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Ideas on Leadership and Purpose
September 22, 2016 | Kate Hayes

Beyond the Board Room: Lessons in Transformation

We each encounter key moments in our lives when everything seems to change. At Echoing Green, we call these moments of transition “inflection points.” Obvious inflection points can be major events, such as a graduation, a new job, or a marriage. We expect events like these to change us. But there are other ways to create inflection points fueled by a desire to engineer a change in our lives and to help us answer questions such as “what is my vision for the world?” and “how can I use my unique talents to contribute to positive social impact?”

Last year, twenty-two extraordinary individuals created their own inflection points by joining Echoing Green’s Direct Impact program, and starting a new, meaningful journey into deeper social impact. The program is designed to create moments that allow individuals to look within themselves, and to others, to understand how they can best contribute to creating a world they want to live in.

Boardroom Lesson 1: Tap into Your Personal Mission

For Tom Ryan, Direct Impact was an opportunity to understand how he could best use the skill set he developed in the private sector to find some much-needed balance and meaning in his life.

"I spent years focused on career advancement but had never defined my passion or personal mission. I now feel more balanced in my life given the intellectual stimulation and meaning derived from working with social entrepreneurs.  I underestimated the role of a 'working board member' and how my experiences and network can contribute incremental value to a nonprofit as they scale."

After a transformational visit to Echoing Green Fellow-led organization African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC), Tom has found a tangible way to use his experience to contribute to their work directly as one of their newest board members. For AEC, welcoming board members who hold a deep understanding of their talents and their sector is transformative too.

"AEC partnered with the Direct Impact program when we were transitioning from a ‘friends and family’ board to one requiring more experienced members," said AEC founder Julienne Oyler. "We knew that anyone coming out of the Direct Impact program would have great ideas and suggestions for crafting and strengthening our new board, so we wanted to save space to co-create a new board vision, operating principles, and work plans with our new members.” For an organization, the decision to build-out their board offers an equally valuable inflection point, which can ultimately lead to making progress towards their vision more quickly.

Tom Ryan and Julienne Oyler at a coffee washing station in Rwanda.

“So far, we have confirmed two Direct Impact participants to our board and we couldn't be happier. Already they have brought new ideas, heightened professionalism, and offered a commitment to board service that is invigorating and needed.” Their new board members will continue to have access to Direct Impact tools, resources, and network, and will serve as examples of exceptional board members as they reinforce best practices.

Boardroom Lesson 2: Attract Others to Your Mission

Marcus Shaw has spent his career building meaningful relationships. His experience with Direct Impact helped him define new ways to access his unique skills and knowledge, so he can use those tools to support an important mission that is aligned with his personal values. 

“Organizations focused on social impact face many challenges similar to those at organizations focused on profit. However, the need to embrace the mission and a different type of stakeholder requires a more specific type of leadership. Having completed the program I have a new sense of what skills and relationships I can leverage as a board member to help an organization accomplish its mission.”

Marcus Shaw working with an Accountrepreneur on a business challenge in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Corporate leaders do not need to leave the private sector to do good. In fact, they can actually make a deeper impact by staying in their careers and using their time, talent, and treasure (nonprofit board members are expected to fundraise) to make a significant impact on the social sector.

A fundamental shift is often required in order to create the space to prepare to fully embrace the desire to do the most good in the world. Once you make the decision to start the journey, it becomes easy—the only thing to do is to embrace the opportunity to discover your unique value-add, learn and practice a new skill set, and surround yourself with like-minded individuals who are in it together.

Go Deeper

Direct Impact is Echoing Green’s board leadership program, designed to equip the next generation of corporate leaders to make a positive social impact on the world. Over the course of three-months, individuals participate in experiential retreats, workshops, and immersive site visits. Upon successful completion, graduates are able to join the Direct Impact board matching program.  Learn more and apply here.