Seeds of Change: Echoing Green’s Investment in Innovation and Bold, New Ideas for Social Enterprise
It goes without saying that seed funding can be one of the most formidable hurdles to starting a new business. If you’re a social entrepreneur, that’s where an organization like Echoing Green can come in. “We believe that there should be few barriers for great ideas,” says Senior Vice President Lara Galinsky. “Echoing Green’s mission is to accelerate social change by identifying, educating and inspiring the next generation of talent to deliver bold solutions for social change.” Since 1987, Echoing Green (named after the William Blake poem, in case you were wondering) has awarded more than $28 million in start up capital to over 450 social entrepreneurs the world over.
This year up to sixteen of the boldest are bracing to win fellowships of $60,000 to $90,000 each, to be distributed over the course of two years, “enough for many of them to get launched or to provide themselves with a salary,” Lara explains. Echoing Green just announced its twenty-five finalists, drawn from a pool of well over a thousand applicants. They’ll travel to Echoing Green headquarters in New York in the next few weeks to pitch their ideas to a panel of experts. In mid-June, Echoing Green will announce its Class of 2010.
“We look for ideas that haven’t been tried before,” Lara says. “Our fellowship is about identifying incredible people, usually young people, who are the owners of these ideas, to solve these big problems.” This year, Lara saw some particularly interesting global trends. “One is that there are more for profits. Before 2007, in our twenty year history we only funded two for profits.” This year Lara counts at least six. She also sees a focus on energy products, and products designed to help the poor in developing countries “the bottom of the pyramid” as she calls it, as well as ways to develop economic solutions and workforce training in the ever-burgeoning area of waste.
In addition to the seed funding, fellows receive technical assistance and support from Echoing Green staff. “We are very focused on individual skill building,” Lara says. “We also organize conferences around the United States where we gather all of our fellows who were funded in the last four years and give them an opportunity to learn from one another.”
Echoing Green’s alumni are an impressive lot, from Wendy Kopp, who started Teach for America, to Alan Khazei, founder of City Year and Be the Change, and who ran for Ted Kennedy’s senate seat in Massachusetts, to Echoing Green’s own president Cheryl Dorsey. Perhaps not coincidentally, they’ve all been named to U.S. News and World Report’s America’s Best Leaders list.
“Echoing Green changed my life,” Cheryl says. “As a 1992 Echoing Green Fellow, I started the Family Van – which provides critical health education and care to residents of inner city Boston. Now, as the President of Echoing Green, I have the great honor to pay it forward and contribute to the success of the world’s most extraordinary promising social entrepreneurs.”
And as Lara sums it up: “If you can’t create a space for innovative ideas that a great leader can test out, and bold ideas and bold solutions to attack social problems like inequities in areas such as healthcare and poverty, how can you expect the world to improve?”
I’ll be following what Echoing Green and its fellows are up to, so be sure to check back in June when I’ll profile some of the winners just as soon as they’re announced. In the meantime, take a look Echoing Green’s video about the finalists.
You can also read profiles of Echoing Green fellows we have blogged about in the past:
Think you have what it takes to be an Echoing Green fellow? Click here to see about applying next year.
Echoing Green http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Q6WLvja4_c&feature=player_embedded
Suzi Schiffer Parrasch