Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Denver: One of my favorite guests on the Business of Giving is Cheryl Dorsey, the President of Echoing Green. So I was excited when she said, “Come on over and give us a look.” So I took off for 7th Avenue and 35th Street to speak to some of the members of the Echoing Green Team. We’ll start with Cheryl telling us about the organization.
Cheryl: We were founded in1987 by the senior leadership of a private equity firm called General Atlantic, who were true pioneers in the space of social entrepreneurship. And the mission of Echoing Green is simple and wonderful: It is to unleash next generation talent to solve the world’s greatest problems.
Stacy: Talking about the culture at Echoing Green — I am one of the newer members of the Echoing Green family — one of the things that stood out for me is the layout of our office. It was designed to resemble a beehive. And that was an amazing thing for me to think about and that bees, they come and they go and they interact with each other… And they’re all working towards a common goal and that’s very similar to what happens here. Even though we have our designated pods and sections in our office, it’s designed in such a way that we flow in and out of our conversations.
We flow in and out of our daily work lives, so we learn about not only the work and things that we’re doing from day to day, but we learn about our personal lives: our families, situations that we may be going through and how we can support and help each other. And that’s one of the things that is very endearing to me in working at Echoing Green.
Lindsay: One of the things that I have kind of always been in pursuit of is the opportunity to be around people I can learn from and who are kind of eager to exchange ideas, exchange good places to go for lunch, a hug, what-have-you, but kind of all in service of us working again towards… We have something in common. We are really excited about helping to support energetic talent who’s really committed for the long haul to achieving long-term social change. So, I think that’s like waking up every day and working with people who are constantly thinking about how to do that better is really exciting.
Corie: One of the things that jumps out for me about working at Echoing Green is this ritual or custom that we have called the Be Bold Award. And on a bi-weekly basis, the whole staff gets together in one of our conference rooms here for a staff meeting where we’re all reporting out on our work and discussing big topics for the organization and then at the end of each of those meetings, someone receives the Be Bold Award. Whoever receives it, passes it onto someone else at the next meeting and that award is really all about recognizing five core values that we’ve identified among our staff at the organization which are: Thinking Big, Community, Always Learning, Resourcefulness and Being Present. I just think that award is such a nice reminder every two weeks of sort of how we want to show up in the workplace and a great way to kind of recognize our co-workers whether we work closely with them or not for something that we’ve noticed.
Cheryl: And it was interesting to me probably always wearing my fellow hat first as a staff person trying to think about how do you think about the programming and the community that’s required to build this world class, this best in class fellowship program and what happens when you pay attention to that at the expense of your corporate culture and that I would say, that got us to be sort of leaders in the field but as an institution having to take pause and say, we’re not going to be around to serve anybody unless we really figure out who we are, the values we stand for and how do we invest in our people and our talent first. The women sitting around this table and the rest of my colleagues had really been instrumental in saying “If we’re going to move forward, we’ve got to think about that.” So I think the lesson to learn from people out there trying to build their own institution is really how valuable culture building is and it’s not a static activity.
Lindsay: People start task forces that are meant to address a specific programmatic initiative and they have recognized that they need input from a variety of teams and rather than kind of do that in an ad hoc way kind of trying to formalize it either for a discrete period of time maybe it turns into kind of an ongoing effort. One of those is the Search and Selection Task Force of which I think for probably the last three years or so that has met formally and that is a way for people on the communications team and the fellowship team and the knowledge team to really get together with some regularity and think about not just the specifics of the process for this go-around, but even like what kinds of system changes we might wanna make for the future that can make all of our lives better.
Corie: We are seated one block away from Penn Station and because we’re often kind of the first funders of these fellows, they’re really early stage. Some of them don’t even have their own office space and if they do, are often looking for meeting rooms and things like that. So really any day of the week here, you might see an Echoing Green fellow walking in and out, getting a chance to catch up with them on what’s new on their work. And that’s really just kind of a constant source of inspiration and a constant sort of visual reminder of why we’re doing the work that we’re doing which is really fun.
Stacy: Echoing Green not only encourages its fellows and its employees, but we have an expansive community of both former employees and alumni fellows who are engaged with us. There are employees that have left Echoing Green but they still remain in contact not only with people that are still here but they still follow our community and participate very deeply in our community. And that is something that I think is very important and I think is also an acknowledgment of the work that Cheryl has done in keeping us all engaged, in keeping us all feeling like we’re part of the family like even if you leave, you can always come home. There’s always a cube for you. There’s always a seat for you here. And that’s something that really just speaks to who we are at Echoing Green.
Denver: I want to extend my thanks to those who participated in this piece. In addition to Cheryl, there was Stacy Lewis, Lindsay Booker, and Corie Lieberman. You can listen to this again, read the transcript, and see pictures of their beehive office and the participants by going to denverfrederick.wordpress.com and we’ll have a link there to my full interview with Cheryl Dorsey.
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