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Boot Camps for Emerging Innovators

October 15, 2013

Last year, we partnered with Ashoka to create the American Express Emerging Innovators Leadership Boot Camp, an effort to provide leadership training to a group of young social entrepreneurs who had not previously been included in our American Express Leadership Academy programs.

Working with Ashoka, three objectives were established for the new program:

  • To increase innovation and engagement from emerging leaders in creating lasting, impactful change;
  • To connect change agents with each other, immediately creating a dynamic, high-quality network of emerging leaders who are passionate about creating change at the local, national or global level; and
  • To offer practical strategies and tools developed through Ashoka's 30 years of experience and to enhance innovators' success in the field.

In the first year of the program, 15 participants from around the globe were chosen from Ashoka's community of tens of thousands of social innovators, Ashoka Changemakers, for a three-day training session in New York City. A full roster of speakers, including Dan Schulman, Group President of Enterprise Growth, and Leslie Berland, Senior Vice President of Digital Partnerships and Development – both from American Express -- interacted with the participants and shared their practical advice and business strategies.

This year, we expanded the program to include Boot Camps in Toronto and Mexico City as well as New York. Josh Silverman, President of Consumer Services at American Express, was one of the featured speakers at the New York Boot Camp, and other American Express people participated in the Boot Camps in Toronto and Mexico City.

Also new this year was an effort to use technology and social media to impact a larger group of emerging leaders:

  • Ashoka featured interviews with all 45 participants (15 per location) on its website. To date, the Emerging Innovators posts have reached over 10,000 individuals, and they will continue to serve as resource that social entrepreneurs from around the globe can access at any time.
  • The web site also featured longer sessions learned from each Boot Camp, and thought leaders who shared key insights ranging from work-life balance, tips on hiring, organizational culture and hybrid models. Featured speakers included Tonya Surman, Founder of the Centre for Social Innovation (Canada), Alexander Eaton, Founder of Sisterna Biobolsa (Mexico) and Molly Baker, Founder of Girls On the Run (United States).
  • Ashoka hosted two Twitter chats (#SocEntChat) – one in English and one in Spanish -- to introduce the 45 Emerging Innovators. 233 contributors tweeted 730 messages reaching over 900,000 possible Twitter accounts.
  • Finally, Ashoka hosted a Google Hangout with seven Emerging Innovators from Mexico, Canada and the United States. The one-hour conversation focused on scaling and lessons learned around growing an organization including, how to go from a 5 to 15 person staff, letting go when you hire on, and creating structure for volunteers.

Evaluation is a critical component of this initiative. When the 45 participants in the three programs were asked how successful the Boot Camps were at facilitating their development as Changemakers, the average response was 3.47 out of a possible 4.00. Likewise, participants rated the leadership development aspect of the Boot Camps at 3.05 out of 4.00 and the innovation component as 3.15 out of 4.00.

Comments from participants on what they liked most about the Boot Camps included:

  • "Meeting with other innovators; being in a supportive environment."
  • "I enjoyed being able to learn from each other's experiences."
  • "The practical tools we gained."
  • "Loved the component that focused on human element of social entrepreneurship."
  • "Inspired me to hustle."

What the participants liked least included:

  • "Not having sufficient time to share group work."
  • "Not enough time."
  • "Too much programming."
  • "Lack of deep problem solving."
  • "Short time slots for workshops."

So, clearly we need to examine the length of the program and the amount of material that's included in each three-day session. But, overall we were pleased with the evaluations for this first-time effort, and we plan to continue these Emerging Innovators Boot Camps with Ashoka in 2014 as an integral part of our American Express Leadership Academy program.

If you have a comment or question about this program, please share it with us by clicking here and sending us a message. Alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and comment there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog with colleagues and friends.

P.S. Did you know that Ashoka was an Indian emperor in the Maurya Dynasty who was known as a philanthropic administrator? His name means "painless, without sorrow" in Sanskrit.


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