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American Express Hosts First Boot Camp for Social Entrepreneurs

June 4, 2012


Last week, the American Express Office of Corporate Social Responsibility hosted its inaugural boot camp for social entrepreneurs with our nonprofit partner, Ashoka Changemakers. Dubbed the American Express Emerging Innovators Leadership Boot Camp, this three-day workshop was designed to identify emerging high potential leaders who represent the future of social change, and to support these leaders through skills-building, promotion and collaboration. This is a new initiative of our six-year-old program to train emerging leaders in the nonprofit and social sector.

Fifteen emerging innovators arrived on Wednesday from countries as diverse as India, Nicaragua, Kenya, Liberia, Cambodia, Ecuador, Colombia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and the United States to hear from thought leaders – including representatives from business, nonprofits, academia and other social enterprises , as well as to spend time sharing idea and information with their colleagues.

On their first full day, these emerging leaders heard from Leslie Berland, Senior Vice President for Digital Partnerships & Development at American Express, who was recently ranked number 6 on the list of the Top 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company. While Leslie was meeting with the group, she also accepted questions from an on-line audience using the Twitter hashtag #emerginginnovators.

In response to an on-line question whether it's "possible to be meaningful and personal when you have a big community following you," Leslie responded that "A small community of very engaged users is so much better than a huge community and no engagement."

The following day, Dan Schulman, Group President for Enterprise Growth at American Express, met with the emerging innovators and told them that "the biggest impediment to a company's future success is its previous successes because they try to re-create instead of innovate." "You can't steer a boat by its wake - you have to look forward to be relevant and successful," Schulman said.

The social entrepreneurs also heard from the following thought leaders, as well as from one another:
 

  • Diana Ayton-Shenker, Founding President at Fast Forward Fund and President, Global Momenta
  • Adam Braun, Founder and Executive Director, Pencils of Promise
  • Antony Bugg-Levine, CEO, Nonprofit Finance Fund
  • Dr. Nancie Zane, Affiliated Faculty, Organizational Dynamics, University of Pennsylvania School of the Arts and Sciences, and Partner, Praxis Consulting Group
  • Andrew Yang, Founder, Venture for America, and former President, Manhattan GMAT
     

On the last day of the Boot Camp, participants received intensive media training from Kelli Arena, journalist and former CNN correspondent, and Drew Levinson, correspondent for CBS News.

As a prelude to the Boot Camp, American Express and Ashoka hosted a Twitter chat under the hashtag #SocEntChat. During the course of the on-line discussion, 109 contributors posted 378 tweets to a potential audience of over 1 million users on the topic of The Challenges and Opportunities Faced by Social Entrepreneurs.

The first question posed was: What is the one skill every social entrepreneur must master?

Responses included (I've completed abbreviations like "ur" to "your"):
 

  • Stay flexible, always listen and mold your model to reflect market conditions
  • Social development must remain the focus of the business model
  • Endurance is key
  • Effective communication
  • The ability to build a team, and to build leaders out of followers
  • Trusting your gut
  • Patience
  • Empathy
  • From my (still young) experience, humility
  • Listening to clients/beneficiaries and then innovating to respond to their needs and aspirations more effectively
  • Resilience
  • No one person IS the answer nor does any one person HAVE the answers
  • Openness and excitement to learn how the world is changing and to adapt with good judgment
  • The best social entrepreneurs know when to back the train up and try something new
  • The ability to persist in the face of naysayers
     

As I mentioned that the beginning of this blog, this was a first effort to engage a different group of emerging leaders than those who are embedded in established nonprofit organizations, but the objective is the same: to help develop the next generation of leaders and to give them the skills to realize their potentials and their dreams.

Given the success of this augural effort, I'm sure we'll sponsor similar efforts in the future. In the meanwhile, thanks to our partner, Ashoka Changemakers, and congratulations to our first class of American Express Emerging Innovators Leadership Boot Camp graduates!

If you have a comment or question, please share it here.
 

P.S. Did you know that by the year 2020, Millennials (those born between 1981 and 2000) will make up 50% of the workforce in the United States and more than that in some other countries?

 

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