Participants of the American Express NYC Bootcamp

Participants of the American Express NYC Bootcamp

by Anesu Dunbar Masube (This Blog is originally posted on Ashoka Changemakers)

This September, 20 Emerging Leaders from across the United States converged in New York City for the American Express Emerging Innovators Bootcamp. The Bootcamp, developed and run by Ashoka Changemakers, is part of an annual series designed to advance the next generation of leaders in the social purpose sector. This fall, similarly tailored Bootcamps are also being held in Toronto, Dakar, Nairobi, and Mexico City.

As an Atlas Corps Fellow, I was privileged to be in the room for the three-day event, which brought together social purpose entrepreneurs, Ashoka Changemakers staff and several luminary leaders. Here are a few key take-aways.

“Consciousness and Connection”

The Bootcamp started with the participants getting to know and understand each other by describing the work they do and the values and visions they hold.

The first session of the day was on Inspiration, Risk-Taking and Resilience, moderated by Susan Davis, co-founder of BRAC, an international development organization that takes holistic solutions to poverty and adapts them on a global scale.  Davis shared her personal and professional leadership journey; the intimate and personal tone of her session highlighted how she leads from a place of vulnerability and authenticity. In her closing remarks, she said “The thing that every innovative leader needs to scale is consciousness and connection. Be a presence in community.”

During a Business Model Canvas 2.0 session, participants put their vision and approaches to the test, and analyzed their goals and the steps they need to take to achieve them.

Calling, Core and Capacity

Eric Dawson, Ashoka Global Fellow and Founder of Peace First, which supports young leaders committed to ending violence and building a more just society, led a powerful “Inspire Session” on what it means to lead a social venture and achieve impact. He echoed the theme of family and building relationships, saying: “It is through connection that we transform the world. Social change is all about connection and relations.”

Dawson advised participants to build initiatives that create movements, a following, culture change and most importantly buy-in from the society—find your calling, know your core, build your capacity.

Joshua David, President and CEO of the World Monuments Fund and founder of Friends of the High Line embodied this idea: in his session, he shared the fact that as a freelance writer living in Chelsea, he “never set out to be a changemaker” but his work to help create the Highline Park in Manhattan—a 1.45-mile-long green space on an old elevated train line—turned him into a champion for his community. He echoed another recurring theme of the day: there is no clear path for much of our work; we have to make our own way and work closely with others.

David also talked about fundraising, noting that it’s as much about the “tiny plant as it is about the big tree, building a system that allows it all to grow. Fundraising is not rocket science but it is a system, you have to plan in advance and keep doing it.”

Innovators were then divided into two groups for the afternoon workshops on growing ventures and building relationships with funders, mentors and partners. Sarah Voelkl, Lead Partnerships Development Manager at Ashoka Changemakers, and JJ Ramberg, host of MSNBC’s Your Businessmoderated the knowledge exchange workshops. These workshops created safe places to talk honestly about the challenges of scaling your enterprise, and building networks and partnerships.

In a workshop on the power of narrative for social change and community building, master social impact storyteller Alisa del Tufo explored ways of meaningful storytelling. Del Tufo is Founder of the Threshold Collaborative, which uses storytelling to lead to culture change. She shared data that confirms that it takes “hearing three times as many positive stories” to prompt people to act but that these stories can move people in ways that problems cannot. People “want to support initiatives that build the future; they want to see themselves as being meaningful contributors to society.” Her concrete supports to innovators in the room no doubt helped them rethink the way they tell the story of their work and impact.

Peer Exchange & Support

In the Bootcamps, innovators learn from experts but also from each other. For the final day of the New York City Bootcamp, participants broke into groups by sector, interest and stage of their initiatives. This allowed them to serve as advisors to each other and created a safe space to share their most significant challenges and solutions.

As a “fly on the wall” for this Bootcamp, I was energized and moved by the content and by the way participants built a community, a family even, of fellow innovators who are willing to support each other in their leadership journeys. It was such a powerful three days, marked by sincerity and in the words of one of the participants: “humility, synchronicity, intent and family-building.”