Using Social Innovation as a Tool for Social Change

with Dr. Cheryl Dorsey of Echoing Green

Today’s college students are a socially-conscious generation and their commitment to social good influences their personal decisions.

Dr. Cheryl Dorsey, President of Echoing Green, joins Tetiana Anderson to share how investing in transformational leaders can bring about social change and support them long into the future.

Posted on:

May 28, 2021

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Today's college students are Gen Z, our socially conscious generation, and their commitment to social good influences everything from their purchasing decisions to their career paths. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Using social innovation as a tool for social change -- That's the mission of a group called Echoing Green and their work to find and support people with the best ideas to positively impact the world. The organization's president is Dr. Cheryl Dorsey, and she joins me now to talk about all of this. And, Dr. Dorsey, thanks for being here.

Dorsey: Tetiana, thank you so much for having me. It's a true honor.

Anderson: So, I know that you and your organization say that this idea of spurring social change really has to come from the grassroots level. Why is that such an important place to begin all of this?

Dorsey: That's such an important question. And I will say that you can insert the word proximity or the phrase lived experience for the term of grassroots, really sort of acknowledging and recognizing the power of understanding context. And in this moment of racial reckoning, understanding that a race-informed view of problem analysis in communities is more important than ever, Tetiana. And when you sort of align this notion of context along with issues of power -- Who has it? How do you share it? How to seed it? This notion of really empowering local leaders in community, in context, to solve problems in the way they see fit, it's a concept whose time really has come.

Anderson: So, empowering local leaders to get the work done is essentially funding organizations that are close to the work that needs to be done. But I know that Echoing Green published findings that shows that that's not necessarily what's happening across the country. What are some of those findings, and why is this happening?

Dorsey: You are alluding to a seminal study that we did with our research partners at The Bridgespan Group. And we were really looking at the depth of racial inequities in philanthropic funding. And, you know, at Echoing Green, we're quite fond of saying talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. And in many ways, the finding of this research study, Tetiana, really brought that to the fore. So, if you know anything about Echoing Green, our annual global social business plan competition is one of the most competitive, rigorous social business plan competitions in the world. We ultimately accept less than 1% of those who apply to us for the Echoing Green fellowship. And what we did, looking longitudinally at the outcomes in terms of funding for our Black leaders versus our white leaders, was really quite stunning. And what we found was, three years after the fellowship, that white leaders in our fellowship program were raising 24% more in terms of revenue than Black leaders. But here's the rub. When you actually dug underneath that number and looked at the amount of unrestricted net assets available to Black leaders, it was 76% less than that available to white leaders. That disparity is terrible enough. It's inequitable enough. But when we recognize the value and utility of this unrestricted net assets, flexible capital, the capital that leaders use to dream, to plan, the cushion you need to prevent the buffeting that happens when you're trying to start an enterprise, the fact that Black leaders, leaders of color, were so hamstrung by this lack of access to capital really was indicative of many of the structural inequities and other barriers that they face as they're trying to build their social impact organizations.

Anderson: I've actually experienced the reach of one of the organizations that you support. It's called GirlTrek. I had the opportunity to walk with the women in Delaware, and I'd love for you to talk a little bit about what support from Echoing Green has meant for organizations like GirlTrek and others when it comes to their ability to scale so that they can really have a large impact.

Dorsey: I'm so happy to hear that, Tetiana. You're referencing one of the Echoing Green enterprises, GirlTrek, founded by two phenomenal social entrepreneurs, Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison. For those who might not be familiar with GirlTrek, it is actually the largest public health movement for Black women in this country, now having mobilized more than a million Black women to walk in this country. They have a really interesting model that combines organizing health advocacy and mobilizing women to walk through the lens of civil rights mobilization techniques. And it's really this stunning example of how social innovators are coming together to directly impact communities of color. It goes back to our earlier point about why it's important to invest in proximate leaders, leaders of color, who deeply understand the lived experiences of those they serve. Echoing Green had a particular role serving as an onramp to Vanessa and Morgan as they were launching GirlTrek. Combination of access to capital, access to our network, and connecting them into follow-on funding resources has really allowed them to scale quite rapidly. And I have to say, Tetiana, we couldn't be more proud of Vanessa and Morgan and GirlTrek.

Anderson: And, Cheryl, if people want to find out more about Echoing Green, what's your website? Where should they go?

Dorsey: Please take a look. Come check us out at;!!CQl3mcHX2A!QSxVc14cOHTn9tdVW5EbvFYD2iogNl50qFpN_reD-q4pMbpHkeUDZMZTFWHVCmZv1aE$ .

Anderson: Dr. Cheryl Dorsey of Echoing Green, thank you so much for being here.

Dorsey: It's a real pleasure. Tetiana. Thank you for having me.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, go to I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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