Amplify. Listen.

March 30
by Michelle Baldwin

Recently I adopted a new approach on setting a New Year’s resolution where I choose words that reflect my intention for that year. Last year my intention and words were “bold and courageous” and this year I chose the word “amplify”. The word amplify represents a readiness to share our models, learning and failures in our journey to build a network for nonprofits, an ecosystem for social enterprise and social finance, and a shared space for social innovators. 
When Kadie Ward sent an email in January to request that Lore Wainwright and I consider coming to Ukraine to share our models for social enterprise and social innovation, we jumped at the opportunity to amplify our work. The audience would be local elected officials and city staff from the municipalities in Ukraine. In her email she shared that “Ukraine is a really vibrant and thriving country with motivated civil society who are leading positive growth.  The country has about 700,000 internally displaced persons, who are driving social enterprise. It's really a remarkable dynamic and and I think Pillar could provide a great contribution as well as learn from what's going on here.” The mission is called Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance (PLEDGG), a project initiated by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). There was a growing appetite to explore social enterprise as a model of SME growth and community development.

While I had not participated in an international development experience I knew from those in my life that who have had these experiences that setting an intention rooted in global learning where you listen and learn has deeper impact then coming in as the “expert.” And so I shifted my intention from amplify to “amplify, listen & learn.” 
In London, it was the 2008 economic recession where we heard from the community an appetite to learn more and explore social enterprise. The Ukraine is rebuilding from an economic crisis and they see the value of social enterprise as a tool for building their economy and social impact. The parallels in how people and communities are resilient amongst crisis and seek new solutions to create vibrant communities was inspiring.
As the planning unfolded the organizers in Ukraine were undergoing a research study about social enterprise and they were finding existing social enterprises who were also going to be part of the workshops. It was incredible to watch as they discovered that Ukraine has 700 social enterprises and that there were businesses doing social good, they just didn’t have a label for it. 
There were so many aha moments during our visit and here are just a few:
  • I felt a bit of nervousness as the trip approached because the barometer for success whenever facilitating and public speaking is the connection and energy that happens between presenter and audience, I had a fear that because of the language barrier this would not be possible. What became obvious very quickly was that we had a shared passion for social enterprise that connected us in a deep way.
  • At end of the session one attendee with a disability who has started a social enterprise requested a list of all the social enterprises we are aware of where a person with a disability started it not a nonprofit. This was one of those moments where it was the gentle nudge at the perfect time in our work to anchor our work with those who have lived experience leading and using human centered design. So often we look to nonprofits as solution builders but what if we looked at people with lived experience as social entrepreneurs and built supports around people not institutions.
  • Gender equity is a focus in Ukraine and some of the social enterprises we learned from had emerged from women who were looking to support other women. We met courageous and creative women whose products and services ranged from candles, handmade fashion items to adventure sports – the possibilities are endless.
  • Kadie shared during the Forum that the “universal currency is hope” and this so reflected the felt experience in every fiber of my being that even among the crisis, corruption and loss their remains a deep desire for social change and tremendous hope.
  • How can we more formally set up global partnerships where we share best practices, learning and failures. What kind of technology platforms could reduce the distance and make our shared learning more accessible?
  • Arts and culture are embedded in community and people of all ages engage in it. At the Lviv National Art Gallery we came across youth completely immersed in the beauty of the art. The history and culture share the gritty truth about the war and crisis in Ukraine and even among the harsh reality there remains this sense of hope and beauty.
  • Media creates a story and picture in our mind about a country and while some of it may be accurate it can leave out the kindness, creativity, culture and rich history that exists in a country like Ukraine. As citizens of the world it is important that we stay open to hearing the full story.
  • If we had a blank slate what would we do differently in London to build a support system for social enterprise?  An opportunity like this creates the space for reflection and questioning our own systems and models in the pursuit of setting the conditions for success for social enterprise.
  • The social enterprise panels from Ukraine and case studies and stories we shared from London were when the impact came alive. Storytelling is a powerful tool. This was when we were all collectively living this notion to amplify, listen and learn.

I go forward with a deep desire to continue to partner with Ukraine and other countries to build a network of support that is rooted in shared learning. I have new colleagues and friends that will be forever in my heart and mind as people who transformed my thinking and my life.
I go forward with much hope for social change that will transform communities.
I go forward with a deep desire to amplify, listen and learn.
Read about Lore's experience in Ukraine here.