What do you get when you cross an education expert from South Africa, a gender activist from India, and a Disaster Risk Resilience (DRR) Management and Climate Resilience Specialist from Haiti? On Tuesday, October 23rd, these three distinguished Yale World Fellows came together to discuss key challenges and opportunities in social entrepreneurship. The Maurice R Greenberg World Fellows Program is an opportunity for disruptive thinkers from across the globe to join the Yale community for a 4-month residential program based out of the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs. During this time, they benefit from Yale classes, resources, and coaching, while the Yale community benefits from their global experiences and perspectives.
The three panelists are representative of their cohort in the diversity of their backgrounds. ElsaMarie D’Silva, Founder & CEO of Red Dot Foundation (Safecity), crowdsources data on sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces across India, Kenya, Cameroon and Nepal to inform the public, the government, and other stakeholders of risks and to advise meaningful change for increased safety. Ralph François, CEO & Founder of COCREAD, creates self-sustaining communities in Haiti using art and technology through a social enterprise and community incubator. The third panelist, Joy Olivier, is co-Founder and former Executive Director of Ikamva Youth, which has enabled youth across South Africa to pull themselves and each other out of poverty through education.
Despite this diversity of experience, the three panelists spoke cohesively about their interests and experiences creating grassroots foundations, systemic mindsets, and solutions for scale.
Moderated by Professor Tony Sheldon, Executive Director of Yale SOM's Program on Social Enterprise, Innovation, and Impact, ElsaMarie, Ralph, and Joy discussed the challenges associated with balancing grassroots-inspired organizations and expert opinions. Ralph recently launched a new initiative within COCREAD called “VR for Resilience,” which is a virtual reality platform focused on educating girls in disaster-prone areas about climate change and coding. He explained, “when women are doing well in Haiti, our economy is better. The best way I can get them to have a voice is to work from the bottom up. I want to solve a problem. Sometimes we over-value expertise.” Joy added that making expert opinions understandable and relatable to volunteers, activists and students can be a challenge in itself.
Another prominent point of discussion was around the need to express a systemic mindset. The panelists spoke of the opportunities and challenges related to operating outside of silos, in partnership with service providers, the government, and other organizations within their ecosystems. ElsaMarie is working with thousands of anonymous reporters and six police forces just within India to prevent sexual violence. “It's not an easy topic to go into a community and start talking about. We have no choice but to partner with others to go into the community and build relationships … without collaboration and partnerships at every level it's not possible to fund your program and succeed.” The panelists also spoke about the importance of political support and working alongside government officials, as well as the challenges related to the long timelines required to build relationships and the transience of political power.
All the panelists shared aspirations for scale even though they currently support organizations at very different stages. In Ralph’s case, he is seeking to prove COCREAD’s model in two additional communities prior to investing in rapid scale. ElsaMarie has incoming requests from all corners of the globe and is strategically considering social franchise models. Joy successfully led Ikamva Youth from a library in Khayelitsha to 17 sites across 5 provinces in South Africa. When asked about their decisions to scale versus remaining a powerful local actor, Joy responded, “[The decision to scale is] embedded in the mission: every learner in the country should be able to fulfill their potential … Because it's a model that can scale, there was that imperative. Our goal has enabled us to be creative and be careful with our resources. It wasn't a personal decision.” The discussion focused less on if to scale, and more on how and when to scale and the challenges associated with these decisions.
Despite the varied backgrounds and interests of the panelists, it was apparent that all faced similar challenges and held similar aspirations. These distinguished practitioners, across three different fields and continents, shared a commitment to changing their communities, their countries, and the world for the better.
By Georgia Sills