For the fourth year in a row at the Skoll World Forum, we teamed up with the MasterCard Foundation to convene in Oxford a dozen emerging leaders from the growing field of social entrepreneurship. Each shared their personal story, the twists and turns they’ve followed, and the motivations that drive their work. Sharing those days with such incredibly accomplished and dedicated folks is always a humbling and invigorating experience for all of us. They’ve enriched our Skoll community with their perspectives, and continue to help shape our collective vision for a more equitable, peaceful, and prosperous world.
Erin Harrington, Skoll Associate Grants Manager, and Joony Moon, Skoll Analyst, have co-shepherded this program for several years together and those days in Oxford proved again to be a highlight of the year. Skoll Editor Zach Slobig sat down with Joony and Erin to hear their thoughts on this year’s group and where the Emerging Leaders Program is headed.
Zach Slobig: How accurate is it to describe the Emerging Leaders Initiative as an accelerator?
Erin Harrington: Sure, but only for the lack of a better term. These are the people well on their way, the ones you can tell are already amazing, the ones who will be on the stage someday. We hope that we’re helping them get there faster. Storytelling is a big part of that, to be able to articulate yourself, your mission, and what your organization does to make an impact. Storytelling is often overlooked when you think about what you need to grow an organization.
Zach: I couldn’t agree more, and you’re doing much more than working with them to articulate their stories. Tell me about that.
Joony Moon: We’re doing a lot of things that a typical accelerator program doesn’t. We talk about building yourself as a personal brand and we’re talking more about wellbeing than your business model.
Zach: And half of the Emerging Leaders come through one of the organizations that has won a Skoll Award, correct?
Joony: Yes, these are people leading programs, heading up country offices, taking on a leadership role in the organization.
Zach: And give me an idea of how that looks in these organizations.
Erin: Well, for instance in the 2017 cohort, there’s Andrew Ozanian from International Bridges to Justice, and he’s built this collaborative web-based tool, the Justice Hub, integrating technology into human rights. Or Olivia Muiru, she launched B-Lab in East Africa. Then there’s Zeeshan Sumrani who leads programming and curriculum development at Educate Girls in India.
Zach: Impressive group. So, the Sundance partnership and the Story Studio, tell me how that works.
Erin: When we started the program back in 2013 it was a closed session, but now they present their stories publicly to the entire Forum. On Monday, the first day, we ask them to have five minute talks prepared for a closed session, and Wendy Levy, Executive Director of the Alliance for Media, Arts and Culture, is there to listen as well our partners from Sundance. As a group, they give constructive, loving feedback on each presentation, which they use to help refine their public sessions during the Forum.
Zach: Must be so powerful to hear their perspectives and such a great opportunity for those organizations to leverage those great stories. So what’s next for the program?
Joony: We’ve done this now for four years and we have about 50 people with the program. Now that we have a longer partnership with the MasterCard Foundation, we’re trying to build out an active, engaged alumni network. There’s a lot of interest from MasterCard to figure out how we make the best use of the network.
If MasterCard is thinking about how they might program a strategy for working with youth in sub-Saharan Africa, these are the people they might want to talk to. Similarly for Skoll, we have great networks with our social entrepreneurs, but we’re not always very well tapped into young people, especially indigenous leaders in a lot of these countries.
Zach: I know it’s probably impossible to single out one story, but what most stuck with you from that week with the Emerging Leaders in Oxford?
Joony: Well, one of my favorites this year was Michelle Chimuka, Executive Director of the Sani Foundation. She was so great at articulating both the work and why she does it. She has a brother with an intellectual disability and that’s where her passion comes from.
She did a job of weaving all of that in, and I left feeling like I knew her and felt the impact of her organization working towards full inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. “I wish I could tell you how big the problem is, but I can’t because they don’t even count them,” she told the audience. “They don’t count as people.”