In Defense of Mundane Sounding Jobs: A Quest for Meaningful Careers
Annie Jeong ’19 and Ema Yamamoto ’19
Annie Jeong ’19 and Ema Yamamoto ’19 recounted their experiences working for institutions—Williams College and the City of Philadelphia in Annie and Ema's case, respectively—and how they chose to pursue mundane sounding jobs. They discussed the values and questions they have used to guide their careers, how they sometimes avoided answering the question "so what do you do?" at dinner parties and made the case for how boring-sounding jobs can actually have an incredible amount of impact.
Mission Critical: Reconceptualizing ‘Strategy’ in a Nonprofit Context
Sam Linden ’19
Sam Linden ’19, a joint degree student at Yale SOM and the School of Drama, discussed his experiences working in strategic planning for a mission-driven organization in the education space (Christina Seix Academy) and addressed some of the guiding questions that have helped him map his career.
Pursuing Big Scale in Health and the Environment
Sarah Mandlebaum ’19
Sarah Mandlebaum ’19 spoke about her experience working on food issues—ranging from her nonprofit experience around providing food to low income individuals while addressing food waste to her time working as a sustainability consultant for large consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies.
Addressing Climate Change through Market Forces & Public-Private Partnerships
Jesse Lazarus ’19
Promising initiatives to address climate change are being driven by the private sector and supported by state and local governments. In the U.S., approximately 42% of all energy produced is used in buildings, more than is consumed by either the transportation or industrial sectors. Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing leverages private capital and local government legislation to promote renewable and energy efficiency improvements in buildings. Jesse Lazarus ’19 spoke about his experience working at the largest PACE-dedicated fund this past summer.
Unpacking Race and Privilege in Global Health
Gillian Leitch ’19
Gillian Leitch ’19 has worked on reproductive and maternal health issues, polio eradication initiatives, and vaccine development/delivery. She has experience working in the U.S., Uganda, Indonesia, and India. Gillian discussed her career trajectory and how she has grappled with the questions of identity, power, and race in the field of global health. She explored questions she has asked herself, including: ‘What does it mean to be a foreigner working abroad on international development issues?’ and ‘Acknowledging my position of privilege, how can I most effectively contribute to global health efforts?’
Gabby Capone ’19 MBA/JD
From agencies to national governments, from city councils to multilateral organizations, public institutions are openly experimenting with new methods to govern better. CrowdLaw is but one of many exciting developments in the field of governance innovation. Gabby Capone ’19 MBA/JD spoke about her work at The Governance Lab at NYU, which helps institutions to better use open data and collective intelligence. She also shared some success stories in the field—and some not-so-successful stories—and the practices that contributed to those outcomes.
Working in and for Art Museums
Michael Nock ’19
Michael Nock ’19 presented on his experiences working in and for institutions that collect, preserve, and display interpretations and depictions of culture—art museums. In addition, Michael also discussed broader themes of gender and class in the art world, and how it has the potential to, but sometimes falls short of, weaving diverse narratives into a cohesive cultural representation.
Katie Thatcher ’19
Katie Thatcher ’19 discussed her experiences in fundraising—both the joys of a successful campaign, and the difficulties associated with raising these funds. Katie previously worked as a Department Manager for EarthRights International where she supervised capital campaigns and a diversity of fundraising initiatives.
Song Kim ’20
Song Kim ’20 explored the values that have guided and continue to guide her career, including her time working for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)—an organization working at the intersection of direct services, impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to secure human rights for all. Song discussed her experiences litigating cases to hold bad actors accountable for using forced labor and using the law to support grassroots activism and coalition building.
From Ebola to Baby Clothes
Melissa Mazzeo ’20 MBA/MEM
Melissa Mazzeo ’20 MBA/MEM spoke about her circuitous career path, from her beginnings in global health and the international development field to her triumphant return to her one true passion, used clothing. Over the course of her career, Melissa has helped to develop the national Ebola response strategy in Sierra Leone, led communications for a leadership startup in South Africa, raised money for an HIV organization in Uganda, and wrote grants for a global health nonprofit in Boston. She is now working on a secondhand children's clothing startup, Hand Me Up, which she plans to lead full time after graduating.
How to Do Good, Stay Well, and Fix the News
Hannah Stonebraker ’19
Hannah Stonebraker ’19 discussed her passion for information access and women’s empowerment, and her career transition from international development to digital news media. Hannah's work includes Program Management at the International Women’s Media Foundation, funding and supporting women journalists worldwide, and leading the African Great Lakes initiative to build a new body of news reporting out of 7 countries in east and central Africa. She spoke about the tension of being effective, taking care of yourself, and achieving scale in your impact.
Designing for Systemic Social Change
Rakesh Saha ’19
Rakesh Saha ’19 spoke about his diverse career experiences working towards improving the quality of life for children in shelter homes across India. Throughout his career Rakesh has assumed multiple roles, including as a volunteer teacher, community organizer, program director, and currently as a board member of a nonprofit. In this talk, Rakesh explored how these diverse roles have allowed him to appreciate the systemic nature of the problems he seeks to tackle and shared his perspectives on designing long-term solutions to tackle systemic issues.
Lessons from Veronica Colondam and YACB on Advancing Social Entrepreneurship in Indonesia
Founder and CEO of YCAB Foundation
The first Social Impact Lab of 2018-2019 kicked off in September with Veronica Colondam, Founder and CEO of YCAB Foundation. Colondam, a champion of social entrepreneurship in Indonesia and around the world, spoke about how her organization, YCAB, has evolved from a nonprofit to a social enterprise, and how she is shaping the policy environment in Indonesia for others to learn from her experience.
In her presentation, she spoke about how YCAB is tackling youth development, how the organization manages the classic dilemma of depth versus breadth, and how the social entrepreneurship sector in Indonesia is shifting.
Social entrepreneurship is a vibrant field in Indonesia; there are more than 820 social enterprises developing creative ways to improve economic, agricultural, educational, and health outcomes. In analyzing Indonesia’s social entrepreneurship landscape, you cannot get too far before coming across Veronica Colondam’s name, whose organization, YCAB, has been a model for other social enterprises since 1999.
YCAB was established to 1999 to tackle two challenges related to youth development – economic empowerment and education. Colondam sought to link inclusive finance with education and job creation to improve outcomes specifically for Indonesia’s urban poor. Across the country, almost one of every two individuals lives on less than a dollar a day, and school dropout rates remain stubbornly high. YCAB originally started as a nonprofit that ran an integrated program on education, healthy livelihoods, and job placement. The organization iterated over the years to expand its revenue sources and services to include microfinance, women’s empowerment, and vocational training.
Their theory of change is embedded in the principle that “development is never overnight,” as Colondam says, and follows a closed-loop model that is driven by social investment. YCAB uses the social investment it receives, which can take the form of donations, loans or capital, to provide mission-driven microfinance to enable families to keep their children in school, which can in turn build a self-reliant next generation. YCAB focuses not only on youth, but on parents and especially mothers who are a key determining factor in ensuring that children stay in school.
After almost 20 years of operation, YCAB is now focused on how they can continue to expand their impact as a social enterprise. From Colondam’s perspective, it is important that they focus on deepening their impact and double down on their mission to help youth in urban areas advance their education. YCAB is also focused on expanding their microfinance program, especially for strong performers. The organization is testing larger loans of up to $1,500 combined with finance and business skills training.
For Colondam, the next phase is not just about scaling YCAB’s work, but also creating a supportive policy and funding environment for other Indonesian social entrepreneurs. Despite the proliferation of social enterprises across the country, organizations still face barriers such as restrictive nonprofit law, difficulties attracting talent, and a lack of funding streams for small and medium sized enterprises. Colondam has been working to change the overarching system through a new piece of legislation, the Indonesian National Entrepreneurship Law. This law would formally define social entrepreneurship and lay the groundwork for additional regulations within the tax code for social enterprises.
This multi-faceted approach is core to Colondam’s work and ethos. She summed up her talk by highlighting three books that have guided her through her journey as a social entrepreneur: “Finding Your True North” by Bill George, “Grit” by Angela Duckworth, and “Option B” by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. She encouraged students to find their true passion, stick with it even when the going gets tough, and to always have an option B.
Iqbal Addresses Students about Grameenphone and the Value of Frugality to Inspire Innovation
Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, at the Harvard Kennedy School
In October, Social Impact Lab was pleased to host Iqbal Quadir, Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, at the Harvard Kennedy School. Quadir addressed students about the role of entrepreneurship in creating prosperity.
Quadir was an early visionary who believed mobile phones could be productive tools for Bangladesh’s rural poor. In 1996 he founded Grameenphone, which is now the country’s largest telecom operator and serves 99% of Bangladeshis. The founding of Grameenphone reflects his philosophy that contrary to popular belief, low-income countries need tools that increase productivity more than they need capital. He stressed that capital constraints can actually encourage creativity and innovation.
Quadir referenced the history of Bangladesh to support this point. He explained that the country once sustained an opulent economy that supported the Mughal Empire. Quoting Adam Smith, he asserted that this was possible without external aid because of the population’s work ethic and the opportunities available to progress. While Bangladesh’s large population is typically framed as a barrier to economic development, Quadir believes that Bangladesh’s people are its primary economic resource. With the right tools, Bangladeshis could be more productive, bolster their purchasing power, grow the economy, and increase the country’s GDP.
Motivated by this belief, Quadir sought opportunities that could transform Bangladesh’s productivity with minimal need for capital. With lessons from his own life, including an experience when the breakdown of a computer network interrupted his work, as well as insights from Adam Smith about inland navigation facilitating economic growth, Quadir realized that connectivity leads to productivity. Connectivity allows markets to grow as people benefit from the efficiencies of division of labor and specialization.
This conclusion allowed Quadir to foresee the power of mobile phones in the early 1990s. At that time, the prices of digital technologies were already falling thanks to technological innovation. Moreover, the mobile phone was cheaper than a computer and did not require users to be literate. With the expectation that further technological advances and economies of scale would continue to reduce costs, Quadir realized that mobile phones could provide the ubiquitous reach and connectivity that Bangladesh needed. He partnered with the Grameen Bank to leverage its network in rural areas and later included the Asian Development Bank, International Finance Corporation, and CDC Group. From its inception, Grameenphone made a deliberate effort to reach the rural poor by allowing people to purchase phones on microcredit and by using labor-intensive rather than capital-intensive operations.
As of 2018, Grameenphone has over 70 million subscribers and generates $4 billion in revenues. Having started with an initial investment of $120 million, it has spent $3.5 billion on telecommunication infrastructure. This, Quadir stated, is like Microsoft and Facebook, which grew into massive corporations from modest capital investments. Between 2000 and 2018, the GDP of Bangladesh grew by over 440% and Quadir believes that people’s increasing connectivity has played a significant role.
Given international expenditure on aid for low-income countries, Quadir’s concept of frugality could seem surprising. Poverty in many low-income countries seems like a trap, in which lack of capital leads to low productivity. Quadir believes capital can be channeled more efficiently to the right stakeholders at the right time. Specifically, he stated aid should be directed towards entrepreneurs and not governments, which could spend inefficiently or indulge in corruption. In this way, innovation and productivity can be incentivized to enable low-income countries to develop.
Stuart Yasgur on Ashoka’s Mission for Market-Based Solutions
Head of Ashoka’s Financial Services
In November, Stuart Yasgur, head of Ashoka’s Financial Services, shared Ashoka’s theory of change with Yale students during Social Impact Lab. Yasgur focused on social innovations that use market forces to address social challenges at large scale.
Ashoka is a social impact firm based in Washington D.C. that supports entrepreneurs who have potentially world-changing ideas and a track record for success. In its early years, Ashoka coined the term “social entrepreneur” and it continues to help define the impact landscape today. Rather than focusing on the tools used to make change, such as for-profit or nonprofit business models or social movements, Ashoka challenges its fellows with a more fundamental question: “How can we harness the power of markets to improve peoples’ lives?” Ashoka Fellows create structural solutions to social problems; doing so is extremely challenging and as a result only thirty-three fellows are selected each year.
With over $500 million invested to date, Ashoka has propelled considerable change. Ashoka’s theory suggests that remodeling market structures is the key to lasting social change because it will incentivize behaviors that lead to the kinds of sustained outcomes that changemakers seek.
Stuart believes that markets are an important tool that create economic activity and surplus and can also be designed to yield the results that social impact proponents pursue. While controversial, this theory suggests that true change happens not through innovations within current market structures, but rather by innovating on the structure of the market itself.
Stuart uses a sports analogy to convey this idea. “Imagine a soccer field.” Based on current “rules,” the middle of the field will eventually become trampled and the grass will die. The current solution is to ask people to sacrifice the expedient goal for the sake of the grass in the middle by running in circles around the center of the field. But there’s a better solution than creating conflicting incentives. Instead, by moving the two goals to the far side corners of the field the players run along a new strip of land without having to make tradeoffs. If necessary, the goal posts can be moved again. Similarly, the “rules” that define markets incentivize different behaviors, and right now a lot of solutions create a second bottom line that conflicts with the first. “We can do better,” Stuart says. He wants to take advantage of the incentive system that works so well - move the goals themselves - and create one bottom line that serves both needs at the same time without negative externalities.
Ultimately, Ashoka refers to this kind of changemaker as an “economic architect,” because Ashoka Fellows are redesigning markets to align strategic advantage and value creation. So far, they’ve had powerful impacts. Fifty percent of Ashoka Fellows affect national policy within five years of becoming a Fellow, and many have changed the way a portion of the market works in their home countries. If this trend continues, communities around the world may see a new market model that hybridizes the outcomes changemakers seek with market-incentivized behaviors. Rather than needing to be corrected through external pressures, new markets will be designed with a process for change built into them.
Given the growing demand for social issues to be incorporated into global markets, one can expect to see more from Ashoka Fellows in the future. For those looking to track, participate, and even create these innovations themselves, Stuart advises looking towards “major deltas” of change in the way people are living and working together, as these will be key opportunities for structural innovations.
Grow from Values: Lessons in Sustainability and Growth at Patagonia
Director of Philosophy at Patagonia and resident fellow at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment
In January, Social Impact Lab featured Vincent Stanley, Director of Philosophy at Patagonia and resident fellow at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment. His talk focused on the evolution of Patagonia’s culture, its recent stepped-up activism and public engagement, and what it sees as the responsibilities of business in a time of environmental and social crisis.
The world is faced with a two-pronged crisis from environmental devastation and social inequality, according to Stanley, and all actors—governments, businesses, and non-governmental organizations—must play a role in response, not only by reducing their harm, but also by working proactively to restore the planet.
Stanley shared his thoughts on Patagonia’s evolution towards sustainability and environmental activism, the role of business in improving the planet, and challenges for the next generation of business leaders. Though widely recognized today for its leadership in corporate sustainability and activism, Patagonia wasn’t always an environmentally-minded enterprise. Stanley described early conflicts among players at Patagonia; finance teams aimed to maximize the bottom line, product designers focused on creating best-in-class gear, and tree huggers lobbied for grassroots environmental organizations. But after switching to organic cotton in its apparel 20 years ago, the company began a gradual evolution, with questions about the impact of its materials leading to reflection about Patagonia’s role in soil degradation and its effects on animal welfare, farming communities, and worker welfare.
Today, Stanley says, sustainability is a shared commitment at Patagonia and is adopted as a responsibility throughout the company. “If I’m a product manager at Patagonia now,” Stanley describes, “I know that I have to meet my sales goals, my marketing goals… but I also know that I have to make more of my styles fair trade certified, I know that I have to eliminate the toxic water repellent that we use on nearly all of our garments. I know that if I’m making fleece then I have to address the problem of micro-pollution. I’m responsible for that, and my team is responsible for that.”
Sustainability at Patagonia is multi-faceted. First, it aims to do less environmental harm with its products, moving to more sustainable sources and suppliers. But not only does the company want to cause less harm, it also takes seriously its commitment to restore the planet. For Patagonia, that means engaging with suppliers to improve pay and labor practices, working to replenish soil and lands, and taking a leadership position in industry by partnering with other firms to establish the Fair Apparel Coalition and lobbying the federal government to protect public lands.
Though Stanley views Patagonia’s actions as worthwhile and necessary on their own merit, they often contribute to the company’s bottom line as well. “When we do the right thing,” Stanley says, “we often have some business benefit.” Actions that may have initially appeared risky, like the move to organic materials or the company’s activist stances, have engendered customer loyalty, improved employee engagement and retention, and sparked innovation.
Stanley’s experience at Patagonia yielded several insights for the Social Impact Lab audience on using business as a force for social and environmental good. First, it’s critical that growth be rooted in values, not in conflict with them, and that a firm’s actions be consistent with its values from an early stage. Socially-minded companies must also build a culture that reinforces values—at Patagonia, the company’s environmental commitment has created positive feedback loops, with customers, NGOs, and the world at large holding it accountable, instilling in the company the confidence needed to pursue further environmental initiatives.
On a personal level, Stanley described the importance of taking action in response to the massive contemporary crises: “at some point, we’re all going to face very baldly that there is a real environmental and social crisis, that it is going to affect the way we live in the world,” Stanley said. “The best way to deal with that – the most human way to deal with that – to feel agency and to feel a sense of hope and responsibility, is to actually take those problems on rather than push them to the side.”
Stanley concluded his remarks with a call to action for students: “I think it’ll be your work, and the work of everyone who’s involved in business or NGOs or government, to figure out how to meet our needs by making things that are not bad for the planet, and in a way that creates positive good… I think that’s the task ahead.”
Ann Mei Chang on Applying “Lean” Innovations for Social Good
Ann Mei Chang
In April, Social Impact Lab was pleased to feature Ann Mei Chang, a leading expert on social innovation who brings together unique insights from her extensive work across the tech industry, nonprofits, and the U.S. government.
“How many of you feel that despite our enormous efforts, we’re just not making enough of a dent on problems that plague our society?"
The majority of hands in the room flew up.
In her Social Impact Lab talk, Ann Mei Chang – author of “Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good” shared that we need to think differently to solve problems in the social sector. Upon pivoting from a career in technology that included stints at Google, Apple, and Intuit to the nonprofit and government sectors, she was astounded by the scope of the problems she faced. “We can draw inspiration from best practices for innovation that come from Silicon Valley,” she said. “But innovating for social good is much harder. How can we adapt these tools and techniques for social impact?”
In her most recent role as Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director of the U.S. Global Development Lab at USAID, Chang dedicated herself to exploring this question to accelerate impact and scale in international development. Her book’s philosophy draws from the business methodologies initially popularized by Eric Ries’ “The Lean Startup,” which stress the importance of rapid experimentation and learning. However, these innovations that work well in the private sector don’t seamlessly translate to the social sector. Funding is often highly restricted, impact can take a long time to realize, and experimentation can seem irresponsible in situations where organizations are working with highly vulnerable populations. “Social sector leaders are planning based on constraints,” said Chang. “Within these constraints, what can we do?" Three principles – (1) think big, (2) start small, and (3) seek impact – can help provide a framework for social sector organizations to move past these constraints and make larger strides towards fulfilling their missions.
(1) When it comes to thinking big, Chang recommends setting an audacious goal and planning based on the needs of the world. For example, Earn.org, a nonprofit that leverages financial technology to empower low-income Americans to take charge of their financial lives, set a goal of reaching one million people even when they were only serving 7,000 individuals. Within its first year, the organization built an online platform and reached 85,000 people. If they hadn’t set an ambitious goal at the start, they would never have grown their impact twelve-fold in just one year.
(2) On the point of starting small, Chang believes that social sector organizations need to get their people out into the complex environments they work in as quickly as possible to learn at a small scale, experiment, and see what works. Topia, a company that seeks to bring the convenience of e-commerce shopping to underserved populations in Kenya, took just a few days to create an early version of their product catalogue before testing it door-to-door and talking to local households. By acting fast instead of waiting to perfect their operation, they quickly learned that the most commonly requested product was cement - something they never expected - and that people would in fact use the catalogue. These experiments significantly shaped their business by allowing them to see how people actually behave.
(3) As for seeking impact, it’s important for organizations to hold themselves to a high bar. “We should not be satisfied with making some impact and some good, but we should equally be as rigorous about the scale of impact of our work,” said Chang. One way that organizations can tactically do this is by using unit measures - not absolute numbers - to measure their impact (e.g. cost per person served, rather than 500,000 people served). In their pursuit of 100% of students graduating from college, Summit Public Schools focused on rapid iterations of their internal processes and cultures. By varying the mix and range of teaching techniques used, running frequent assessments, and feeding these results back into their system on a weekly basis to determine what they’d do the following week, they were able to refine their approach and break down the correlators that led to educational achievement.
Chang concluded by sharing her thoughts on how to begin systematizing innovations in the social sector. Gaining the necessary buy-in and setting up innovation labs or departments within organizations, such as USAID’s innovation lab, are an exciting first step to show the potential of what innovations can start to produce. For Chang and many others tackling social innovation work, the next challenge is determining how to mainstream these innovative practices.