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Ideas on Entrepreneurship and the Forefront
July 7, 2015 | Cheryl L. Dorsey

Home Is Where The Solutions Are: How Local Leaders Can Drive Change

Global Fellow Pranav Budhathoki, founder of Local Interventions Group, giving an orientation to Nepali Scouts.

This article by Cheryl L. Dorsey originally appeared on Forbes.

Thirty years ago, the concept of social entrepreneurship was a brand new idea. While it wasn’t yet referred to as social entrepreneurship, organizations like Echoing Green were pioneering an approach to break the silos across sectors to drive rapid and effective social change. Today, social entrepreneurship is a booming field with funders from all sectors—from private companies like General Atlantic to government partners like USAID—supporting major initiatives to improve lives around the world. But there is still much work to be done to create the change we wish to see. The question remains: How can we help entrepreneurial leaders go further, faster?

One clear way to drive change is to invest in leaders who have a direct connection to the communities they serve.  Too often the business sector ignores underserved communities because of a perception that their business cannot thrive in these locations. However, where some investors look at all the negatives associated with doing business in these areas, others see it as an opportunity to fill a void. These leaders – the ones who see value and promise where others see trouble and decay – are important agents to create real and lasting change.

The value of lived experience.

Social change is most likely to last when led by individuals with drive and purpose. For over 28 years, Echoing Green has been an accelerator for emerging leaders with big ideas, serving as a springboard for nearly 700 innovative problem-solvers.

Leaders are everywhere, working in every corner of the globe, and they come in many shapes. However, entrepreneurs who work in their own communities, or support their own communities, often have a leg up. They are better able to see the problems, and to see the solutions, because they’ve lived it themselves. And while some people can get mired in the negative, these people innovate and turn the raw materials they see into something that screams “possibility.”

Fagan Harris, for example, grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and attended public school there. By the time he left for college, to attend Stanford University, he was frustrated with the state of the city. After graduating college, getting his Masters and studying as a Rhodes Scholar, he decided to return to Baltimore and work to fix some of the frustrations he left behind. His organization is dedicated to building a stronger Baltimore by mobilizing a new generation of leaders focused on urban renewal. What we see time and time again, is that when equipped with a bold, entrepreneurial spirit, these local leaders can transform the landscape of social change.

What do true leaders look like?

A true leader is an individual who pairs a vision for a more just world with the commitment to put a bold idea into action.

  • Pranav Budhathoki, from Nepal, saw his local communities suffer from government corruption and inefficiency – students of government schools who had no teachers to teach and no books to read. This inspired him to launch Local Interventions Group, an organization to support government accountability in Nepal and South Asia by developing tools for communities to assert their rights and monitor injustice.
  • Collette Flanagan is working to advance her organization, Mothers Against Police Brutality. She lost her only son when he was 25 years old to police brutality, and has found a way to unite mothers in turning their grief into action.
  • Stephanie Speirs and Stephen Moilanen, are launching the Solstice Initiative to make solar power more accessible to underserved communities. Stephanie was spurred to action because she experienced firsthand the historical exclusion of renters—like her mom—from the solar economy.

These are just four of the 52 leaders in our 2015 class of Echoing Green Fellows, and all of them will receive world-class mentorship and opportunities for leadership development. Yes, they have great ideas. But their chances of success are even more promising because of their deeply rooted connection to the work and to communities they serve.

Changing our definition of markets.

In today’s world of hashtag activism, it’s easy to think that a tweet can change the world. But social entrepreneurs like Pranav, Collette, Stephen and Stephanie know that it takes serious, long-term commitment to bring about real transformation .

It’s imperative that the investment community and others support these entrepreneurs in the communities where they work. Markets are places where value is created. These social entrepreneurs look at disadvantaged youth, dilapidated houses, low-income neighborhoods and under-performing educational systems, and they see how they can create more value. We must change the climate for these leaders so they can put solutions into practice and to build markets where others ignore them. We need to build the investment and support system to help them go further, faster.