FMS Alum Taking “Giant Steps” to Use Music as a Tool for Social Change

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.

President Laurie Patton Recognizes Importance of Social Impact Leadership at Event

“To meet and hear our institution’s leadership express their support and commitment to social impact galvanized my motivation for using enterprise models as tools for creating social good,” said Middlebury Institute student Mario Romero MBA ’17. Romero was among the forty social impact leaders who joined a large group of Middlebury and Middlebury Institute alumni at the scenic Taste of Monterey on Cannery Row for a reception with Middlebury President Laurie Patton recently.

In her remarks, Patton acknowledged the Institute’s Center for Social Impact Learning (CSIL) and its Frontier Market Scouts (FMS) program for its “world-class” training program for successful social impact investing. Patton offered attendees the opportunity to share stories and ask questions resulting in a very lively exchange of ideas. “It was clear that many of the attendees were inspired to collaborate and share notes on the future of social innovation and ethical economic progress,” shared Erina McWilliam-Lopez CSIL Social Impact Programs Director.

“Having been through the Frontier Market Scouts training and connected with practitioners within a rapidly growing field really demonstrated that social impact is driving the world forward,” said Romero and added that he is very excited to start his FMS placement and put the theoretical tools he has learned into practice.”

This past January, the Frontier Market Scouts (FMS) program welcomed 40 professionals from 13 different countries for its 15th training program taught by successful impact investing and social enterprise leaders. Jointly developed by the Middlebury Institute, Sanghata Global and Village Capital in 2011, the FMS is a social enterprise management and impact investment certificate training and fellowship program which has coached and trained more than 400 professionals since its inception. The FMS received a 2013 Cordes Innovation Award from AshokaU and was honored in the AshokaU Hall of fame in 2015.

To learn more about how you can support the Frontier Market Scouts program, contact Erina McWilliam-Lopez ( 831-647-4645

To learn more about the program, visit the Frontier Market Scouts page.

Photo Slideshow:

Click on the image below to open a photo slideshow of the evening.



Reflections on SOCAP


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.

Breakfast with the Padrino and other Thoughts on “Impact”

Breakfast with the Padrino and other Thoughts on “Impact”
Slater Matzke shares his thoughts on a life of purpose
Slater Matzke (MPA ’16) shares his thoughts on “impact,” the pursuit of purpose, and the future.

Slater Matzke (MIIS MPA ’16) has worked at a leadership level for the past couple of years in the CSIL offices as Partnerships Associate in conjunction with his graduate studies at the Middlebury Institute. In this capacity, he tripled the number of hiring organizations in the CSIL partner network, strengthening our reach around the globe, and cultivating a robust pipeline of career opportunities with small and growing businesses in the impact sector. Slater also contributed to CSIL on a strategic level by producing a 5-year growth strategy for the award-winning Frontier Market Scouts (co-authored by MIIS graduate Joshua Zimmerman). Current FMS Partnerships Associate Christina Lukeman caught up with Mr. Matzke and got on his take on what it means to pursue purpose-driven work, his favorite regional networking opportunities, and secured a few tips for breaking into to the impact sector. 

What is “impact” to you?

SM: There really is no standard definition; impact means different things to different people. The private sector says that all business is impact, but I would [obviously] argue that. For me impact is shifting away from traditional paradigms, looking deeper at qualitative and quantitative systems…it’s not necessarily about how to make the world better, but how to make systems better in order to have a positive impact.

In a sense, impact is efficiency—it is improvement and evaluation of what we’ve been doing and how to improve it. Impact is never stopping – never thinking there is a finish line and always finding ways to build a better mouse trap.

What inspired you pivot into the “impact” sector?

SM: Working in the private sector for 10 years, I was focused on single bottom line return and improvement of the business was seen solely from a financial standpoint. I found myself continually thinking, “We are making money, but why doesn’t this feel as good as everyone said it was supposed to?” I got this feeling that the single bottom line is not the only way to evaluate for success and it was an itch that I wanted to scratch. Simply increasing revenues and maximizing profits is an archaic way of looking at things in the current, multidimensional world, where single actions can have tertiary effects.  As my awareness grew, I started to ask big questions: What does it mean to really help other people? What is public service? What is ‘civics’? [So I left the private sector] to see what “impact” looked like on the grassroots level: I joined Peace Corps and lived in Latin America for three years. After getting a taste of what it meant to make impact at the base of development, I came back to the United States and tied all of my experiences together in an academic overarch through my MPA, focusing on Social Venture Management.

Tell us about your current work? What are you next steps?

Right now my front burner is politics and working on the 2016 Presidential Campaign for Hillary Clinton; this is the most revolutionary election of our lifetime and the most important thing right now that I can get involved with to make a difference.

You worked primarily in partnerships at CSIL, facilitating placements between participating fellows and organizations around the world. What is the biggest value added you see from FMS training and placement?

SM: The training is unparalleled – there is nothing out there that is like FMS, from a training perspective. [You are] getting not only high-level practitioners who are working in the impact sector, but also a diverse group of participants from around the world. The knowledge-sharing that occurs and the unique perspective that everyone brings is like a primordial soup of where great ideas are born.

The FMS fellowship is not an internship—it is real work. Our hiring partner organizations have been vetted by the program as high-impact, early or growth-stage (and often resource-constrained) enterprises with pressing needs. The fellows are given the opportunity to deploy their acquired knowledge gained from the training in order to make these organizations even better and stronger. As an FMS fellow, you are exercising the tremendous service of getting out there and applying your knowledge and skills  to really helping early-stage enterprises using business as a force for good.

What did you learn from working with CSIL?

SM: Working with CSIL is working for a start-up: putting in long hours and pouring everything you have into [the organization] to further the mission of what the Center is, which is to develop programs and conduct research to advance the impact sector. Every hour that you can allocate is to the benefit of the students at the Institute, and the trainees, fellowship candidates, impact investors, and enterprises that connect to our programs. 

What are your top three tips and tools for those looking to start an impact career (and fellows about to start the training)?

1)     Take the time to reflect and take a values-inventory. The term “social impact” is so loaded and charged right now; it’s so sexy and glamorous. A lot of people want to jump into the sector without understanding what it really means, and without knowing where they fit in. The reality is that impact falls on each individual: you need to know where and how you want to make impact in order to do so.

2)     Field experience is huge and there are plenty of ways to get engaged on any level. Use your own local community to develop your tools and make a change. Jump in the sandbox and start playing around wherever you are, and you’ll see yourself start to build castles.

3)     Don’t discount government; you can create impact through the public sector as well. People may or may not realize it, but the largest driver of social impact in the world is government (and they also have the deepest pockets of anyone). There is so much potential with what can be done—do your part to be engaged on a civic level, pay attention on a policy level, and advocate for law makers that share your values.

What are your favorite regional networking opportunities? 

SM: My absolute favorite are the Peace Corps Conferences as they are a great place to learn about development and they share the same values as me (side note: Nor Cal Peace Corps Association has 5k members). SOCAP is a no-brainer—it is like the Olympics of the social impact sector. Further, ANDE is fantastic—all of the heavy-hitters in the impact sector are part of this network and the association is always has networking events in metropolitan impact hubs domestically (think: Washington, D.C. and San Francisco) as well as internationally—great for the FMS crowd.

A few important personal questions to tap into who the real Slater is…

Who has been a guiding force for you?

SM: I was really inspired by a friend of mine named Tim McCollum (who also did the Peace Corps). Tim used his PeaceCorps service to fill a social gap and came up with the chocolate company MADACASSE. I am just more generally inspired by entrepreneurs… raising capital and taking the risk to leave your job…that’s bold.  Often times the profit model is the trickiest part. Your beneficiaries are not able to pay so you have to get very creative in your business models. It’s inspiring to see people getting out there and generating new business, especially when it’s good business.

Tell us something that no one knows about you:

I make strong impressions on people. I met a couple at a coffee shop in Lima, Peru and 2 weeks later I was the godfather “Padrino” to their daughter.”


Announcing a New Social Impact Learning Research Fellowship

The Center for Social Impact Learning (CSIL) is proud to announce a new way for the MIIS community to engage with emerging markets: the CSIL Research Fellowship. The research fellowship combines a placement with a local partner in a frontier market and an independent research project to create an opportunity for CSIL to explore global business innovation more deeply than ever before. The inaugural Fellowship was granted to Molly McKeon MAIEP ’15 to conduct research on the future of micro-finance in Mongolia. Molly will be based out of Ulaanbaatar with the Executive Excellence International Business Center working on local small and medium business development, while exploring the link between micro-finance and entrepreneurship in larger Mongolia.

During her time at MIIS, Molly developed a keen interest in and research portfolio on Mongolian economic development. After participating in the Frontier Market Scouts (FMS) program she began to explore the nascent social entrepreneurship field in Mongolia. Now, in preparation for her project, Molly is currently a Title VIII Fellow in a summer intensive Mongolian Language program. The CSIL Research Fellowship will allow her to build off the skills she acquired in the FMS program while leveraging her background in research methods, and pursuing her fourth language. We know Molly will make a great addition to the CSIL family and we can’t wait to see what she will accomplish!

Announcing a New Impact Investing “Hard Skills” 2-Day Clinic: Financial Analysis and Modeling for Social Businesses, Projects and Impact Investing Funds

ClinicWhat hard skills are required for a career in the impact investing? For starters, you are going to need to know the difference between debt and equity. You must be able to understand financial statements and how to create a financial model, analyses, and forecasting.

What is a social enterprise? What does “impact” really mean? The “impact space” spans across all industries. It is an exciting new approach that uses finance and business as a tool to address pressing environmental and social needs. Many purpose-driven people have worked “close to the impact” through the Peace Corps, or with a local nonprofit. However, the essential frameworks for social business design can be challenging to distinguish for those who have little or no background in basic finance.

We’ve designed a 2-day intensive clinic focused on the essential frameworks for financial analysis and modeling for social impact. The clinic is a comprehensive introduction that will break down key concepts. It has been designed as a primer to the Frontier Market Scouts (FMS) certificate training in social enterprise management and impact investing.

The clinic takes place the weekend prior to the FMS Monterey training—June 4 & 5, 2016. It is ideal for incoming FMS participants as well as past alums who lack a solid background in finance. This course is also an excellent opportunity for professionals interested in gaining a foundational starting point for understanding how impact investing and social enterprise works. Check out the schedule for a break down of each day.

Workshop Fee: $450 (Special pricing available for FMS participants)

To apply, submit your information here –


Course Instructor

Kim Kastorff founded both Kimpacto, Inc. and Global Success Fund, after many years in banking, investments, social responsibility & education, and understanding that social entrepreneurs & global businesses need affordable financial services, funding and greater collaboration, plus the increasing importance to demonstrate social impact. Today, there is an increasing trend for ‘Maximizing financial + social impact.’  Kimpacto further supports impact investors in connecting their personal mission with impact funds and social investment opportunities.

Kim’s goal is to promote financial inclusion and push for a more educated and financially sustainable global environment.  As a Benefit Corporation and Certified B Corporation, Kimpacto, Inc. is held to our global mission and a higher level of social, environmental, community and governance standards.
Kim is fluent in English & Spanish and brings her global finance, investment banking and Big 4 Consulting experience (U.S., Europe & Latin America) and holds an MBA in Finance, and a Masters in Research – Impact Investing and FINRA Securities Licenses (7, 63, 65).



Fellow Feature: FMS Alumna Ellen Halle

FullSizeRender (4)We had the pleasure of checking in with Ellen Halle, Middlebury College and FMS Alumna, who is currently an Associate at I-DEV International. She talks to us with passion about the work she is doing and how FMS helped her get there:

Tell us a little about yourself and your current position

I currently work for I-DEV International and am based in the Nairobi office. I was connected to the organization through FMS when I participated in the FMS Training in Amsterdam; the CEO of I-DEV was one of the FMS professors. I have a background in global health; during undergrad, the vast majority of my work was in the NGO world in the context of field work, public health research & NGO programming. After graduating from Middlebury, I wanted to gain more experience in the private sector in the context of healthcare; healthcare was my bridge to the private sector. I spent about 2 years I working for a firm called Oxeon Partners in New York, concentrating on early stage venture and private equity-backed health care companies. I learned a ton about growth-stage business strategy and the dynamism of venture capital. However, all of Oxeon’s portfolio companies were focused domestically, and I was really missing the international exposure. Therefore, I wanted a role that would bridge my experience in global health and international development with the work I enjoyed in high-growth, for-profit businesses. FMS was the perfect next step to find that opportunity.

Why I-DEV International?

I-DEV is a strategy consulting & financial advisory firm focused on growing and scaling small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in emerging markets. We work with SMEs themselves but also impact funds, commercial investors, multinational corporations with SMEs in their supply chain, and NGOs/multilaterals increasing their focus on enterprise development. We do this across two groups: Insight & Strategy and Financial Advisory. I work as a generalist across both groups, but tend to work more on the Insight & Strategy side.

Ellen leading a strategy workshop in Uganda
Ellen leading a strategy workshop in Uganda

I-DEV felt like a natural fit, given my goal of combining my depth of international field experience (in Uganda, Costa Rica & Nicaragua) with my growth-stage business acumen. The work we do is varied and highly dynamic and we get to spend a lot of time in the field. Because we work with such a diverse array of stakeholders (from the NGOs to the MNCs) I get to think from many different angles throughout every project and frankly, throughout every day. I really agree with I-DEV’s approach to advising and improving businesses; we take into account the views of the entire value chain—from the CEO of the business to the investors to the producers of raw material—smallholder farmers in agribusiness, etc. Creating alignment between stakeholders—and creating alignment between impact and shareholder value—is something I really believe in. For example, some of our work with a multinational apparel company has included the development of what I-DEV calls a “secondary benefits program” for their producer co-ops. Secondary Benefits really just refers to the provision of technical assistance, advance payments, low-interest loans, input discounts, and other benefits to farmers in the MNC supply chain. Companies can offer these benefits to farmers provided they reach certain quality provisions, sell a certain percentage of their crop to the MNC and attend a certain amount of trainings to increase quality. In this way, the MNC aligns impact with shareholder value—improving livelihoods at the BoP while increasing supply consistency, production capacity and product quality.

I-DEV’s goal is to help create businesses that are investable and scalable in terms of both revenue & impact; I think both the impact sector and the East African VC space will really benefit as these companies continue to scale, attract capital and ultimately exit.

What has been the most exciting part about professional life in the impact space? 

I’ve been in Nairobi since March and two things stand out specifically. The first is how amazing it has been to experience such a dynamic…and nebulous…space. The so-called “impact space” brings together players with such different backgrounds: the venture capitalists, the local entrepreneurs, the development banking professionals. The intersectoral collaboration—or lack thereof—in the impact space can be confusing, but bringing together different perspectives is the only way that change has ever been achieved.

From a personal perspective, it’s been such a joy to travel throughout East and West Africa for my role at I-DEV. The opportunity to visit all of the places that I spent my academic career studying and reading about is amazing; realizing that as a young professional I’m able to add value here working small enterprises is even better. Additionally, working with a multi-cultural team has been refreshing and energizing.

With regard to Nairobi, it’s really not that different than New York. Bear with me…I know that sounds crazy. But there’s actually a lot of overlay…they are two crazy busy places, there’s always a lot going on. Nairobi is much more cosmopolitan than people in the US tend to think; something that speaks to its attractiveness to investors as well, I think.

FullSizeRender (5)
Ellen during a field assessment of a fair-trade macadamia business in Kenya

How are you directly applying the skills learned through FMS?

FMS formalized my interests by providing additional support and coursework in a structured framework. It also brings together people from a great array of different backgrounds– in that way it prepared me for the impact space…some people are more financially oriented, some are more impact oriented, and FMS mirrored that. Also, I had worked with medium sized VC-backed businesses ($500k+ revenues), but felt that FMS better prepared me for working with very early stage businesses and providing training for young entrepreneurs themselves.

Increasingly my colleagues and classmates who have been working in traditional finance jobs reach out to me to learn about the work I’m now doing and with great interest in FMS. They all have strong business backgrounds and have the desire to do social good but aren’t sure how to channel it. FMS is one of the only programs out there that can harness that type of aspiration and that’s the coolest thing about the program. People do come from different backgrounds, and it’s one of the only programs that can help people coming from the top tier institutions and the traditional experience to apply the skills they have but towards the social impact sector. Other programs target specific people and backgrounds but tend to keep them on the same track, whereas FMS really encourages us to think deeply about change and to go forward and make strong impact.

What are your top three tips for someone looking to start a purpose-driven career?

  1. There is real power in networking and connecting. Do not be hesitant to reach out. It’s the number one way that people can get involved. People like being able to help others, so always feel confident in reaching out and learning more about the spaces that you are interested in. Paying it forward is a good thing.
  2. Think about where you can add value. This is kind of the ultimate catch 22, because in order to add value you need experience, and in order to have experience you probably have one or two experiences where your value-add is minimal. That said, think about the skills that you have and how you can use them to best help a growing enterprise, an impact fund or another entity—maybe its financial analysis, maybe it’s relationship management, but know your skillset and think appropriately about what opportunities fit you best.
  3. Jump in. I think there’s a lot of reticence to move from a traditional finance career to something more nontraditional and risky. Sometimes the best thing to do is just take the leap and make the change you’ve been thinking about.

Reach out to Ellen:  Twitter  Linkedin                          Follow I Dev: Website  Twitter

This is the last week to apply to FMS D.C. Training! Launch your new career, apply today:

Partner Feature: African Entrepreneur Collective, Inkomoko

AEC Sara Julienne“One of our main beliefs is that every problem on the continent already has a solution on the continent.”

We are excited to share our first FMS Partner Feature. Our partner organizations are extremely important to us because their work is at the core of what drives our program and our fellows. In a recent conversation with Sara Leedom, co-founder and COO of African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC), she tells us about AEC, how the Frontier Market Scout fellows have impacted their organization and what we can look forward to in the future (including an open job position!).

Tell us about African Entrepreneur Collective

“We whole-heartedly believe in local entrepreneurs, local staff and local leadership!”

African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC) is a network of incubators and accelerators with the goal to create jobs across Africa. Young people across the Continent are more educated and connected than ever before, and yet as countries are seeing double-digit economic growth, young people are often left out of that economic prosperity. We believe that entrepreneurship is a strong solution to the challenge of job creation.

AEC works with young entrepreneurs who already have an idea and a tested model but who can benefit from technical assistance to overcome barriers to their growth. Our ideal client is someone who has worked at least six months on the business and is starting to understand the challenges. At that stage, we want to help support them through those challenges, keeping them in the driver’s seat, and on a healthy path towards success which in turns fosters job creation.

AEC Ent Collage
African Entrepreneur Collective Entrepreneurs

AEC launched in Rwanda, our pilot location, with several offerings: Inkomoko is our core accelerator program, then we launched Tigo’s THINK as the Tech Hub in Kigali to stimulate digital innovation.  We also have a student business plan competition, the African Innovation Prize, which allows us to work with entrepreneurs who are still at the idea stage and give them the opportunity to build a business from the ground up.  And finally, we’re the Rwanda implementer of SPRING, an incubator for companies serving women and girls.

Through these programs, AEC can really help African entrepreneurs because we have been exactly where they are: we’ve had to find investors, hire local staff, advertise here, etc. There is a lot that we have learned by going through the same exact steps that these business owners are experiencing.

Each of our accelerators have four program elements that we believe must exist simultaneously:

  1. Access to Capacity Building Services: practical trainings and workshops, classes on HR and Quickbooks, marketing and human centered design.
  2. Mentorship: each entrepreneur is paired with a mentor from across the globe.
  3. Technical Assistance: for the items that an entrepreneur doesn’t need to master themselves — lawyers on retainer, logo and website designer, tax accountants
  4. Access to Finance: through our Kiva-backed loan fund, we provide affordable and flexible in-house loans as well as transparent repayment plans.

This program model is our foundation as we expand to Tanzania in January 2016.

What drives AEC?

Spending time across the Continent, we have met hundreds of amazing young people who have great ideas and visions for their communities, but who didn’t have access to opportunities present in developed economies. We look to support what these youth have identified as needs in their own communities, rather than AEC bringing our own ideas to the community.

One of our main beliefs is that every problem on the continent already has a solution on the continent. Young people in Africa can create their own future and own businesses, creating their own income and adding to the wealth of their communities. Our job is to help weaken any barriers that may stand in their way.

 What does impact mean to AEC?

On a practical level, our impact is equipping people to have the skills to create jobs for themselves and others. Our target is that within 18 months of working with us, the entrepreneur will have created on average 10 jobs. When you add the multiplier effect, we are looking at long-term, large-scale impact for job creation across the Continent.

On a philosophical level, our impact is holding up our unwavering belief in young African entrepreneurs, so that investors and policy makers around the world see that African entrepreneurs can create the change that is needed on the continent. It’s about helping shift the dialogue so that it’s not only western investors investing in expats in social enterprise but that the young people who have the most to gain in their communities are the ones to direct the impact. We’re there to tell the stories, raise the profiles, and of course invest in young Africans ourselves.

AEC Fellows
Fellows Alberto and Aysha with Inkomoko Staff in Rwanda

Why did you choose to partner with FMS?

This is our first year as a partner with FMS. It’s been such a fantastic experience. We’ve also had the chance to meet with other people in the program and continue to be impressed with the skills and impact FMS fellows achieve. We had two scouts this year, one of which we hired full time, and one of whom we were able to bring back for a second contract with us.

Alberto Rodriguez, AEC Portfolio Manager, has a background with Deutschebank in Madrid and had done some work starting a school in Kenya. He is our portfolio manager for both funds and we have been incredibly impressed with his professionalism and ability to help strengthen our efforts.

Aysha Rajput. AEC Communications Fellow, produced our first annual report, facilitated client testimonials and published our newsletters. She’s now continuing on a consulting project with us to help us fundraise. We loved our fellows and are excited to continue working with them.

What’s on the horizon for AEC?

We’re expanding!  We will be launching in Western Tanzania in January 2016.

Rwanda was a great pilot program and we are so proud of the work we have been able to achieve. With a small population of 12 million, even if we reached everyone, we would still only access a small slice of what is happening on the continent. We are committed to continuing our efforts in Rwanda and as such, are currently hiring a new Managing Director for our Rwanda location. Applications are open now and we hope to find a great fit soon.

Now that we have tested our model in various formats, we want to be able to bring what we are doing to other communities as well.  The relative ease of doing business in Rwanda (low corruption, stable electricity, efficient government systems, etc), also encourages us to stress test our model and see if we can help as much in countries experiencing different complexities.  We want to test the model early enough in our development to see what works and what doesn’t and then advance confidently.  Our goal is 7 countries by 2022.

We’ve had such a beneficial partnership with FMS and we are excited to bring on more fellows in the future. FMS fellows have been incredibly useful in strengthening and supporting our work which is why we’ve been encouraging other organizations to look to FMS for talent. What’s fantastic is that FMS fellows come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and it’s possible to find a fellow to help with anything from photography to financial modeling to due diligence to fundraising.

There is still time to apply for FMS Monterey! Apply now: FMS Application Winter 2016

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Ambassador Corps Fellow Profile: Nick Zelle

We always enjoy chatting with Nick Zelle, one of our stellar Ambassador Corps Students from our summer 2015 pilot cohort. Now back at Middlebury College in Vermont, Nick reflects on his experience in Peru:NickZelle1.1

 Name:  Nicholas Andruss Zelle

Citizenship: US

Current title: Student at Middlebury College

Dream occupation or job title:  I am interested in the intersection of arts and social change, especially given my background as a professional circus artist. My ideal job would include writing and storytelling, strategic planning and social outreach.

Why did you decide to join the Ambassador Corps (AC) program?

I applied to the Ambassador Corps (AC) program because I wanted an immersive work experience abroad. I was also very interested in learning more about the social entrepreneurship field. Furthermore, I was excited about being put in a foreign situation, with a unique set of challenges – both in sense of those that belong to the local community and in the ways that an NGO engages with those challenges in a responsible way. I knew that the AC program offered a unique opportunity to do meaningful work with an NGO.

What were you hoping to get out the experience?

In part, I was hoping to gain certain practical skills and know-how in working with an NGO. Mostly I wanted to understand the social entrepreneurship field better and see what parts of it most resonate with me so as to concretely decide what I want to do in the future.

What was a typical day like during your AC internship?

A typical day was spent at the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development (AASD) office, working in collaboration with Evelin and Adam to accomplish the goals we had set for ourselves that week for our overall project. For example, one week we focused on researching experiential learning programs both at Middlebury and other institutions in order to better understand how a potential student research program could best meet the needs of students and the host organization. We used this perspective later when we designed and refined or original experiential learning programs with the AASD for Middlebury students. At the end of the day, we’d walk back down to our homestay, usually stopping at the Churro vender on the way, and we would spend the rest of the evening with our host family.

 Were there any surprises or unforeseen benefits that emerged?

I was pleasantly surprised by the culture of the organization which was very critical of sustainability and community development practices. Before working with AASD, I was unsure of how to think about the ethics of NGO intervention in community issues and how it could engender positive social change without a patriarchal approach to working with the community. After my experience, I’m so happy to say that I have seen first hand how NGO intervention can be navigated responsibly and to have been surrounded by people who think so deeply about the meaning of their work.

What were some of your biggest obstacles during the experience – professional or personal?

There were many micro-challenges as we tried to figure out the best way to move forward with our project. It was sometimes necessary to just trust the process and know that the uncertainty of what we were doing would eventually give way to really great results.

Describe someone you met during the program that had a major impact on your experience.

Spending time with my host family was one of the most important aspects of my experience in Peru. There was a considerable language barrier (I had spent three weeks teaching myself Spanish before arriving, and among the handful of words they knew in English were such important ones as “I am,” “fork” and “Fakir” , which made little sense when strung together). Despite our difficulties communicating verbally, we spent many evenings over dinner or games laughing and talking about Peru, their work and lives and more. We even had the chance to follow them one day to the school where they teach. After weeks of hearing them talk about their students and the challenges with education in the region, it was incredible to see them in their element.

How would you describe AC to a stranger?

AC is a highly individualized experiential learning program that allows students to immerse themselves in meaningful work with an organization in the social entrepreneurship field abroad.

Did AC change or pivot your path? If so, how?NickZelle2

The experience certainly broadened my perspective and made me think more critically about the social entrepreneurship field and the type of work I’m considering. I already intended to work in the social impact sector before embarking on AC, and this summer has confirmed that decision.

Describe the AC experience in 5 words.

Immersive, individualized, formative, challenging, unique

What are some of the biggest challenges in growing the impact-driven economy?

We can’t move along a community development project at a pace faster than that at which the community functions. This is to say that sustainable social change cannot be top-down directed, so a successful impact-driven economy would need to be patient. Another challenge is that people (including social entrepreneurs) often identify the weaknesses of a given community, rather than focusing on and harnessing its strengths; as a result, there is this attitude that outside aid can be “the solution”. While it’s well intended, I think this mentality can be detrimental. Capitalism works in opposition to an idyllic, community-accountable economy, so we would need to abandon greed and a self-satisfying mentality that we are able to fix (others’) problems quickly.

What’s next for you?

I feel very motivated to tie this experience into my studies and life at Middlebury in some way. I think it will greatly dictate the way I mentally approach all future academic and professional endeavors, especially relating to development work or work oriented around community wellbeing.


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