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.

Better Businesses Make Better Mothers’ Day Gifts

Here at the Case Foundation, we believe that where we shop matters, and we’re convinced that better businesses make better gifts. In an effort to help you wrap up your Mother’s Day shopping, we put together a collection of gift ideas from some of our favorite “better” businesses—companies driven to have positive social and environmental impact.

These gift ideas, curated with the help of our partners at B Lab, will fit nicely on your shopping list, while you support conscious businesses that create meaningful jobs, protect the environment and create a better world.

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms, grandmas, moms-to-be and caregivers!

Greyston BakeryGreyston Bakery has open hiring practices to provide employment and professional development opportunities to everyone in the community.
Mom will get the satisfaction of aiding in its efforts, as well as enjoying some of their delicious baked goods.

The Honest Company – This B Corp believes that Mother’s Day is all about spoiling mom. Treat her to something indulgent from Honest Company’s pampering collection so she can enjoy a spa-like escape at home.

Dogeared – This California-based jewelry company lives by the philosophy that “what goes around comes around.” It puts this belief into practice by handcrafting pieces locally, respecting the planet and partnering with nonprofit organizations that share its vision for a better world.

A to Z Wineworks – Your wine-loving mother is sure to jump with joy when she receives a bottle from A to Z Wineworks. Its award-winning Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are excellent not only in taste but also in their fair value and sustainability practices.

Prosperity Candle – Give Mom a hand-poured candle that smells good and does good! Each gift provides living wages to women artisans who are thriving as entrepreneurs.

Better World Books – The gift of a good book is something that never goes out of style. Give mom a novel from Better World Books, and someone in need will receive one as well.

Etsy – Are you still stumped about what to get Mom? Shop this community-based site that believes in making the world more fair, more sustainable and more fun. There are more than 1 million active shops – making it easy to find the perfect gift!

Have an idea of your own? Please share it with us on Twitter by tweeting at @CaseFoundation with the hashtag #CFBlog!

Impact Investors and Social Entrepreneurs Speak

Over the past two years, the Case Foundation has focused a large part of our efforts to move impact investing from niche to mainstream, build awareness of the investors and entrepreneurs who are harnessing the power of the capital markets to provide financial and social returns, motivate investors and family offices to explore impact investing as part of their portfolios.

This February, the Case Foundation and Arabella Advisors hosted a gathering for more than 100 journalists and communicators to discuss impact investing and social enterprise at the Impact Hub in New York City. We were joined by Jean Case of the Case Foundation, Neil Blumenthal of Warby Parker, Matthew Bishop of Economist, Amy Bell of JP Morgan, Justin Rockefeller of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Clara Miller of the F.B. Heron Foundation, Ommeed Sathe of Prudential, David Bank of ImpactAlpha, Catherine Clifford of Entrepreneur Magazine, Shazi Visram of Happy Family, Andrew Kassoy of B Lab, and Tim Newell of SolarCity.

As support for the impact investing sector increases, the Case Foundation has committed to telling the stories of successful social enterprises, impact investors, and funds. Watch this new video from speakers as they weigh in on how impact investing is going mainstream.


When a B Corp Goes Public, Can Social Outcomes Keep Pace with Profits?

Etsy is the online marketplace where independent artisans and consumers come together to buy and sell unique goods, and connect over shared tastes and visual inspiration. This B Corporation promotes both the virtues of individuality and positive social outcomes and is the focus of this week’s spotlight on Social Enterprise from the Case Foundation and, in partnership with ImpactAlpha.

What’s so special about this company? Founded in Brooklyn, NY, in 2005, Etsy is an online network that connects entrpreneurs with customers whom they otherwise would not be able to access. As noted on its website:

“The heart and soul of Etsy is [their] global community: the creative entrepreneurs who use Etsy to sell what they make or curate, the shoppers looking for things they can’t find anywhere else, the manufacturers who partner with Etsy sellers to help them grow and the Etsy employees who maintain and nurture our marketplace.”

Over the last 10 years, Etsy has grown to become a global force with nearly 700 employees and nearly 30 million items currently available to purchase. It has a network of,19.8 million active buyers—representing nearly every country in the world, and 1.4 million active sellers, of which approximately 88 percent are women. All of these figures add up to a company that earned nearly $200 million in revenue in 2014. Although Etsy has yet to become profitable, the company has not stopped from pushing itself to achieve greater growth. In fact, on March 4, 2015, Etsy became the second B Corp to file for an initial public offering (IPO).

Through its IPO, Etsy will be able to raise up to $100 million in investments, creating an opportunity through which they will hopefully establish profitability. Of the more than 1,200 B Corps, they will be only the fourth with publicly traded stock and only the second to file as a current B Corp.

In considering all of the implications of Etsy’s IPO announcement and similar moves from social enterprises, one question has surfaced: “Will these corporate evolutions undermine companies’ social benefit objectives and vice versa, will commitments to better social outcomes undermine current shareholder profits?”

Hopefully companies like Etsy are the beginning of a larger trend that will continue to expand. As consumer interests align with social and environmental concerns, and large corporations are rewarded for committing to improving their impact while turning competitive profits for shareholders, we could see a greater number of large corporations join the B Corp movement. Similarly, it is exciting to see more B Corps like Etsy, Rally Software and Warby Parker experience the kind of growth that allows them to mature and seek greater profits and influence.

In this week’s article on, we explore the potentially conflicting priorities that face impact companies like Etsy. What does it mean for a social enterprise to have the dual pressures of competing to attract investors through profit seeking and maintaining their social commitments? Will they prove that their social good mission doesn’t detract from profit but can actually boost revenues by driving marketing and customer loyalty?

Spotlight on Social Enterprises: Sevamob

Here’s another exciting new social enterprise to start off your week! The Case Foundation and magazine, in partnership with ImpactAlpha, highlight Sevamob for this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprises.

Sevamob targets the lack of adequate primary healthcare in poor, rural areas of India by providing low-cost health services to low- and lower-middle income individuals. Services are packaged in bundles that can include primary care, dental checkups, prescription medications and health insurance. Sevamob’s founder and CEO, Shelley Saxena’s tech roots are apparent, given the company’s modern, online appointment scheduling systems and comprehensive patient health data repository, designed to easily connect patients and healthcare providers. With their unique approach, Sevamob is already serving more than 7,000 individuals.

You can learn more about this enterprise that successfully channels the power of technology to bridge to health services gap while focusing on high growth at