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Allison Gauss
social impact leaders

7 Inspiring Talks By Social Impact Leaders

The social impact sector is full of passionate people with innovative outlooks on the world’s greatest problems. One of the goals of the Collaborative + Classy Awards is to unite nonprofits and social enterprises with these leaders to share experiences and move the sector forward. The event will revolve around keynotes, panels, curated debates, and product demonstrations presented by executives, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and innovative nonprofit professionals.

To give you a taste of the amazing ideas and conversations coming to the Collaborative, we’ve gathered a few videos in which our speakers show their passion, expertise, and creativity. These amazing social sector leaders will be speaking at the Collaborative, although their talks and sessions in Boston may cover other topics.

In these videos, our speakers cover causes such as hunger, human rights, and education, and offer insights on social entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility. The Collaborative will bring the social sector together to work together, so these varied topics and ideas are representative of the types of sessions and events coming to Boston this June.

1. Cheryl Dorsey

Dr. Cheryl Dorsey is the president of Echoing Green, an organization funding the next generation of social innovators. Holding degrees from Harvard in both medicine and public policy, she has worked in the Women’s Bureau of the US Labor Department and serves on the board of the SEED Foundation and the Harvard Board of Overseers. In this short talk, she outlines the qualities she and Echoing Green look for in young leaders with big ideas.

Key Quote

It’s not enough just to have the idea, you have to execute on it, you have to serve your clientele, you have to prove your model of social change is making an impact, and you have to build on your mission-driven business.

2. Caleb Harper

Caleb Harper is the principal investigator and director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the MIT Media Lab.  A member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) New Vision for Agriculture Transformation Leaders Network, Harper’s work is changing the way we grow, study, and consume food. In this talk, he compares our current food system to early computers and even adds a few laughs to the analogy.

Key Quote

I knew more information about my Cabbage Patch [doll], than we know about any food that you ate today.

3. Michelle L. Sullivan

Michelle L. Sullivan is the director of corporate social innovation at Caterpillar and the president of the Caterpillar Foundation, one of the world’s top corporate philanthropy arms. Since its start in 1952, this foundation has given more than half a billion dollars to support progress in different causes–from environmental sustainability to girls’ education.

Sullivan represented the Caterpillar Foundation at the 2014 Global Citizen Festival, which brought A-List musical acts together to perform for 60,000 people devoted to social change. In this interview with Ronan Farrow of MSNBC, she explains Caterpillar’s approach to corporate social responsibility and the importance of collaboration between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.

Key Quote

We want people around the world to be on the path to sustainable progress and prosperity.

4. Jacob Lief

Jacob Lief is the founder and CEO of the Ubuntu Education Fund, a nonprofit that takes a long-term approach to changing the lives of the most vulnerable children in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He is an Aspen Global Institute Fellow and was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

In this TEDx talk just after the death of Nelson Mandela, Lief tells the story of how witnessing South Africa’s first democratic elections led him to a lifetime of service there. Furthermore, he challenges donors and organizations to think beyond statistics and recognize that changing a child’s life may cost a lot more than the traditional “dollar a day” model.

Key Quote

If I’ve learned anything in fifteen years, it’s that raising children isn’t scalable. It takes a lot more than a twelve-month grant cycle to raise a child.

5. Sonal Shah

Sonal Shah is the founding executive director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation at Georgetown University. She also worked as an economist at the US Department of Treasury, served as the deputy assistant to the President and founding director of the White House’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, and led Google’s global development initiatives.

But the most formative stage of her career was when she and her siblings founded Indicorps, a nonprofit on a mission to reconnect young people of the Indian diaspora through a year of service. Her talk explains how the rules of their program (no drinking, no fraternizing, and a stipend of seventeen dollars a month) led to entrepreneurship, innovation, and understanding.

Key Quote

We wanted innovation to happen between the intersection of the fellows and the communities. Innovation is happening every single day around the world. We just don’t choose to see it.

6. Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond is the director of the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and the former director of operations for the Initiative’s Satellite Sentinel Project. He has also served Oxfam International and Oxfam America on the ground in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia.

In this TEDx talk, Raymond not only shows how he and his team are identifying human rights atrocities through satellite imagery, he also outlines next steps for creating a standardized and ethical system for this technology.

Key Quote

We need ethics, we need rules, and we need standards. The people we’re trying to assist—at home and abroad—they deserve nothing less.

7. Scott Harrison, charity: water

Scott Harrison is the founder and CEO of charity: water, one of the world’s largest and best-known water organizations. After a decade as a club promoter, he spent two years working with Mercy Ships in West Africa. In Liberia, he witnessed the devastating effects of poverty and water scarcity that inspired him to found charity: water. Since then, he has been recognized on Forbes Magazine’s Impact 30 list and named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

In his talk at a Google Zeitgeist event, he shares his story and the disruptive model charity: water has used to break through the cynicism and hopelessness that prevents so many people from giving to social impact organizations.

Key Quote

If we were going to solve a problem this big, we would need to create an epic brand that rivaled the Googles, the Apples, the Nikes of the world.

These innovators and social sector leaders are just a few of 100 speakers and panelists lending their knowledge and experience to the Collaborative + Classy Awards in Boston this June. As you can see, they each offer different perspectives about what creates social change and how we must move forward. Attendees will get to learn from and engage with our speakers as well as many members of the Leadership Council, who decide the Classy Award winners.

Our speakers will not only share important lessons on programming, impact, and transparency– they will also speak to the characteristics funders look for in programs they want to support. From partnerships to more meaningful metrics to revolutionary breakthroughs, attendees of the Collaborative + Classy Awards will walk away with the tools to accelerate progress at their organization and a passion to do more than they ever thought possible.


Social good leaders hustling for world change.

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