My Experience at Africa’s First Globalizer Conference

The Globalizer Participants: - Panelist, Ashoka Fellows, and Staff

It is a pleasure to write about my experience at the Ashoka Globalizer conference in Nairobi – the first-ever Globalizer to be held in Africa!  James Katumba, Educate!’s Program Manager and I attended the workshop.  The entire Ashoka East Africa and Globalizer teams led by Roshan Paul did an excellent job creating an experience for the Fellows that enabled us to learn, build partnerships, and come away with a deeper understanding of ourselves and our work.I want to highlight three crucial moments from the Globalizer experience to give everyone a glimpse into what happened at Globalizer and the wonderful experience we all shared.

Moment Number 1: “It’s all people!”

 First, in our 1-on-1 sessions with leading experts from across Africa, James and I had the chance to talk with Alain De-Cat, the Managing Director of Siemens Nigeria.  Alain is someone with excellent leadership experience and while he comes from the private sector, so much of his knowledge and experience is applicable to our work in the citizen sector.

In building our social enterprises, one of the most overlooked, yet important factors of our work is simple: the people within the organisation.  We oftentimes focus so much on our program design, impact, strategy for the next five or ten years, funding model, partnerships, etc.  Yet, isn’t the single most important factor to get right in any social enterprise the people within the enterprise?  Without a group of committed people leading forward the organization none of the social impact we all strive to achieve can be possible. 

Therefore, Alain started by counseling James and I on some of the “people” challenges we are facing within Educate!.  His experience leading a much larger organization made it clear how important it is to get the people side of the organization right.  After his wise counsel, James and I asked him what the biggest challenge he is facing is.  We might expect him to say something like “getting sales up” or “partnership building,” “government relations” or something of the sort. Yet do you know what he said?  Eric and James “it’s all people!”  It was so reassuring to hear someone like Alain with such a wealth of experience tell us that he faces the same challenges we are facing.  It let us know the people challenges are to be welcomed and expected and the only way forward is to continue to learn as much as we can and solve one challenge at a time.  Thank you Alain for your insight and ability to help us learn through your own vulnerability!

Moment Number 2: A Peer-to-Peer Paradigm Shift

 On the first day of Globalizer, the Fellows sat together as a group of peers and led a moderated conversation about our work and challenges.  I think we all came away with important new insights, encouraging support from our fellow Fellows, and a refreshing perspective from people who understand our work on a personal level.  The challenge I focused on was that I wish I had seen Educate!’s ability to scale approximately 1 year sooner than I did.  For many months it has been on my mind how I could have seen Educate!’s ability to scale sooner and therefore unleashed the potential within the organization.  You might ask why this is such an important challenge?  Well scaling sooner would not only allow us to reach more people but also by waiting we almost lost a unique inflection moment and stifled that potential within the organization.  Therefore, the timing of scale cannot be too soon, nor too late!  Yet James and  my peers encouraged me and helped me to see that it was not only the first time I had been in such a position, but it was also the first time our entire team had been at such a moment.  Therefore, it is perhaps to be expected that we might not see it right away.  But what is important is that we were open to learning from advisers and mentors and therefore, while we may have been late, we did not miss the unique inflection moment completely – better late than never!  There are few people who can understand the intricacies of this situation as well as other fellows and my teammates like James.  So to have the chance to reflect on our path and the timing of our decisions with this group was a wonderful opportunity and illustrates how Globalizer deepened all the Fellows’ understanding of our work.

 Moment Number 3: An Unexpected Lesson from Jerry White

 Roshan showed us a video from Jerry White which should be soon available to be seen on the Ashoka Globalizer website (if it’s not there already):  Jerry was struck by a landmine in 1984 at approximately age 17.  He went on to create the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and made great progress worldwide to protect the rights of people with disabilities and ban landmines globally.  We might expect Jerry to talk about the strategy he developed to create a global movement, his many awards (including the Nobel Peace Prize), or his vision for the future, but instead Jerry focused his video on something even more fundamental: aligning oneself with one’s work.  His framework is simple yet powerful.  Three concentric circles with the innermost being one’s core – who we are fundamentally as people and individuals.  The second circle is the challenge we choose to devote ourselves to solving, or the area of our work.  And the third circle is the technical expertise and methodology we use to solve that challenge and do our work.  Jerry’s point, which has stuck with me ever since, is that these three circles must be perfectly aligned, and continually re-aligned as we move through our lives.  It struck me that someone like Jerry with such a wealth of experience, rather than talking about the impact he’s had, number of people he’s reached, or the extent of global scale of his organization, instead turned his focus within.  I came away with an enhanced understanding of the importance of the internal work that we do as a prerequisite for any external work and impact we want to have in the world.

So I hope the three moments above give you a glimpse into our experience at Africa’s first ever Ashoka Globalizer conference.  Thank you to Ashoka, the East Africa crew, and the entire Globalizer team for your vision and commitment.

Eric Glustrom- Founder of Educate!