Tag Archives: social innovation

There’s a first time for everything: the TA Initiative summit; Nairobi, Kenya

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Veronica Mahiga of Unilever and Charles Oboth of Gulu Agricultural Development Co

On May 14-16, Acumen held its first summit of social enterprises and global corporations to explore opportunities for collaboration aimed at expanding access to critical goods and services for poor communities in East and West Africa. The event was the formal kick-off of the Technical Assistance (TA) Initiative, a partnership between Acumen and Dow launched as a Commitment to Action at the Clinton Global Initiative.

The event in fact represented many firsts:

  • The first time Acumen had launched a formal effort to provide technical assistance grants to social enterprises
  • The first time Acumen had partnered with a network of corporations on technical assistance opportunities
  • The first time we brought together leading corporations and pioneering social enterprises to identify common ground and complementary strengths in the development of more inclusive and sustainable markets. Image

Godfrey Mwindaare of Acumen, Dorcas Onyango of The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, and Yulanda Chung of Standard Chartered

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Ross McLean of Dow Chemical at site visit with Acumen Investee, Sanergy

Though the TA Initiative Summit ended on May 16, it has left us with great momentum and some valuable insights. The Summit was truly, in the Acumen spirit, an experiment—a chance to learn by doing. It required a leap of faith from the attendees, from the ten social enterprises that joined from across East and West Africa, and the corporate participants who joined from Michigan, Johannesburg, Dubai and London. The corporate participants came for a chance to learn and identify new opportunities for collaboration between corporations and social enterprises and left filled with ideas for working together. The enterprises were given an opportunity to network with potential corporate partners, and apply for technical assistance grants earmarked for this group.

What became evident during the summit was the desire of the 40 or so participants to make the most of the time together. It was palpable during the active break-out discussions, the buzz in the room during breaks, and the follow-up from many of the participants since. Though the most important indicator for success will be what happens after the summit, we have already heard great feedback from participants that the opportunity to explore partnership opportunities across the social enterprise and corporate worlds was a unique and valuable one. Dozens of commitments to follow up were created at the summit, and we will be going through them and following up with participants in the days and weeks to come.

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Alden Zecha of Sproxil, adding a new follow-up idea to the wall.

Our tremendous thanks go to all who joined, who took a chance to explore a critical new frontier in the spread of solutions to global challenges. And especially to Dow Chemical, our partner in the Technical Assistance Initiative, for taking this journey with us.

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Eric Martin of Cambridge Leadership Associates, the author, and Bo Miller of Dow Chemical

– Yasmina Zaidman is Acumen’s Director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships

This blog first appeared on the Acumen blog

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Filed under Innovation, Partnerships, Patient Capital, Social Impact, Sustainability

Michele Jolin – A policy shaper and lifelong mentor

Today I continue my series on Celebrating a Whole Life, which shares what inspires me about women I’ve met who live their lives creatively at a time when we often end up stuck in a conversation about trade-offs vs. having it all. Anne Marie Slaughter’s article on the topic from a few months ago again stirred the pot, yielding what I thought was a welcome flurry of conversations about the choices women make and the context in which they make those choices. I won’t dive into what I thought about the article, but I will say that I believe we are just at the beginning of a period when we are able to recognize versions of success that defy the traditional expectations of both professional and personal achievement. When we measure achievement based on things like meaning, fulfillment, purpose, and yes, happiness, and not only on title, position, or the ability to sacrifice all for family. Each post in this series is a celebration of women who are making bold choices and doing so in a way that is imbued with a true spark of joy.

Michele Jolin was perhaps the first woman I thought of when I decided to write this series. She joined Ashoka about a year after I did over a decade ago, and arrived just after having served as the Chief of Staff for President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors. It was the most impressive title I had ever heard, and I knew before I even met Michele that she was a star. Once I did meet her, she exploded any notions I had of what it means to be a very smart, very accomplished, very-important-person. She was ridiculously warm, accessible, and committed to sharing her own stories (of success and failure) to help women that were coming after her to navigate both professional and personal pathways.

I was working as the associate for Ashoka’s Environmental Innovations Initiative at the time, and her job was to lead a parallel effort in education, an issue about which she was passionate.  I immediately sought out an opportunity to work with her on a gathering of Ashoka Fellows from around the world all focused on education which would take place in South Africa. I saw it as both an opportunity to get out into the world and close to the Ashoka social entrepreneurs, but also as a chance to learn from Michele.

Throughout this project, and particularly during out time together in South Africa, I saw in Michele someone who was at ease with her own leadership – able to respectfully facilitate a group of strong-willed social innovators with diverse opinions about how to improve education and protect children,  and then take insights from those discussions and push them to the highest levels of policy change. She blended hard and soft, showing the patience required by this diverse community of Ashoka Fellows and the discipline to move things forward when needed.

I have tried to emulate these qualities since, but the greatest lessons I learned from Michele came not from a few months together planning a gathering of social entrepreneurs. They have come from having stayed in touch for over thirteen years, and being privileged to have watched her make choices about her life, career and family that have been a model and an inspiration to me. She is someone who truly deserves to be celebrated for building a whole life when at every moment she has been faced with tremendous opportunities and has chosen carefully and wisely in order to create a mosaic of priorities that fit together beautifully.

When I first met her, she seemed to be at a critical juncture, shifting from a period of prioritizing her career (which had obviously paid off) to prioritizing her personal life and her desire to start a family. At her wedding, and then later meeting her first child, I saw in her a wisdom to go after those things she valued with focus and passion, whether it was an opportunity to shape economic and social policy, or start a family. I observed with keen interest when she developed a flexible schedule at Ashoka, allowing her to continue to have an impact on an issue that mattered to her, while being present for her family the way she wanted to be.

When I had my first child, she came to see me with her three children in tow, and I was again inspired by her willingness to embrace the chaos of a large family while still relentlessly pursuing opportunities to shape policy and champion social innovation.

I was perhaps never more inspired by her, though, than when she told me she had decided to take one year away from work at a moment when the demands of her life made her feel like she needed to make a shift. Her clarity and confidence to do what was right for her and her family, trusting that she would pull all the pieces together again when the time was right, has stayed in my mind as a hallmark of what it takes to follow a unique path in life.

Michele is someone who has worked on both the domestic and international fronts at the highest levels to create lasting positive change. She has also stood as someone who fearlessly makes her family a priority, and she has been a friend and a role model that has continuously opened up new worlds of possibilities for me. For that and so much more, I celebrate her.

Below are Michele’s responses to my five standard questions:

1.       How do you define success?

One word: Balance.

2.       What is your greatest struggle?

Guilt:  Feeling guilty about never having enough time for friends, kids, family or work.

3.       What are you proudest of?

My 3 children.

4.       Who inspires you, in terms of how they live their life?

My 3 children. My oldest because she is determined, big-hearted and brave; my middle because he is imaginative, free-spirited and fearless; my youngest because she is strong, resilient, fun-loving, uninhibited and hilarious.  Also, Ashoka Fellow Sister Cyril Mooney (and many other social entrepreneurs around the world) because she is optimistic, effective and passionately focused on making life better for the most vulnerable children.

5.       If you had a free 8th day of the week, what would you do with it?

Sleep.

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Filed under Celebrating a Whole Life, Innovation, Social Impact, Work and Life