business and the opportunity to join the Frontier Market Scouts was a big draw when applying to this school. As I became more and more involved in CSIL projects and working with CSIL, I realized how perfect the opportunity was to launch myself into the field I wanted to focus on: entrepreneurship in emerging markets in Africa. FMS would allow me to learn more about the general landscape or ecosystem of social entrepreneurship around the world. Moreover, I knew it would introduce me to a network of like-minded passionate individuals who were connected to the social impact space and committed to creating social change at an international level. The two weeks of FMS training taught me more than I expected about social enterprise management and impact investing, while introducing me to a network that I am still in touch with today and with whom I still discuss and dream big about new opportunities to create positive social impact around the world.
What were some of your biggest obstacles during the experience – professional or personal?
My son was 9 months old when we moved to Monterey to start graduate school. It was a scary decision. As a single mother, you are fully responsible for the life and future of he/she who you love most in the world, and it is incredibly overwhelming at times. Small decisions always feel like big ones, and big decisions require much thought and planning. To move from Virginia to California was taking a giant leap of faith, especially at that time and in our circumstances. I had to remind myself every morning (or, every few hours in the night as my son was waking up) that we could make it through and that this was for both of us, but also that if we found we couldn’t do it now, it was okay to take a step back. If it didn’t work out, that was actually just okay. While every day was full of challenges, and a lot of loneliness, I learned how powerful love is and love pulled us through. Many of my peers didn’t have to wake up early to take their teething son to daycare before an 8 AM exam and leave right away to pick him up again and be on time for his morning doctor’s appointment. It was sometimes difficult to exist within my reality when my peers’ realities were so different, but I had to accept that my challenges were my challenges and my joys were my joys, and it was incredible to still find friends who were so supportive and who were there for us through it all. When you are the sole, sleepless, provider of a toddler going through terrible twos -and therefore the main recipient of fistfuls of tossed oatmeal, tantrum kicks and hair pulling- it is quite difficult to motivate yourself to spend any free time writing your capstone report and applying to job after job in your last year of grad school. But my supportive friends and community helped me keep the fire alive and reminded us that we came to graduate school for a better future, and that we could make it through.
Despite all of the pressure, my son kept me going as I was able to watch him grow and laugh and learn to walk and dance and run and kiss and hug and…compost food scraps. And upon graduating, I proved to myself and him that we can achieve our dreams. When things change a little or a lot, you learn to adapt. You can stay within your intended trajectory or deviate from the plan, you can leap out on faith and on love, and you can be where you want to be if you work for it. He was always my motivation to do better and be better. I hope he always knows how much he is loved, and how grateful I am for him, because he is my greatest blessing.
Talk about the process of getting your position – where there any non-negotiables that had to be considered in your dual role as a mom?
Yes, definitely. It was my last semester of grad school, and I was applying to jobs all over, as everyone is at that time. I had no idea what was going to happen. I had just taken FMS and was really excited about my placement options, but I knew I had more constraints given my son’s age and needs. In the past traveling as a single adult, I was concerned with living conditions such as housing or healthcare, but to a much lesser extent. I could quickly crash at a hostel if I found myself in an unsafe situation, for example. With Aiden Zikora coming along this time, I wanted to ensure that certain safe housing, transportation and healthcare was set up and confirmed well before arriving. These had to be upfront conversations with potential employers and it required more support from them before even arriving in country. I came to a point where I became discouraged and realized that maybe I needed to focus on jobs in the States related to social impact until he was a bit older. This was a hard realization for me because my heart was still abroad, and had been since well before Zikora was born. I had committed to staying stateside throughout graduate school, but had always kept the hope that we wouldn’t have to wait much longer before venturing abroad together. So, I started applying to jobs in California but asked FMS management to keep my profile open to interested partners, in the event that something worked out.
Fortunately, Jibu read my profile, and recognized the fit since I was clearly passionate about entrepreneurship in Africa. I had my first conversation with Jibu and saw that they were looking for someone to concentrate on precisely what I wanted to do and be part of – impact measurement within a company and entrepreneurship and business skills training. As I talked more about what I wanted to achieve in my career, my interviewers recognized that their needs aligned with that skillset and passion.
We negotiated a short term contract to start because it was a way for the company to get to know me and also for me to understand the country and context before committing to a long term position, given that we had never lived in Uganda together before. My son and I had already moved across country once and had to build a new community, but moving continents and culture and healthcare systems was an entirely different decision. I told myself that three months would give us an understanding of how we would adapt long term. My two deal-breakers were around health and education, because those are critical for my son’s development and wellbeing, so I also felt that we would have a better idea of those things if we started with just a three month contract. Further negotiations were around whether or not Jibu could help fund our transition costs, and whether or not they were willing to support daycare, housing and transportation in the short term. We also needed a safe neighborhood and quick access to good healthcare. Additionally, we had to discuss my schedule because I want to be fully and completely present in Zikora’s life – especially after grad school, I was craving work life balance and really needed to be able to come home after work and have time for my son.
The team at Jibu is extremely supportive and without that support, I don’t believe I could have accepted the job, given all of the challenges that come with moving overseas- alone with a toddler. I would say that something I will always look for in any company is the way they support their immediate team. It’s of utmost importance to make sure that employees are healthy so that they can do their work, but also –we’re human and we need to take care of each other. This is so important to me, and I felt how important that was to Jibu as well, further confirming that our values aligned. Their support eased my transition and enhanced my commitment to the company. I’m very proud to work for a company with these values and practices.
What advice would you give to other young moms trying to move forward in their careers?
Take those leaps of faith because it doesn’t have to work out. It can work out, which is exciting, buy it doesn’t have to. We worry so much about making sure we have everything in place for our children and families. Yet, we have to remember that mothers also deserve exist in a happy place, and to do that we need to take leaps of faith to achieve our dreams. My advice is to go after those dreams! You are going to have to do it differently than everyone else – but if you prepare for that and you tell yourself, “my life is my own, and this is all for our family,” then you will find a way. And, if it doesn’t work out this year, it might work out next year. Throughout this process, come home and look at your children each night and remember why you are doing what you are doing. It’s true what we always say: we can never know if we don’t try.
Are there any burning questions that you have related to work, life, or social impact etc…?
Lately I have been thinking a lot about equality in social impact. How can we provide equal access to opportunities that create social impact around the world? No matter where you are, you see that it’s heavily skewed – meaning the majority of the impact that is trying to be created/funded/supported is from Western countries and Western talent. How can we create opportunities for individuals who don’t know about impact in an academic sense, but who want to create it and are creating it, so that they can be involved in not only the impact, but the conversations and the curriculum building and so on? We talk about this issue, and we say that everyone is involved and that their voices are there, but it is clearly not enough because the West still holds the cards. How do we create a larger global conversation, where those voices are not only there, but are actually leading the conversation? How does “impact” even become important to someone who is focused on feeding their children, and making enough money to pay for school fees? Meanwhile, these are the individuals we hope to “impact” so how can we continue to bring them into the conversation, and to their benefit? I feel like these conversations are happening at the micro-level, but those individuals aren’t involved in the greater action. How do we remove the barriers, whether financial barriers or what have you, so that there can be a collective conversation around the world?
Another burning question is, “how do you reconcile the motivation and the passion for international work and travel, with the benefits of stability?” There will always be so much benefit to “stability” or being in one place, especially for families. But, there is also so much to be learned and experienced by children traveling and moving around. How do we reconcile that? How do individuals like me, or those who are thinking about starting families, reconcile this? It feels like they pull at different ends of a rope, but do they have to be so opposing? Plenty of people tell me that they feel they have to choose one or the other, giving up on one dream to be semi fulfilled by the other and never knowing which they should have chosen. I understand more than many what the challenges are around family and international work, and what leads us to believe we have to choose one or the other, but I also encourage us to keep being creative. Possibilities abound, it just may not be easy.
Who has been particularly inspiring to you?
It’s difficult to give specific names because there are so many are individuals that have made a huge impact in a brief period of time. Often it’s people I don’t know well. For example, there’s a woman that I met who owns a shoe store in Shanghai when I lived there, and her daily work ethic was incredibly inspiring. Like her, there are several individuals that I’ve met in my journeys who have become constant reminders of how privileged I am, and also how capable we are as humans if we are intentional in society. If we are cognizant of the realities of those around us, and we are empathetic and proactive, then there’s no limit on the impact that can be achieved.
I used to teach English in my travels and here in the States, so naturally my students have inspired me as well. The change that you see after a semester of training students and the stories that you hear are part of this. Also, the stories or updates from people I’ve met through my travels. This has all taught me how different and similar we are around the world, and I have found it very motivating and inspiring. I hope that my son learns these things in his life. I think of my job raising him as helping him become a positive being in the world; someone that shines light and encourages others to be themselves in his presence. In order to do that, he needs to learn about the world first. Empathy is huge; the ability to empathize with others, and also to understand that he does not know everything is really important. First understanding that the things that make us human and that connect us to one another – are more than the things the things that make us different. If we work together, and if we focus on society, people, and how we connect to others, life will be so much richer than if we were to only focus on material or physical things. Many of us know this intellectually, but continue with old habits. I’m also guilty of this. I just hope he doesn’t have to reach the age of 70, or even 40, before understanding this and living his life accordingly.
Tell us something that no one knows about you.
Most people don’t know that I am of Nigerian, Scottish, and Kenyan origin.
Another thing is my love of rock climbing! I’m going back to Uganda with climbing holds in order to build a bouldering cave in my compound. I want to encourage the climbing culture in Kampala. It already exists as an outdoor activity to some extent, but I want there to be more accessibility within Kampala itself. I find climbing to be incredibly therapeutic and I want to bring that with me wherever I go.
In mid-September, CSIL representatives attended the Social Capital Markets Conference, along with business leaders, impact investors, social entrepreneurs, and other inspired individuals who are using business as a force for social change. The conference made a big impression on our team and we are excited to incorporate what we learned into our work. Check out what CSIL’s Strategic Initiatives Assistant, Ben Grimmig, has to say about his experience.
What did you learn about “social impact” that surprised you, or that you didn’t already know?
I attended a session on the intersection of impact investing and social movements – particularly the Black Lives Matter movement. What I found very interesting about this session was the assertion by one panelist that SOCAP attendees are more likely to invest in Africa than they are to invest marginalized communities in the U.S. He claimed that Africa is “sexier” – despite the need for investments at home. I found this to be an incredibly powerful statement. This same individual also stated that the most important investment will be made in educating minority students in how to use technology, because if they do not have this opportunity, technology will be used as a tool of oppression. This was the most personally impactful session that I attended.
What did you find particularly awesome about the conference?
One of the sessions that I particularly enjoyed focused on the future of food – particularly engineering plant-based proteins as alternatives to meat. I had initially only attended this session to support Seth Goldman, the founder and CEO of Honest Tea, but I found the discussion to be incredibly illuminating – and its such an important subject because we all make decisions about food several times a day. The panelists discussed how our society is currently grappling with two food trends – on one end of the spectrum is the un-doing of food (with companies like Honest Tea marketing their simple, organic ingredients); while on the other end of the spectrum companies are re-doing food (engineering meat substitutes using technological advancements). While the two trends seem to be at odds with one another, they both depend on transparency, and the panelists argued that GMOs will be “sexy” in a few years as long as companies are honest and transparent about their use. The panel also drove home the importance our food decisions have on climate change, and how a meat-based diet has negative environmental consequences. Lastly, the panel touched on a theme that was prevalent throughout the week in SOCAP – how do we democratize these solutions and make them available to everyone? Essentially, how do we get these alternative protein options available not just in Whole Foods, but in all stores? The panelists believe that scale and price efficiencies are attainable with time.
What is the biggest challenge that you noticed?
Something I discussed with some other participants was the overall effectiveness of a conference like SOCAP. The conference is quite expensive, in a beautiful venue, with amazing food and drinks – and I asked myself whether or not this money could have been spent elsewhere (actually investing in marginalized communities). However, SOCAP certainly helps to legitimize the industry and the connections made have a lot of value. A big theme for the conference is metrics, and I think it would be really neat if SOCAP published some sort of impact report about the value derived from hosting the conference.
What are your key takeaways from the conference?
This was my second time attending/volunteering at SOCAP and I would just like to say how at home I felt at the conference. MIIS and FMS has such a large presence, and its really special to know that we really are considered leaders. I really felt tapped into the network. While at the conference, I reconnected with Pomona Impact and Agora Partnerships – discussing potential FMS fellowships with both organizations.