Be Fearless Spotlight: From Transactional to Transformational, Fearlessly

This Spotlight is a part of a special blog series curated 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. This Spotlight is authored by Edward D Breslin (@NedBreslin), Chief Executive Officer of Tennyson Center for Children (@TennysonCenter), and a 2011 winner of the Skoll Award For Social Entrepreneurship.

“It seems impossible. I mean, every child, as in EVERY child,” she said the filled-to-capacity room of therapists and social workers who make up the Tennyson Center’s Community Based Service (CBS) corps. The weight and possibility of the big bet, driven by urgency, was settling on all.

Tennyson is generally known as a Colorado-based residential treatment facility for children experiencing trauma from abuse and neglect. And while we do have beds for kids whose families have disintegrated, our programs transcend that narrow definition, led in many ways by our CBS team.

CBS is made up of exceptional therapists and social workers who meet loving parents in their homes and at their schools to help kids remain locally integrated. CBS sees the kiddos they work with as part of a larger community, and they understand firsthand how big the problem of abuse, neglect and mental illness are throughout the state. Demand for our services is growing as educators, parents and local first responders see the impact of our work, and my colleague, in her emphasizing every, knows that a commitment to every child means a lot of children.

She paused after taking in the totality of our commitment, and looked at her colleagues before saying, “But that is why I dedicated myself to this profession. I want to be part of a broader solution that helps every child, not just some children. And I believe we can do it. In fact, I know we can.”

Her colleagues nodded approval, and the meeting rightly shifted to how we can succeed rather than if we should even try.

I have been here before, and it’s a magical moment when staff shift from fear and transactional mindset to a big, bold move designed to address a fundamental problem at scale.  In other words, when an organization decides to Be Fearless.

I served as CEO of Water For People when we launched Everyone Forever, which reimagined the way we, and in effect the international water and sanitation sector, operated. Instead of installing projects in a random assortment of villages—choosing some and bypassing others—we decided to unleash our ambitions in a new, bolder and more scaled way. We were making a big bet in hopes of making history. We targeted all villages in districts and cities across the world, saying we would not rest until every family, every school and every clinic had access to water and sanitation services and never needed international aid or philanthropy again.

People scoffed, saying it was not possible. This was expected, as we generally live in a world of small thinking and caution, where bold mission statements about solving problems are not matched by the programming needed to actually solve them. Everyone Forever tapped people’s deep desire to actually solve the problem, stated our ambitions starkly and unashamedly, and put our reputation on the line with a commitment to verify results for 10 years after the work was done. We were not interested in helping some villages or installing a water point and having it fail at a later date. We were committed to solving the problem, boldly, fearlessly and permanently.

But to our surprise, many people and organizations actually came along with us on our fearless journey. In some ways they had to—what is the alternative? The urgency for a solution pushed us and others to conquer our fear. New districts not part of the original Everyone Forever push demanded similar support, donors started funding along more ambitious lines focused on full coverage and demonstrated results over time, and sector work started to shift from village to district-wide interventions with a plethora of actors who all had a role in solutions.

The critical step with Everyone Forever was not a new funding source (we realigned existing funding and lured new donors over time), a detailed “plan” that laid out every step along the way (we would iterate, learn, pivot and eventually build out plans) or wide agreement from external players (who eventually came along as the path cleared for them too).

No, the first step was belief that came from the heart and reconnected staff to their purpose, unleashing their passion in new ways while fearlessly putting our reputation on the line to become transformational instead of transactional. We tapped people’s desire to actually solve a problem, and pivoted against the fear that keeps most small.

In that same fearless spirit, at Tennyson, we’re excited to launch Every Kid Forever in a host of Colorado counties with clear intent this year.  We are now supporting two additional counties (Weld and El Paso) in addition to our historical work in Denver, and will roll out a further 3 county-wide initiatives in the coming years based on experiences gained.

We are be reaching beyond our bubble to align our funding and programming with other government, school, corporate and nongovernment allies who, collectively, will work to ensure every child in target counties experiencing trauma from abuse and neglect, suffer from autism and depression or anxiety, and whose behaviors undermine their ability to thrive at home and school, get the support they need to thrive. We will not be satisfied with helping some; we insist on surging forward to help all.

And if we succeed, we hope that such ambitious programming will spread with or without Tennyson so that the collaborative solutions we are building and the scaled impact we all are having makes others say, “We can do that. We can even do better.”

Make no mistake—we have taken the most important step. We will shift finances, build on strengths, realign with others and surge forward with raised expectations so that no kid falls through the cracks because people’s bolder purposes have been unleashed.

Why would we do anything less?

Be Fearless Spotlight: Washington Area Women’s Foundation

This Spotlight is a part of a special blog series curated 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. In this most recent spotlight, we had the chance to sit down with Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, President and CEO of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation for a Q&A about how the Women’s Foundation is living the Be Fearless principles in their work.

Q: What does your organization think it means to Be Fearless?

A: For Washington Area Women’s Foundation, to “Be Fearless” means to stand when others are sitting, raise our voices when others choose to be quiet and push harder when others choose to give up. Being fearless means believing that all girls in our community can grow up with a clear vision of a future beyond poverty. The mission of The Women’s Foundation is to mobilize our community to ensure that economically vulnerable women and girls have the resources they need to thrive. Our overall goal is to move all women and girls currently living in poverty to a place of consistent economic stability—and to get there, we must Be Fearless.

Economic security has been central to our mission since our founding, but it’s not enough to simply say that we are working with low-income or economically vulnerable women and girls—we are being intentional and explicit in our language and our actions. We are letting urgency conquer fear and are no longer leaving unsaid the realities facing women and girls, and the ways that race and ethnicity further contribute to that reality. It’s for that reason, and many more that on January 21st, we launched #our100days, a way for everyone in our community to Get In The Arena and take action. Every day we provide a single task that can make our communities better for the women and girls who live in them.

We believe that every woman should have an equal opportunity to achieve economic security and with our fearless and bold vision, we are continuously forging ahead towards that goal.

In an effort to further address the disparities facing women and girls at the intersection of race and gender, we officially launch the Young Women’s Initiative (YWI) this spring, centered around the voices and lived experiences of women and girls of color, coupled with reaching beyond our bubble and building partnerships across multiple sectors to increase opportunities for more equitable outcomes for young women and girls of color in the Washington region.

Q: What goals are you working towards at your organization and how do the Be Fearless principles help you achieve them?

A: With the Be Fearless principles, we can affect real change and we’re not asking for permission to do it. With #our100days, we’ve managed to connect with the community through social media and our email database, and we’ve received real feedback on our action items and work, and have made collective strides to help our Grantee Partners and other community organizations. With #our100days, people can Get In The Arena by doing anything from donating baby clothes to a mother in need, to highlighting women in our communities who have made an impact on our lives.

Moreover, through our YWI, we will initiate policy changes and increase programmatic investments to alleviate the racial and gender disparities placed on women and girls of color in the District. We are in the midst of several convenings with local policymakers, community activists and low-income women and girls of color. Innovation happens at intersections, so making space for these partnerships will help to uncover barriers and identify potential policy solutions as a part of our racial equity and policy initiatives.

Q: What “big bets” have you and the Women’s Foundation made, and how have those goals paid off?

A: At The Women’s Foundation we are firm believers in the saying, “Don’t talk, act. Don’t say, show. And don’t promise, prove.” Our big bet is our public commitment to advance equity for women and girls of color and tackle systemic and structural racism head on so that we can truly advance our mission and ensure that all women and girls in our community have the opportunity to thrive.

Our advocacy agenda is informed by the insights and lived experiences of those who are most impacted. Through our work with #our100days and the development of YWI, we have been engaging our community and seeking their feedback regarding potential solutions that address their most pressing concerns. These solutions serve as the foundation of a larger community action plan, inclusive of a set of recommendations which will inform our advocacy and grantmaking agendas, in addition to identifying potential improvements for current direct service provision and service alignment.

We are solidifying an advocacy agenda, and a list of recommendations that are community-driven and reflect the lives of those most impacted. Through the parallel development of YWI and our advocacy agenda, we intend to create a positive ripple effect across society and ultimately improve the quality of life for women and girls in our community.

Q: Tell us about a time when your organization let urgency conquer fear.

A: A sense of urgency drives us. Washington, D.C. is one of the most powerful cities in the world, yet 1 in 4 women and girls in the region are experiencing economic instability and this number has remained stagnant for a decade. We know that despite the best efforts of many initiatives, generations of our region’s women and girls have grown up in poverty, with little hope of a brighter future—and we can’t let this continue.

The time is now for bold and ambitious changes that will eliminate opportunity gaps and structural barriers, directly increasing economic security for women and girls in our region. We are committed to both pilot new methods of philanthropy and community engagement to drive greater philanthropic change, and to advocate for improved policies on behalf of women and girls.

Last year alone, through our research, advocacy and grantmaking initiatives, we reached more than 3,600 women, and helped them increase their incomes and assets by $3.6 million. We will continue this multifaceted approach, using a racial equity lens to build pathways out of poverty for more women and their families. Currently 15 percent of Black women and 15 percent of Latinas living in poverty compared to 5 percent of white, non-Hispanic women.

We will fearlessly tackle racial equity head on to close the economic gap experienced by women and girls of color in the region. With #our100days and the Young Women’s Initiative, we will get in the arena and use our voice, our resources and the community we have created to remove the barriers women and girls of color face.

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.

Be Fearless Spotlight: A Bold Investment Strategy Allows For Fearless Risk-Taking at FHI 360

This Spotlight is a part of a special blog series curated 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. This Spotlight is authored by Patrick C. Fine, Chief Executive Officer of FHI 360.

Every day, bold actions—large and small—inspire and shape the future. Girls in northern Nigeria defy threats from violent extremists to go to school; transgender women in Cambodia stand together against intolerance and discrimination that fuel HIV; and young refugees struggle to build new lives in foreign lands. FHI 360—a nonprofit human development organization dedicated to improving lives by advancing integrated, locally driven solutions—takes its inspiration from such daily acts of bravery and strives to be bold and Be Fearless in addressing problems around the globe.

We learn from the examples we see of people facing unimaginable hardship and with courage, initiative and determination overcome the challenges in their path and create new opportunities for themselves and their communities. Their stories inspire us to tackle the toughest problems and to be bold in the solutions we try. The issues facing our global community can’t wait, and they aren’t getting easier. We need to leverage all possible solutions, however unconventional, to meet these challenges.

The FHI Foundation—the foundation arm which exclusively supports the vision, spirit and mission of FHI 360 through strategic investments—was built on a unique impact investment model that has enabled FHI 360 to expand beyond its early focus as a small family planning organization and become a global force in human development. Once an organization with an annual operating budget of less than $3 million, FHI 360 now has expanded into more than 70 countries and all U.S. states and territories, with more than $600 million in revenue, a $150 million Foundation endowment and more than 4,000 staff around the world.

This approach—a foundation incubating projects at a non-profit organization—allows us to experiment early and often, allowing for a more creative approach to address some of the world’s most complex human development challenges. Moreover, it has enhanced FHI 360’s stability, resiliency and relevance by placing it on the cutting edge of development trends and critical issues faced by underserved populations around the world.

For example, in 2001, the FHI Foundation invested US$1 million to demonstrate the viability of antiretroviral therapy (ART) programs in resource-constrained settings in Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda, providing critical evidence that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) needed to expand ART delivery to countries devastated by the epidemic. By 2006, FHI (now FHI 360) was implementing comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment programs in 40 countries. As of September 30, 2015, U.S. government funding through multiple partners and organizations was supporting life-saving ART for 9.5 million people.

Today, FHI 360 continues to stimulate new ideas and incentivize innovations. With its Catalyst Fund, the FHI Foundation provides annual grants totaling $500,000 to FHI 360 staff to develop approaches, tools or products that address human development challenges. The Catalyst Fund competition brings together FHI 360 staff from different regions, sectors and specialties, many of whom may not traditionally work together, to allow for a space for staff to reach beyond their bubble and develop forward-thinking approaches to promote the health and well-being of individuals and communities. Funded initiatives are delivering innovations such as the use of drone delivery to increase access to medical supplies in rural Kenya, the development of a mobile-based test-prep app to help students prepare for exams in Myanmar, and a web-based application to help monitor child learning and health progress in classrooms globally.

While some organizations allow risk to become paralyzing, even in the face of an immediate crisis, the FHI Foundation/FHI 360 relationship proves what can be accomplished when urgency drives the quest for solutions and when financial stability allows for the freedom to make bold moves with high stakes, even when the outcome is uncertain. A mixture of private and public funds, a strategic investment model and a commitment to tackle the world’s most challenging problems head on, ensure FHI 360’s continued success and the continued benefits to those we serve around the world.

We believe that the time for bold action is at hand. Yet, we will only succeed if we work together and if we push ourselves to ask the uncomfortable questions, to learn from failure and to dare to challenge the status quo. We must be willing to see and do things differently, to develop new skill sets, devise new structures and conceive new partnerships. We must anticipate, adapt and enthusiastically embrace change to maximize our impact in the world.

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

Be Fearless Spotlight: Jay Newton-Small and the Story of Her Father

This Spotlight is a part of a special blog series curated 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. This Spotlight is authored by Jay Newton-Small (@JNSmall), Cofounder of MemoryWell, TIME magazine contributor and author of Broad Influence.

A few years ago, I put my father into a home for those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. It was the hardest decision of my life, but he was a wanderer and I couldn’t care for him on my own following the death of my mother. I didn’t know it at the time, but that decision would be the start of a long journey that would change both of our lives.

The home asked me to fill out a 20-page questionnaire about his life. This made no sense to me: who would remember 20 pages of hand-written data points for the 150+ residents there? Instead, I offered to write down his story. I’m a journalist after all, story telling comes naturally to me. They loved the story I wrote, it transformed his care; MemoryWell was born.

Over the next 2.5 years, I worked with a partner, Ilan Brat formerly of the Wall Street Journal, to write more life stories of people like my dad. We knew that this tool could help change the lives of the more than 44 million around the world currently living with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia and the many who care for them. And so, we developed a website called MemoryWell to host the stories and allow family members to add their loved ones’ favorite photos, videos and music—so that when caregivers or family members sit with them they have a whole toolbox of things with which to engage them.

My firsthand experience with my father and Alzheimer’s helped me to identify a critical solution and develop MemoryWell in response. The leap from daughter to entrepreneur was a big one, but a necessary one as I realized what this tool could do for families like mine.

We got our first clients earlier this year and, less than two months later, I let urgency conquer fear and left TIME Magazine to work on MemoryWell full time. Our CTO Andrew Fribush joined our team this fall and we got accepted into Halcyon incubator in Washington, DC, in November.

While all this sounds easy: let me assure you it was not! We are journalists, not entrepreneurs. In our newsrooms, taking a stand is always discouraged: we are impartial observers of the events around us. Most journalists are given assignments instead of making them. We are naturally skeptical of salesmanship and marketing/PR puffery; we work well with structure and want steady jobs (although the upheaval in the industry is changing that). But, in short, journalism isn’t an industry predisposed to innovation and that’s why you see so few journalism startups. But as I saw the impact that storytelling could have in the lives of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, I knew that I had to take a risk in the face of these obstacles.

Certainly, our road hasn’t always been smooth and surely there will be many more bumps ahead. However, we have learned from every experience and failed forward to get to where we are today. We lost our first pitch contest to NewU, a group that gives grants to minority journalists, in September 2014, and then we lost three more Aging 2.0 pitch contests after than until Ilan finally won the Chicago Aging 2.0 contest in 2016—and still we didn’t make it to the national convention. The White House Summit on Aging loved our idea and approached us to participate in their 2015 summit only to cut us weeks later because we were too unproven. We’ve been blown off by investors and our bosses took extremely dim views of our extracurricular activities.

I’m taking a huge risk and it may well fail—indeed more startups do than succeed. But we feel passionately that stories can be used not just to inform the masses in a newspaper or magazine, but to affect change on a personal level, to build community where none exists. So instead of writing about the president-elect, I might be writing about your grandma, or your friend’s grandma, and nothing would make me happier.

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

Be Fearless Spotlight: 3 Lessons Learned About Building A Kinder + Braver World

This Spotlight is a part of a special blog series curated 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. This Spotlight is authored by Maya Enista (@MEnista), Executive Director of the Born This Way Foundation.

Five years ago this month, Born This Way Foundation launched with the opening of a dialogue. At an event hosted at Harvard University, our co-founders Lady Gaga and her mom Cynthia Germanotta were joined by researchers, educators, experts, parents and—most importantly—young people. There, we unveiled our ambitious plans for an organization that would work online, in communities and in schools to harness and support the power of young people to build a kinder and braver world.

Four years ago last month, I first became a parent (a title I’ve earned twice over now) and in my role as a parent and as Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation, I am grateful for our commitment to building a kinder and braver world. I spend a lot of my time away from my children (as I am now, headed to Los Angeles for our first ever Kind Monsters EDU convening in partnership with Monster High) and I’m hopeful that in a few years they’ll be able to quote more than Lady Gaga lyrics when they are asked about the work that I do. I’ve learned some things about taking risks, being bold and failing forward—in parenting and at Born This Way Foundation—that I’m honored to share with the Be Fearless team, the young people that the foundation works with each day and my own children in the hope that these lessons learned will help others own their own fearless journey to create positive change in the world.

Lesson #1: Kindness Isn’t Just Nice, It’s Necessary

Kindness can seem like a quaint idea, but a growing body of research shows that it is fundamental to well-functioning communities and healthy, productive individuals. Acts of kindness are good for those performing them as well as those on the receiving end. And, in turn, encouraging stronger norms of kindness build the sorts of communities we all want to live and raise our children in.

This belief that kindness is not just “nice” but necessary has informed every aspect of our work. It’s why we’ve launched programs such as Channel Kindness, which is recruiting young people around the country to document acts of kindness in their communities. It is also why we’ve worked with our Research Advisory Board, chaired by Dr. Susan Swearer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, to develop metrics to measure kindness and bravery and incorporated those into the Foundation’s Born Brave Experience Studies.

Lesson #2: Dare To Be Honest—and Be Brave Enough To Be Vulnerable

 A core component of Born This Way Foundation’s work has always been encouraging young people (and everyone else!) to share their story. We know this isn’t always easy and often requires its own measure of fearlessness, but it can be a deeply powerful exercise. Our co-founder Cynthia saw this potential firsthand when her daughter began touring. On stage, Lady Gaga would share her story—speaking openly about her experiences with bullying, loneliness, anxiety and depression. This honesty was healing for her, but it left an impact on the young people listening… who began to share their own stories.

At Born This Way Foundation, we’ve seen the healing, comfort and inspiration that can take root when someone is brave enough to share their story. It can release pent up emotions that have been allowed to fester. It can foster connection—with close friends or complete strangers. It can change minds, tear down stigma and erase shame. And all it takes is being brave enough to be vulnerable.

Lesson #3: The Mind is as Important as the Body

Raising healthy kids can’t just mean protecting them from disease or physical harm. In order for children to flourish, they need resources to ensure their mental wellbeing and the development of strong social and emotional skills. These are the factors that will govern their ability to cope with adversity and interact productively with teachers, employers, friends and family members—ultimately shaping their long-term wellbeing and success.

That’s why Born This Way Foundation has made a point of reaching beyond our bubble and working with dozens of partner organizations to reshape the way we view of how to educate and raise healthy kids, advocating for a model that takes the whole child into account. This is no simple task, but it starts by putting resources behind their mental and emotional wellbeing and fostering positive school climates that serve as safe, welcoming places to learn.   

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

Be Fearless Spotlight: Crossing the Canyon for Brain Cancer Research

This Spotlight is a 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. This Spotlight is authored by Nicola (Nike) Beddow, Director of Communications and Partnerships at Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC2). ABCis a current grantee of the Case Foundation and partners with leading entrepreneurs, scientists and researchers to drive cutting edge research and treatments to find a cure for brain cancer. On October 11, 2016, Beddow hiked the Grand Canyon, rim to rim, with the 3000 Miles To A Cure team. Her story below originally appeared on the ABC2 blog, and exemplifies the organization’s commitment to living the Be Fearless principles. 

The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Its breathtaking rock layers tell our planet’s history. Over five million people a year visit this spectacular and twisted carving in the earth. They come to the Canyon to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones in their lives. For a group of 18 hikers, including myself, we crossed the Canyon, rim to rim in one day, for brain cancer research. Some of us ran it, most of us hiked it, all of us successfully completed the crossing with a renewed sense of purpose and hope (despite a few blisters and varying levels of physical exhaustion!)

“We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore,” said John Wesley Powell, an American naturalist who led a geographic expedition to explore the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon in 1869.

Fortunately, we knew a lot more than Powell when we began our descent into darkness at 5 am from the North Rim. We all had trained for the 23.5 mile hike that crosses the Colorado River, but trust me, there were still a lot of unknowns. First and foremost: Would our group make it out unscathed? Trail signs warned us, “Down is optional; Up is Mandatory.” Over 250 people have to be rescued from the Canyon each year.

Crossing the Canyon for Brain Cancer Research team pose for a photo at 5 am before they start their descent into the Canyon from the North Rim.

I was eager to start this journey. I didn’t think about whether or not I could make it—I had to make it, there was no other option. I wanted to honor the tenacity and grit of my sister Dana who died of brain cancer at the age of 31. I wanted to share stories of Dana’s life and legacy with her daughter Kati. I wanted to dedicate stretches of my hike to friends in the brain tumor community who have faced this hideous disease and have inspired others. I wanted to raise critical research dollars to help 3000 Miles to a Cure and ABC2 (Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure) speed new treatments for brain cancer patients.

Crossing the Colorado River.

Twelve hours after we began hiking, the last few steps out of the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail were exhilarating and bittersweet. Thirty years ago, when my sister Dana and I were in our early 20’s, we took a trip out West to visit the Grand Canyon. After a fun night of camping on the South Rim, the next morning we decided to just hike the Bright Angel Trail…no water, no preparation, nothing! The trek seemed easy for a while, until we got to Plateau Point and realized we had to climb all the way back up before sunset. I was on the verge of heatstroke and Dana was begging other hikers for water. Yes, we were idiots. We trudged our way back up in time and laughed at our foolish attempt to be cool hiker girls. We promised we would return to the Canyon one day. Sadly, that never happened. I miss my sister. I’m sure she was with me in spirit (and she probably made the last few miles even harder just to kick my behind!)

Nike with her sister Dana (left) and their friend Lee (right) at the Grand Canyon in 1986.

I am grateful to Maria and Lucia Parker from 3000 Miles to a Cure for leading this expedition and introducing me to so many passionate and committed individuals, including the amazing team at Primacy. Primacy is a digital agency that is developing an innovative virtual reality platform for cause-driven organizations like 3000 Miles to A Cure and ABC2 to share our missions and tell our real-life stories in more compelling ways. They shot 360 degree video in the Canyon and interviewed a number of us. As the project develops, I’ll be providing updates.

The Crossing the Canyon 2016 team.

I will forever carry street cred that I crossed the Grand Canyon, Rim to Rim! Most importantly, I’ll carry with me the conversations I had with my fellow hikers who had lost someone to this hideous disease or that had encountered other struggles in their lives, but found hope and healing through this communal experience.

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.

Be Fearless Spotlight: Ashoka

This Spotlight is a 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. This Spotlight is authored by Laxmi Parthasarathy (@laxmisarathy), Director of Global Media and Framework Change Partnerships at Ashoka.

How does a 35-year-old organization stay nimble, innovate and create meaningful change? By setting out on an audacious journey to redefine leadership. Over the last three decades, Ashoka has sparked the dreams of entrepreneurs from around the world and today it continues to be a fearless trailblazer by making big bets focused on helping society see that the world has shifted from patterns of repetition to a world defined by change. The organization is currently advancing a new model for leadership in “framework change”—changing individual mindsets at a large scale and ultimately changing behaviors or norms across society as a whole. As our founder, Bill Drayton notes, Ashoka’s role is to ensure that this change is for the good of all.

From Fellows to Framework Change

In the early 1980s, Ashoka set out to ensure that social entrepreneurship would be studied in universities, would become a common model for philanthropy and would eventually become a new norm for the civil society sector. The program proved to be successful and Ashoka is well-known around the world for its robust Fellowship program that includes more than 3,000 Fellows from 89 countries. We could have stopped there—satisfied with the impact of this program, but we took pause to assess our potential for impact. We knew there was even more that we could do as an organization and network. Today, we are advancing a new framework change. We are helping society envision that more people than ever before can contribute to change. An integral part of this work is ensuring that generations of young people develop cognitive empathy-based ethics and practice the skills of leadership, teamwork and changemaking.

This shift, even for an organization that specializes in identifying, nurturing and supporting changemaking, was not easy, and we have learned a few lessons along the way.

Lesson #1: Building a decentralized, but integrated organization

Electing Fellows in 89 countries and operating offices in more than 30 cities required a shift in Ashoka’s own internal leadership and organizational structure from solo entrepreneurship to collaborative entrepreneurship. Driven by the urgency to ensure another generation of young people would not grow up without being prepared for the 21st century, my colleagues and I took a courageous step to shake things up and build what we called the “Ashoka hub structure.” Rather than opening more country offices and increasing operating costs, Ashoka began to hire framework change leaders in five regional hubs to ensure that our focus was on an integrated global goal. This shift in our structure caused some unease within the organization as it was different from anything we had done before, but ultimately, the organization’s leadership encouraged the urgency of our work to conquer the fear of something new.

Lesson #2: Leading from the middle

It was important to start implementing changes from the middle of the organization to ensure that our vision ‘Everyone a Changemaker’ was not just a slogan, but rather an ethos. Working with staff other than leadership was integral, as they would be the ones to experiment, implement and authentically lead the uptake of new ideas in the organization. Ashoka has always hired highly entrepreneurial staff—we ask tough questions, challenge the status quo and are keen to experiment—so trusting our colleagues to help guide this organizational shift was a natural progression for an organization of changemakers. For example, staff in various regions understood how to incorporate cultural context, local partnerships and leverage existing programs in their own unique ways.

Lesson #3: Team of teams collaboration

For many years, Ashoka’s focus was on supporting systems-changing social entrepreneurs (Ashoka Fellows). Thousands of Fellows later, the insights we have gained and the collaborations we have launched are what position our network to focus on framework change.

Ensuring that cognitive empathy-based ethics are recognized as critical for navigating today’s world defined by rapid change, we brought together a group of Ashoka Fellows who had this expertise and who had been working with children and young people for many years. We didn’t stop there; we began to find, elect and connect a new community of change leaders within primary and elementary schools around the world, branding them as Changemaker Schools. This was one of the most profound and significant changes to the core business of our organization. Along with natural self-doubt about whether we were on the right path, many would ask what business we had working in education. We knew, however, that our commitment to our big bet and the collaborators we were bringing together would propel us forward as we continued experimenting, learning from failure and refining our processes.

As our founder, Bill Drayton says, “a team is not a team unless everyone is an initiatory player.” We had a clear methodology for spreading the idea of social entrepreneurship and are applying this again. We are collaborating with Ashoka Fellows, corporations, media, entrepreneurs and a new community of educators as our “team of teams.” A team of teams structure meant breaking down silos between programs within Ashoka and recognizing that every new project ahead would require a new set of team members—staff and partners—with unique contributions to make along the way.

Managing to redefine an organization’s leadership in the social sector required creativity, an entrepreneurial spirit, empathy and distributed leadership; however, Ashoka’s methodology used to strategically tip the idea of social entrepreneurship provided the foundation and courage to Be Fearless.