Cheryl L. Dorsey: A trailblazer in social innovation

What is the background to Echoing Green’s formation, and how has it evolved over the past three decades?

Echoing Green has been around since 1987, and we are one of the pioneers of the social innovation movement. We set out to be an early funder of emerging social entrepreneurs, as a place where folks with a lot of passion and amazing ideas could get support and an invitation to our family. We strive to be a soft place to land for those trying to change the world so that they can find comfort and care as they deal with all the slings and arrows that come with that work.

How has Echoing Green defined the paradigm of social innovation?

Echoing Green stands out for its deep belief that the work of social innovation has to be about the work of movement building. There are so many structural inequities when you’re trying to take down a precedent of extractive forces, and it’s the work of movements to deconstruct this. We need folks who are thinking about innovation not just as a force for good but also for justice. Supporting the work of social innovation at the intersection of social justice is something that’s become really important to Echoing Green’s evolution over the years, and we’re much more explicit in naming it.

Why do you believe it’s important for the work of social entrepreneurship to be supported?

Social entrepreneurship entails a blurring of sectoral boundaries, bringing together the state, civil society and the market to create new and shared public value. This is an alliance-based model for change. It’s the language and architecture of movements, which recognizes that everyone has a role to play. We believe that it’s critical to support this work, as it’s the collective that gets you to the level of change over time that’s needed.

How can social entrepreneurs play a part in responding to the crisis of COVID-19?

The historian, Frank Snowden, has written a lot about the role of pandemics across the course of history, and he rightly notes that they are transformational moments. Transformation can be negative and positive. There are lots of examples where tragic and terrible things came about as a result of pandemics, where particular groups were marginalized. But you also had moments where it opened up a space for societal transformation because pandemics simply reveal and amplify existing structural inequities.

Are you hopeful for the future?

Look, these are some tough times. But the fact that my country nominated a black woman to be a Vice President for the first time in our history is a remarkable example of the transformative moment that we’re in. It gives me hope, and we’ve just got to lean in and get this done. It’s the work we have to do around the world, letting social entrepreneurs be the architects of change that we know they are.

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