Monday, July 25, 2011

The WE Alliance for Women's Empowerment

This year, in the context of Ashoka's Changemaker's Week, I  have been honored to serve in a volunteer leadership role on one of the most exciting collaborations ever, with a fabulous group of women and men who have dedicated their lives to empowering women across the globe.

As I posted to the WE Alliance mailing list, here's a very brief report of what WE experienced together on the 20th (& 21st-22nd) of June 2011, at the Ashoka Changemaker's Week in Paris:

What we did:
  • We got to know each other a tiny bit with some personal sharing
  • We watched the presentation
  • We got bogged down in mapping the impact we each stand for, by philosophical discussions about gender equality versus women's empowerment
  • We wondered about who decided, and why it was decided that we needed to establish an alliance

  • We moved to another space and worked in a larger group with some fresh perspectives on thinking through the potential Who, What, How and Why of the WE Alliance idea
  • We went back to our "home" room and made a collective list of everything that needed to be decided upon in order to take the WE Alliance  forward (and also explored some concrete ways to influence Ashoka)
  • We created an exploratory committee to further develop a proposal around the issues identified and report back to the larger group with it in the Fall
  • We shared our reflections (after sleeping on it for a night) with each  other and some additional changemakers at a scheduled lunch meeting on the  following day
  • We shifted our focus to other worldchanging topics, but continued to share, discuss and take action on pieces of the WE Alliance idea informally with each other
  • We continued to identify ourselves and each other as part of WE in the halls of the Campus
  •  We became a magnet of attraction for the Campus facilitators (many of  whom are now itching to be a part of our unique energy)
  • We dared to dream that a next WE Alliance meeting - to ratify a WE Alliance Charter in revolutionary Egypt - could be possible in November of  this year.

What we discussed: 

There was a personal "To-Do" list proposed for all of us in the morning's presentation, which we were not able to revisit as planned (being distracted at the end by the whole other important discussion about how to influence Ashoka). When I revisited that To-Do list I found the following thoughts organizing themselves in my mind, as the main takeaways that I personally gathered from the entire WE process described above.

To Do #1 - 
Help define the DNA of your ideal community of collaborators
  • what differentiates the WE Alliance from other networks is that it seeks to gather innovators
  • the innovators should come from all silos in which innovators for Women's Empowerment are found
  • we need to ensure that we think carefully about including men
  • we need to balance between each member's individual and organizational identity & commitment
To Do #2 - 
Dare to dream about what we can achieve together
  • most of us were able to imagine working together in a variety of ways to achieve both simple (ie, knowledge & info sharing) and complex (ie, impact measurement & global policy influence) objectives
  • there was not much worry that we would find funding & other support to build useful structures and tools
  • A (doable)? next meeting has been proposed: Egypt in November, to take the work of the Exploratory committee forward
To Do #3 - 
Identify the value you can add to building the alliance
  • 19 individuals have put their names on the list to participate in an *exploratory committee* that will meet virtually in a series of calls and email discussions between now and the proposed November meeting. 
  • Our initial call has been scheduled for Wednesday, 27 July. 
  • The immediate issues for this group to explore will include those on the photo below,
  • We will also discuss some key questions about the November event that's been suggested.
    • Objectives of the meeting?
    • Who will attend?
    • Why it is important – why are we meeting?
    • What will we do afterwards?
    • (It's worth noting that I will propose some concrete suggestions recently developed by the Evolutionizing Innovation collective)
TO DO #4 - 
Get clear around what's in the WE Alliance for you
  • being part of a "sisterhood" emerged as a highly valued potential benefit for many participants (I wonder if/how we can develop that into a "siblinghood," since we know we want to also include men....)
  • Personal and professional access to a responsive high level global support network resonated as a valuable potential asset
  • we can organize our interaction & activity with "spaces" for the many sub-interest groups represented in the alliance
TO DO #5 - 
Think outside the box about how the WE Alliance can help us gain energy
  • this is the area where (for me) the most interesting ideas emerged "off-grid," outside of our larger group discussions
  • there is a tremendous amount of "energy work" happening among and around us, which seems (to me) to reflect the same energy that calls us to believe in the potential power of a global alliance of innovators for women's empowerment.
  • what gives us the feeling of "siblinghood" is the sharing of "together experiences" that energize us as individuals.
  • unleashing a cascade of innovation *might* occur if we work more deliberately to harmonize/connect the personal energy of the amazing innovators involved.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Part 4/4: A Social Business Plan for Serving the #socent Community - Transition support for late stage & serial social entrepreneurs

Earlier this year, I shared an idea for serving the #socent community on these blog pages. To my delight, an exciting group of allies, most of whom I have had the honor of working with in the past, formed and settled into a core group of 5 initial "builders" who are committed to working together to see the concept move forward. Our common objective is to support late stage social entrepreneurs, primarily through identifying opportunities to deploy their unique changemaking skills on cross-silo consultancy assignments for the Corporate sector, NGOs and multilateral institutions.

Amazingly, four of the 5 wonder-women in our initial group were able to meet up at the Ashoka Changemaker's Campus in Paris in late June.  It was awesome!

The #socent skills collective that Bonnie Koenig, Cheryl Cooper, Christelle van Ham, Jean Russell and I have been imagining together since February was on the program in the Alliances for Change track on the last day of the Changemaker's Campus event, which gave us an invaluable opportunity to get some early stage feedback on the concept from a live group of social entrepreneurs and consultants active in the social change space. Facilitator Alycia Lee from the HUB Amsterdam's "Collaboracy" initiative led us through a group dialogue and working group session with 17 participants entitled "Leveraging Professional Changemaker Values."

Gratitude abounds - not only for the session group's ability to "see" the utility and do-ability of what we were proposing, but especially for their willingness to help us start thinking through some of the aspects that merit the most careful thought.

My 3 main takeaways:

- The need for a professional support "bridge" to help social entrepreneurs transition between projects resonated very strongly with the social entrepreneurs in the room. Specifically, we learned that guidance from "others who have been there" would be welcome in transitioning out of the leading role in the structures they have created, and on toward developing the confidence to reinvest of themselves in building new initiatives that capitalize on what they have learned. The potential financial opportunity involved in consulting was important but not obviously the most important motivation for participating.

- There will be important work to do in helping social entrepreneurs to recognize and self-assess the concrete skills they have acquired during the course of careers which can be transferable to other professional contexts.

- On the flip-side of defining what social entrepreneurs have to offer, we will also have some interesting work to do on framing the deployment of their unique expertise into a (collaborative?) methodology based practice that can consistently offer unique and high quality value to the clients we consult for.

By the end of the session in Paris we had acquired some lengthy lists of names in 2 separate groupings. Not only did many of the changemakers in the room sign up to be informed when we start developing our database of deployable expertise, but a good number of participants also expressed an interest in exploring ways to work with us in helping to build it.

And voila - new minds gather, new hearts open, and a big idea moves forward toward co-created action. We will be exploring next steps with the expanded group of builders in the coming weeks.

If you have been following the development of this concept and would also like to explore becoming further involved, please let us know using the form the follows. As always, comments, questions and additional feedback most welcome in the comments section below.