Millennials: The Rise of the Everyday Changemaker

Nearly a decade ago, the Case Foundation declared that the millennial generation (born 1980 to 1999) would fundamentally “change how change is made.” And, indeed they have. Whether it was breaking down traditional organizational structures; leveraging technology to disrupt fundraising, volunteerism and activism; modernizing social networks; or demanding new norms for transparency and impact from organizations; this generation has reshaped the social sector in ways that we could not have anticipated. Now, having disrupted the social sector, millennials no longer fit the traditional definition of a changemaker.

Today, the Foundation in partnership with Achieve, released the final installment of the 2016 Millennial Impact Report, which sought to understand whether a Presidential election context would change how millennials engaged with the causes they support. The Report is part of the larger, and longer term Millennial Impact Project, which seeks to amplify the voices of the millennial generation—more than 75,000—through research, discussions and convenings.

Our hypothesis going into the 2016 Report was that the presidential election would, in fact, change how millennials engaged in and with social causes. But—spoiler alert—after three waves of quantitative surveys and a deeper qualitative post-election survey, the results show it did not. A little counter-intuitive, right? This may have been our favorite Report yet exactly for that reason. The results seemed to challenge everything we thought we knew about this “next greatest generation” of changemakers.

Several top-line surprises from the data, include:

  • Millennials reject labels, and specifically the term “activist;”
  • Millennials identify more as “conservative-leaning” than “liberal-leaning”;
  • Millennials prefer creating change among family and friends, rather than large networks.

This generation may also have one more surprise left in store for us related to voter turnout. Prior to the election there was a great deal of speculation about whether or not millennials would show up to the polls on election day. Exit poll analysis from the 2016 election as reported by CIRCLE  (not affiliated with the Millennial Impact Report) suggests that “young people voted at a similar rate to 2012—close to 50 percent.” And while exit polls should not be considered conclusive, they do offer an early look at voter engagement on election day. What remains to be seen now is more definitive data with specific breakdowns of the demographics of those who actually voted—including geography, education, income etc.—to help us better understand the mindset of this generation of voters. As more definitive data specific to voter turnout is released over the coming months (e.g., the Census Current Population Survey), we will take a fresh look at our survey findings to better understand how millennials did, or did not leverage their power to vote and the impact that had on the election.

And so in the end, the most significant take away from the 2016 Report and the 2016 Election became less about whether this generation turns interest into action, but how this generation turns interest into action. Most notably, unlike older generations, their passion for creating positive change is a part of their everyday lives—influencing what they buy, the clothes they wear and the food they eat. For millennials, taking consistent positive actions every day or week is a fundamental part of their identity. In changing how change is made, members of this generation no longer see themselves as “activists” like their parents, but rather as “everyday changemakers.”

This evolved changemaker still engages in more traditional “activist” activities such as: rallies, crowdfunding and petitions on a variety of issues. At the same time they are also practicing more common day-to-day activities, such as: ordering lunch from a restaurant that sources its ingredients from local farmers; wearing clothing from brands with sustainable supply chains; and, using a ridesharing app to cut down on their carbon footprint.

We also identified three macro conclusions from the research that address the nuances of what it means to be an everyday changemaker:

  • Millennials are interested in specific social issues at the macro level, consistently identifying education, wages, health care, employment and the economy as the areas of most concern to them. They act, however, at the micro level, getting engaged primarily with issues that are or have been close to their personal lives.
  • Millennials are looking to effect change and make a difference through individualistic and personally gratifying action, but are doing so in a way that redefines and eradicates traditional labels.
  • Millennials as a rule don’t have much trust in government to do what’s right. Instead, they put more faith in themselves to create the kind of change they want to see. As a result, they are signing petitions, volunteering for causes, connecting on social media platforms and acting within their own circles as ways to incite change.

What remains to be seen now is how this generation will continue to influence the future of social change, organizations and politics more broadly. For now we are focusing on exploring the following questions:

  • What caused the recent increase in civic and political engagement over the past few months? Does this engagement represent a new level of involvement or is it simply a short-lived reaction to the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election?
  • Can we expect to see an increase in voting during the upcoming mid-term and 2020 Presidential elections?
  • What does success look like when it comes to their efforts to champion the issues they care about the most? What is the relative value of a retweet vs. a change in policy vs. a large turnout at a rally for millennials?
  • Who does this generation believe best represents its interests? Who do they believe is most effective when it comes to championing their interests? Leaders from government, business or nonprofits?

We at the Case Foundation will be watching closely over the course of this year in particular for any shift(s) in millennial engagement trends that may help to answer these questions. Already this year we have seen an acceleration and intensification of social sector engagement across all generations in America, not just among millennials. While we celebrate this everyday changemaking approach, we will watch careful and report on how this generation participates in more traditional forms of civic engagement, such as voting.

All signs point to millennials continuing to support the causes they care about through a wide variety of actions. In an ideal world, as more values based choices become increasingly integrated into everyday life and millennials continue to increase their influence and impact, it is possible that the prioritization and amplification of this ethos will become a global norm, not just a generational one. Organizations, businesses and even governments would be wise to take heed of this growing trend as donors, volunteers, customers and constituents look to their local communities to create the impact they want to have in the world.

Be sure to check back in June for the release of the 2017 Millennial Impact Report at MCON 2017 where we will share new insights on the topic of millennial activism versus advocacy.

Our Most Popular Blogs of 2016

As we kick off the new year, we are taking a look back at our most popular blogs from 2016 to revisit key moments that inspired us here at the Case Foundation. We’ve collected the 10 most popular pieces—as determined by our community of readers. These blogs represent our areas of work in catalyzing movements and inspiring ideas that can change the world. We hope thes will remind us all to be bold, take risks and fail forward together around the issues you care most about in the coming year!

  1. Our Fearless Journey From Mission to Movements, by Jean Case

2016 was a year of transition for many, and the Case Foundation was no different. In August, our CEO Jean Case wrote about the journey we have taken from mission to movements, and how—as we have taken a journey of self-exploration and come to better understand our work & DNA—the Case Foundation has reframed our work. We’ve always been in the business of transformative change, but have come to realize that our real “special sauce” is that we use a Be Fearless approach to catalyze movements around social innovation and tip the scales form intention to action.

  1. Words Matter: How Should We Talk About Impact Investing?, by Jean Case

In March, our CEO Jean Case joined partners from Omidyar Network, Ford Foundation and MacArthur Foundation, together with the Global Impact Investing Network and the Global Social Impact Investing Steering Group, to unveil research that tracked and analyzed coverage of the topic of impact investing in traditional and social media and shared insight into how the way we talk about impact investing can play a powerful role in informing, educating and activating people around the movement.

  1. Trailblazing Women in Impact Investing, by Sheila Herrling

2016 was a year of momentum for Impact Investing. From the Treasury Department and IRS’s release of new PRI regulations, to high profile new social impact funds like TPG’s $2 billion Rise fund, it’s evident that the movement is picking up steam. And another noticeable trend has stood out: women are emerging as a driving force behind its growth. In August, our SVP of Social Innovation, Sheila Herrling, wrote what would go on to become our second most popular blog post of the year, highlighting these trailblazing women in Impact Investing. We can’t wait to see the momentum continue in 2017.

  1. The 2016 Millennial Impact Report – Phase 1, by Emily Yu

One of the hottest topics of 2016 was the election, so it is not surprising that on of our top blog posts of the year was about our Millennial Impact Report, which looked at how Millennials were engaging with the election and how the election effected their cause engagement. Among our top blogs was also “Millennials Cast Their Vote For Cause Engagement,” another post on the Millennial Impact Report, this time about Phase 2.

  1. 2016 Conferences On Our Radar, by Jade Floyd

2016 was an action packed year for the Case Foundation, and much of the great momentum we saw this year was fueled by wonderful in-person interactions at conferences and convenings. From SXSW, to SOCAP, to crisscrossing the country for #FacesofFounders activations at the White House, the New York Stock Exchange, Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit, Google’s headquarters and more, we loved getting the chance to reach beyond our bubbles and meet so many changemakers face-to-face. Keep an eye out for our upcoming list of 2017 Conferences On Our Radar.

  1. Twitter Lists:

We’ve loved the conversations we have and information we learn from the engaged social impact communities on Twitter. In 2015 we started a series of Twitter lists to help people join in these conversations and better know who to follow to find out more about topics we care deeply about. Several of these lists made it into our top blog posts of 2016:

  1. The Myth of the E-Word, by Sheila Herrling

Our Myth of the Entrepreneur series was started in the fall of 2015 to take a critical look at the common stories and myths told in startup culture, and as it continued into 2016, it was clear that the myths were striking a chord with our readers. The Myth of the “E Word” post contemplated the term “entrepreneur” itself as a possible barrier to expanding and diversifying entrepreneurship. “The Myth of STEM; The Only Way,” and “The Myth of the Coasts” also found their way into our top blog posts this year. We look forward to busting more myths in 2017 that are holding us back and breaking down barriers to entrepreneurship faced by women and entrepreneurs of color.

  1. One Fearless Question that Paved the Way for Women in Government, by Jean Case

On International Women’s Day, our CEO Jean Case shared a story about the fearless trailblazers Vera Glaser and Barbara Hackman Franklin. Vera Glaser’s #BeFearless question to President Richard Nixon questioning why more women were not a part of his cabinet set off an effort, headed by Barbara Hackman Franklin, that changed women’s access to high-level appointments in federal government. Our readers also enjoyed other Be Fearless examples that made it into our top blog post lists, such as our spotlight on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Jean’s blog post “Confronting Risk in Today’s Nonprofits.” You can learn more about how to Be Fearless in your pursuit of social good on our Be Fearless Hub.

  1. What’s Trending—Using Your Business as a Force For Good, by Sheila Herrling and Hardik Savalia

We are proud to partner with B Lab and their ground breaking work to help businesses identify and measure their social impact, and through the popularity of this blog post, it is clear that our readers are also excited about the potential of the B Impact Assessment. We’re excited that the Assessment can help all businesses, not just certified B Corps, to join the movement to redefine success for business, and measure their ability to build stronger communities, create environmentally sustainable operations or cultivate empowering employment opportunities.

  1. Innovation Madness: Elite Eight, by Jessica Zetzman

In conjunction with the NCAA Tournament, the Case Foundation decided to put our own twist on March Madness and introduced Innovation Madness, a celebration of Women’s History Month and the women who have been influential innovators in exploration, business and the STEM fields—yet are not recognized as often as their male counterparts. Our whole staff got in on the fun, chosing their favorite innovators, and we loved that hundreds of people voted and participated in Innovation Madness on social media. Check out the original bracket, the Elite Eight, the Final Four and the Champion.

We are thrilled that these blog posts resonated with our readers in 2016, and look forward to continuing great conversations on and offline in 2017. Tell us what you want to read more about by using #CaseBlogs on Twitter.

5 Lessons From a 128 Year Old Millennial

MCON, the Millennial Engagement Conference, was a resounding success this year. From incredible mainstage speakers and fun and enlightening behind-the-scenes interviews on Facebook Live, to engaging online attendee conversations on social media and in-person networking at official MCON evening events, this year’s MCON festival offered participants three action-packed days. It was incredible to hear from Millennial leaders about how they were changing the world, and to hear from innovative brands on how they are working to engage this cause-driven generation.

You can see all of the MCON mainstage talks on YouTube, but our favorite talk was from our CEO Jean Case, sharing how a brand that is 128 years old, National Geographic, continues to stay relevant today and has cultivated Millennial talent and attention. You can see Jean’s full talk below, complete with her “5 reasons National Geographic is really just a 128 year-old Millennial,” followed by a brief Q&A session with CBS News Anchor Reena Ninan.

Header photo courtesy of MCON.

Why MCON is THE Must Attend Conference on Millennial Engagement

With just a few weeks left until the sixth annual MCON hits Washington, DC, the Case Foundation and Achieve teams are buzzing with excitement. This year’s gathering is gearing up to be the most impressive yet, uniting nearly 600 cause champions committed to creating change and turning next gen interest into action. With 25 different sessions, more than 45 remarkable speakers, a political town hall, film screenings, parties and a host of networking opportunities over the course of three days, MCON is where social sector leaders unite to mobilize movements. But don’t just take our word for it… here’s a sneak peak at what’s in store and why MCON is the top next gen engagement gathering of the year.

  • A dynamic slate of speakers will take the stage, including our own Jean Case, Gary Knell of National Geographic, Gina Bianchini of Mightybell, Ettore Rossetti of Save the Children, Jeremy Ford of Dell Giving, Ambassador Mark Brzezinski, National Geographci Explorers Erin Spencer and Sylvia Earle, Chris Temple of Living On One, Laurindo Garcia of B-Change, DeRay Mckesson, Kevin Cleary of Clif Bar, Brian Ferguson of the DC Office of Human Rights, Karla Monterroso of CODE2040, Jay Newton-Small of TIME Magazine, restaurateur Jose Andres, Ryan Scott of Causecast, Janine Gianfredi of the U.S. Digital Service, Jesse Moore from the White House, Grammy nominated recording artist Ryan Leslie and many more still to be announced!
  • Enjoy VIP access to National Geographic’s campus in the heart of downtown DC. National Geographic, one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world, has been inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888 through geography, archaeology and natural science and the promotion of environmental and historical conservation. While there, attendees can check out the latest exhibitions, interactive experiences and stunning photography exhibitions featuring the work of National Geographic explorers, photographers and scientists.
  • Laugh out loud with Funny or Die creators David Litt and Brad Jenkins during their Politics and Humor panel.
  • Tune in to the Political Townhall hosted by the Washington Post to hear from Millennials in government. MCON is partnering with The Washington Post to present an interactive panel discussion on issues that affect the Millennial generation, how political engagement is changing, innovation in the public sector and how to increase Millennial voter turnout.
  • We know you will be hungry over the three days so we’ve partnered with some of the best fast-casual restaurants to keep your bellies full and brain on point. Guests will munch on fare from STK, &Pizza, Shake Shack, Taylor Gourmet and many more throughout the three days.
  • Watch the film screening of “Most Likely To Succeed” the new documentary film on the impact that innovation is having on our economy and the consequences for our country if our education system fails to keep pace. WATCH THE TRAILER
  • Check out the late night Bloc Party on Day Three and closing night celebration in the outdoor courtyard of National Geographic featuring local food trucks, drinks and a surprise live act!
  • Pack your running shoes for a run with Kevin Cleary of Clif Bar & Company, a leading maker of nutritious and organic foods and drinks for people on the go. Meet Kevin for a morning run on Day Three, then catch him on stage later that day as he shares how to build a sustainable brand.
  • Experience a taste of Spain on Day Two at an after party hosted by NYLON and Rock the Vote, with a special guest performance, at the SPAIN Arts & Culture Center featuring the most cutting-edge works of international renowned Spanish artists of our time.
  • Watch the private screening of “Salam Neighbor,” an award-winning feature documentary. As the first filmmakers ever allowed by the United Nations to be given a tent and registered inside a refugee camp, they provide viewers with a never seen look into one of the world’s most pressing crisises. WATCH THE TRAILER
  • Take a break in the MCON Lounge on site at National Geographic and network with other cause enthusiasts who will help you take your initiative to the next level.
  • Enjoy one of the many libations keeping you hydrated throughout the festival including drinks from Boxed Water, Owl’s Brew, Denizens, One Hope Wines, Peet’s Coffee, Heritage Distilling, Port City Brewing and Flying Dog Brewery.
  • Step into the opening night party at Renwick Gallery just across the street from the White House, sponsored by the Case Foundation. The Renwick is home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection and has one of the finest and most extensive collections of its kind.
  • Be one of the first to read the 2016  Action Report released on Day One. Learn about how politics may influence next gen engagement with social causes in this exciting new survey.
  • Attend for free! Yes, free. Are you a student, activist or social entrepreneur that could really benefit from a conference like MCON but you can’t seem to fit it in your budget? Apply for an MCON 2016 scholarship while they’re still available HERE.

Can’t make it to MCON this year? Don’t worry. You can check out the livestream throughout all three days and join the conversation online using #MCON. We can’t wait to have you join us!

Why You Need to Apply for an MCON Scholarship Right Now

The following was originally posted on Achieve’s blog to share my experience as an MCON 2015 scholarship recipient. Applications are now open to attend MCON 2016. APPLY NOW

What is better than attending the premier millennial engagement conference of 2016? Attending it for free.

In April of last year, I read an article from Achieve President Derrick Feldmann about activating the millennial generation (born 1980-2000). At the time, bringing my generation into the fold was something I was very interested in, but had very little idea how to do. Derrick’s article stood out to me in the obvious depth of knowledge about the topic. Perhaps even more exciting, his article mentioned an upcoming conference called MCON devoted to this very topic.

At the time, I was working for a small, but growing nonprofit, so I was incredibly fortunate to receive an MCON scholarship because the conference is designed for people just like me—millennials that want to better understand what drives our generation to give and get involved, but wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to attend. I knew I needed to be in the room with these thought leaders, but I don’t think I was quite prepared for how much I’d learn and take away from the experience.


When I walked into the Chicago Museum of Art last June, I was blown away by the buzz and energy that filled the room. Though I knew that engaging the next generation of cause leaders was important, it was incredible to see so many people in one place who were as excited as I was by the extraordinary potential for global change that the millennial generation holds.

As I checked-in and grabbed my conference badge and (awesome) swag bag, I could already hear nearby conversations of people explaining their different reasons for attending MCON. Some people, like me, were working for nonprofits and were there to learn how to engage millennials in their work. Some were starting social enterprises and wanted to be sure they knew how to best integrate the issues that millennials care about into their products and programs. Others still were from large corporations that wanted to better understand how to attract and retain millennial talent through corporate social responsibility. No matter the specific goals, it was clear that we all shared one thing in common: we cared, A LOT, about social good and changing the world, and we knew engaging millennials in our causes was key.

unspecified-2At the conference I heard from a wide variety of speakers—from foundations and nonprofits that were using innovative ways to reach millennials, to businesses that were going beyond cause-marketing and integrating a social mission into their long-term business strategy. I learned how the Knight Foundation is investing in public art projects as an urban revitalization technique—helping to deepen the sense of place and connections across demographics in cities—and how millennials, with their propensity to live in proximity to city centers, are key to this work.

Another session that stood out to me focused on how one nonprofit, Baltimore Corps, is utilizing the energy and talents of the next generation to strengthen Baltimore through fellowships aimed at scaling promising solutions to persistent problems.

It wasn’t just the speakers that made me really happy that I attended MCON. Networking with other attendees was invaluable. Discussion groups were a common theme, and many of the people I spoke with were struggling with the same issues that I was.


When I got back to DC, I was able to use what I learned at MCON to develop a millennial engagement strategy for the nonprofit I worked at. I was better equipped to put together programming and communications to reach this vital audience. I was also motivated to join the newly formed Year Up Young Professionals Network, an effort by Year Up National Capital Region to engage millennials in their vital work. Attending MCON has made me a significantly better member of this network, able to provide input and insights from the conference to help shape and strengthen this new initiative. And I was even driven to become more deeply engaged than that, seizing an opportunity to come work for the Case Foundation, the lead sponsor of MCON and the Millennial Impact Report, when a job opening arose.

This year, I am so excited that MCON has come to my own backyard in DC. I often say that one of my favorite things about living in DC is how passionate everyone is about something. You may not always agree with the cause they care about, but just having a city full of people who give a damn is exhilarating. I can think of no better place to host such a vibrant conference, and I hope that you’ll join me at MCON 2016. If you, like me, care deeply about changing the world and growing your network with leaders, activists and entrepreneurs, then don’t miss the chance to be inspired at MCON. Scholarship applications are now open, so what are you waiting for?

Scholarships MCON 2016

5 Tips for Attracting (and Keeping) Millennial Employees

Millennials (those born between 1980-2000) are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce and represent more than one in three workers according to Pew Research Center. And while this generation is growing in size, influence and power within the workplace, many employers, managers and HR departments still find it difficult to recruit and retain next gen talent.

For many leaders at organizations around the country, the challenge is in more effectively engaging Millennial employees and in understanding that their passions, interests and ideas are part of their identity—not just at home or with friends, but also at the office. Through the Millennial Impact Project, we have learned that one key way employers can tap into those interests is by integrating them into the organization’s cause- and service-related issues and projects, which resonate well with this generation. The 2014 Millennial Impact Report, which focused primarily on Millennials’ preferences in the workplace, identified the linkage between a company’s cause-related efforts and the interest of and desire by their Millennial employees to engage in those efforts as part of their employment.

In the newly released report by Achieve titled, “Cause, Influence & the Next Generation Workforce – Six-Month Research Update,” researchers built upon their 2014 and 2015 surveys of Millennials and engagement in the workplace and looked specifically at data on company size and cause work programs as a means to foster workplace engagement. Researchers wanted to know in this six-month update: how participation in company cause work programs are influenced by the existing and structuring of such programs; why companies should consider incorporating cause work initiatives earlier in an employee’s tenure; and the importance of companies preventing participation fatigue. (Note: Reports referenced above are sponsored by the Case Foundation.)

My big takeaway for organizations interested in deeper engagement is that offering service opportunities alone is not enough. Organizations that take their engagement a step further and tailor those opportunities with and for next gen employees are more successful at engaging Millennial employees over the long term.

Based on the findings of this research, here are five practical tips that any team manager or leader who wants to better engage their next gen employees can put into practice—today:

Tip #1: Companies should look to establish service initiatives and volunteer opportunities for Millennial employees—not only to be a socially responsible company, but also to foster a service oriented culture that can align with the employees’ passions and will ultimately help to retain Millennial employees and managers.

Tip #2: Executives and managers should make sure to promote the service-related opportunities and foster awareness about those programs available. This will help to ensure that Millennial employees have the opportunity to be fully engaged.

Tip #3: Consider offering incentives to those who participate in the service-related programs. Make sure that they are incentives that would be appreciated by the employees and managers alike, and are aligned with the service opportunity (e.g., time allowances for staff to volunteer with an organization of their choice).

Tip #4: Consult team members at all professional levels to ensure that the organization’s engagement strategies and offerings resonate with the next gen employees. Suggesting employees donate to an organization selected by the company—without input from the staff—could likely result in disinterested participation and lackluster support from next gen team members.

Tip #5: Engage with employees and involve them early on during their careers with your organization (e.g., orientation or within the first few months). When leaders did not engage employees early on, it often took one to two years for employees to become involved with cause related activities led by the employer.

And finally, as noted in the report: “To truly engage—and retain—their Millennial employees and managers in cause work initiatives for years to come, employers must take the time to learn about what causes employees value, how they want to make an impact, what influences them and what challenges them to continue participating.”

Do you have a tip for how to attract and retain Millennial talent through service related activities? Share it with us on Twitter using @CaseFoundation and #Millennials.

Be Fearless Spotlight: Baltimore Corps

This Spotlight is authored by guest writer Caitlin Kelly as part of a special blog series by the Case Foundation featuring Be Fearless stories from the field. Follow along with us as we meet people and learn about organizations that are taking risks, being bold and failing forward in their efforts to create transformative change in the social sector.

Too many people still think of his city as a morass of strife and failure, says Fagan Harris, co-founder and CEO of Baltimore Corps, an innovative two-year-old organization working to change that perception.

In April 2015, after police arrested Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American Baltimore resident who later died in police custody, the city erupted, with at least 20 police officers injured, 250 people arrested and hundreds of businesses damaged. Vehicles and buildings were burned and pharmacies looted. It looked like an episode of the unrelentingly grim television show that, for many, still defines the city, The Wire.

Harris, who grew up in and around Baltimore and who returned in his late 20s, is passionate about the city’s potential, despite the “fact that too many people, when they think of Baltimore, imagine a broken, dysfunctional city. The truth is Baltimore is home to creative thinkers and truly visionary leadership working everyday to strengthen community,” he argues. This understanding of the opportunities that lie within Baltimore—and many other cities that share a similar history—is what drove Harris to develop a bold approach to forging a new talent pipeline for the city.

Baltimore Corps is a committed group of 35 skilled professionals working closely with a range of cause leaders at leading nonprofits, social enterprises and government agencies to accelerate and scale the impact of effective models for social change. Each cause leader and placement organization pays their Fellow(s) stipend and a nominal program fee to Baltimore Corps. Fellows work full-time at their placement and commit for one year.

Fellows earn a baseline stipend of $32,000; Baltimore Corps aggressively markets its fellowship to talented Millennials across Baltimore and the country, and the organization saw 500 applicants last year for its 35 fellowship positions. To insure a strong mix of local knowledge and fresh thinking, “the best of both worlds,” adds Harris, half of those accepted are city residents.

“At Baltimore Corps, we’ve made a big bet that Baltimore is a frontier of social change,” says Harris, a graduate of Stanford and a Rhodes Scholar. “What New York City is to finance and San Francisco is to technology, Baltimore is for social change. If we can get it right here, we can get it right anywhere. We have more models for strengthening communities than many other places.”

The Corps’ work combines several simultaneous initiatives: to attract the best and brightest workers committed to effecting social change, to help local nonprofits and government retain them so they can grow and better achieve their goals and, through those combined efforts, to help Baltimore thrive. The riots lent an urgency to Baltimore Corp’s work as his staff “did a ton of volunteerism” and several fellows, due to begin their jobs in September, began in June instead. “We responded urgently to help clean and build up and relocate people. As a place-based organization, it’s critical that you’re a good neighbor.”

The city needs them to stay—and they need good jobs; nine of ten of the first class of fellows were hired full-time at the end of their work with Baltimore Corps, a result that thrills, but doesn’t surprise Harris. “We work hard to recruit for fit,” he says.

But initially attracting bright, ambitious fellows who’ll choose to make a life in Baltimore after their year’s commitment is a challenge, Harris admits. “It’s working so far, but it is a challenge.” Popularly, Baltimore is still seen as a second or third-tier city, Millennials are “very, very mobile” and many are deeply wary of any work involving government. To sweeten the offer, the program opens a deep network to fellows, offering ready access to corporate executives, even the city’s mayor, which would be nearly impossible in a larger city.

Baltimore Corps, unusually for a new, growing nonprofit, relies heavily on technology and data to keep careful track of fellows’ work, of their satisfaction and their work’s impact, checking in with each of them every 90 days. The hands-on approach can be emotionally draining, he admits. “This is risky, hard work. It can be heart-wrenching and lead to some soul-searching conversations.” The diversity of our corps and placement partners is powerful but it also challenges…A leader with an Ivy MBA tends to rely on different approaches than a leader who hasn’t graduated high school, and pairing the two has produced “abundant examples of friction,” Harris admits. “We ask for humility and patience. It’s not something we try to paper over.”

“We need more people in the fight putting their shoulder to the wheel and pushing,” says Harris. Bringing talent into Baltimore to partner with the city’s most promising cause leaders and social impact organizations propels ambitious professionals and graduates eager to accelerate their social justice careers, and the city has seen an out-migration of people in their 20s and 30s, leaving local groups and agencies hamstrung, he says. “When we think about scaling the most important and impactful work, we have to ask ‘What’s the hold-up?’ It’s not money or a lack of ambition. It’s deploying the right human capital to drive scale.”

After a local group, Thread, which helps underachieving high school students, found new blood through Baltimore Corps, the program scaled their organization by a third.

The fellows work with a wide range of partners, some with social entrepreneurs who are building organizations with only two or three people to large, bureaucratic and long-established agencies like the City Health Department. “That’s maybe non-traditional,” says Harris, “but we need to work with all of Baltimore. That’s really been a value of ours since Day One.” Doing so effectively means creating what he calls “a tapestry” of small and large social enterprises, nonprofits and government agencies and departments “working together to meaningfully promote the city.” Key to his vision is getting groups together to share information that typically don’t, who normally choose to “silo” their knowledge instead of cooperating.

The Corps’ five-member board “has been really tremendous,” offering “new energy and a new perspective” by attending staff meetings and giving plenty of feedback. “They’re very hands-on. They’re tremendous partners who are not just a board but five really terrific advisors.”

“Our number one goal is to identify what’s working here and grow it,” says Harris. “The families, the neighborhoods, the city–we really want to see things strengthen and improve.”

Feeling inspired? If you’re ready to begin your own Be Fearless journey start by downloading our free Be Fearless Action Guide and Case Studies.

Photo credit: Flickr user Cayusa, used via Creative Commons.