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.

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!

Commercializing Impact Investment Colloquium With Sonal Shah and Amit Sharma


On Thursday, April 9th, MIIS and CSIL welcomed Sonal Shah, the Executive Director of Georgetown’s Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation as well as Amit Sharma, founder of Empowerment Capital. Sonal, with Amit as the moderator for the lecture, came to speak with students and community members about the policy framework of impact investment as well as debate with millennials about the role of impact investment in the future.


Sonal challenged millennials to think about how money today in invested, especially in the world of philanthropy and in the creation of foundations. Millennials need to start questioning where the money of high net worth individuals and companies is being spent – “If we don’t start asking those questions why should they care?”

Amit ended the conversation speaking about his belief that every player in the development field has a role to play in ending poverty by engaging people at the bottom of the pyramid – “its an amazing lucrative space…and I mean lucrative in every sense of the word”…. But, he cautions, that we need to shift they way in which we think about development and the impact space – “We think about (development) as ‘how can we solve their problems’ instead of making capital available to people so that they can solve their own problems.”

Arijit Sen, IEP Student interested in teaming up with others to participate! March 25th Deadline to Apply!

The following is a letter from Net Impact Director of Partner Programs Greg Francis. Please reach out to Arijit Sen if you are interested in teaming up with other MIIS students in this effort. 

Creative IdeationThank you again for your interest in the Energy Ambassador program we are running in partnership with PG&E. Given your interest in this program, I wanted to let you know about another event we’re running with PG&E – our Ideation Lab. This event will be held on Friday, April 10th, in PG&E’s corporate headquarters in downtown San Francisco.

The Ideation lab is a high-energy, one-day design thinking workshop in which students work in teams to develop new solutions to one of PG&E’s current business challenges. The challenge this year is focused on how small and medium business owners can help create a more sustainable future for energy in California – precisely the same audience for the Energy Ambassador program!

This event will give you the opportunity to:

  • Be part of a collaborative and innovative event that confronts real-time issues
  • Get an inside look at customer engagement strategies from the perspective of a corporate leader in the energy efficiency space
  • Work closely with like-minded students from your university or from other universities
  • Learn and apply design-thinking principles to a key environmental challenge
  • Network directly with PG&E employees, including experts from the Corporate Sustainability, Customer Energy Efficiency and Marketing teams

During the Ideation Lab, we also plan to give recognition to students who have completed audits for the Energy Ambassador program and may ask them to serve as user experts on the design teams.

Students can apply individually, or join as a team – just indicate the names of desired team members in the registration form.

If you’re interested, apply soon! Our application deadline is Wednesday, March 25 and spaces are limited! Apply Now.

-Greg Francis

Director of Partner Programs | Net Impact

MIIS Hult Prize Team Heads to Boston

hultpic1Laura Benoit (MPA), Derek Musial (MBA), and Jeanette Pelizzon (MPA) will be
representing the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey competing in
this years Hult Prize regional finals to be held in Boston, MA on March 13th and 14th.
The team of MIIS graduate students have created an innovative social enterprise that
aims to solve this years Hult Prize challenge, posed by former President Bill Clinton, of
providing quality early education to ten million children under age six in urban slums by

The team competed at the Hult Prize @ MIIS campus competition held in November in
Irvine auditorium where they presented the first iteration of their idea to a panel of five
local judges. After receiving valuable feedback from the judges, the team went back to
the drawing board; almost completely revamping their initial idea to submit to the
general application for the Boston regionals. Chosen from over 20,000 applicants the
teams idea, dubbed TucánTu, is now one step closer to winning USD 1 Million in seed
capital. “We have put a lot of time and energy into better understanding the needs of
young children and how to best address them in a sustainable manner in the urban
slum,” says Pelizzon. Together the team has over eight years of experience working in
health, gender equity, agriculture, economic empowerment and education across three
continents. This real world experience, combined with the classroom theory provided by
MIIS has given these students the tools they need to holistically tackle the problem
presented. “We are working to address some of the world’s most complex issues
through social entrepreneurship and building upon assets and opportunities that already
exist but need to be strengthened and combined to increase impact,” says Benoit, a
second year MPA student.

The team has worked to incorporate knowledge through an emergent process during which
the idea has evolved through research and conversations with experts in the field including
a primary school teacher turned principal from Mexico City, and Steve Hollingworth CEO of
Freedom From Hunger to strengthen their idea. To gain a better understanding of the target
population the team hosted a design thinking sessions with their peers. On-going support
from the newly formed Center for Social Impact Learning has allowed the team the additional
resources they have needed in their bid for the USD 1 million prize.

Mark your calendars for CSIL’s official launch March 25th!

Mark your calendars for CSIL’s official launch March 25th!

Join us for the official launch of the Center for Social Impact Learning on March 25th in Monterey, California!

The all-day event will kick-off with brunch and a Pop-up Market Shop showcasing social entrepreneurs and local craft businesses. Afternoon programming will include the Cordes Impact Forum, a curated session featuring leaders and experts from the field of impact investing and social innovation.

Guests will learn about CSIL and its expanding collaborations with MIIS, Middlebury College, and the larger community.

Plan to network with people in beautiful Monterey, meet students, and hear about our programs and partnerships. All those inspired by social innovation and impact-fueled business are encouraged to join in the celebration.

We hope to see you there!

Register and view the full agenda at Eventbrite.

An Inspired Week at CSIL: Millennial Thought Leader David Hopkins 11/19 and CSIL Open House 11/20

Millennial thought leader to speak at MIIS on November 20 at 6pm in MG102 for the CSIL Impact Pioneers Speaker Series.
Millennial thought leader to speak at MIIS on November 19 at 12pm in McGowan 99 for the CSIL Impact Pioneers Speaker Series.

CSIL officially moved into McGowan Suite 220 at the end of August, 2014. Since then, we’ve been building our team, innovating programs such as the Frontier Market Scouts (FMS) & Ambassador Corps, growing our network, and ultimately planting the seeds for a solid organizational culture committed to impact-driven business, social innovation, and entrepreneurship beyond the profit imperative. It’s time to share the ideas, the people, and the “flavor” of who we are and what we do. In the spirit of sharing and collaboration, we invite our local community of staff, students, and faculty at the Monterey Institute to an action-packed CSIL Community Open House on November 20. Below is the action-packed plan, stay tuned for details!

Impact Pioneers Speaker Series Feature, Wednesday, November 19

The Power of Purpose: How to Make Money and a Difference

12-1:30pm, McGowan 99

A dynamic discussion led by David Hopkins, social innovator and thought leader for the millennial generation.

RSVP is required via:

CSIL Open House Day, Thursday, November 20 ~ 

Investing for Environmental, Social and Financial Return

12:15-1:45pm, Morse A101

A lunch session with Cordes Foundation Portfolio Director Eric Stephenson

RSVP Required:

CSIL Open House

3-5pm, McGowan 220

Step into the CSIL suite and meet the new team and special guests. Official toast will be held at 4pm. 

 Questions or feedback? Contact:

Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.