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GDI and partners announce new Global Opportunity Youth Initiative to mobilize communities around the world to support youth employment

Last week, GDI and a group of design partners announced the Global Opportunity Youth Initiative (GOYI), a new effort to catalyze and support collaboratives of government, business, education, nonprofit, and youth leaders within a given community, who share a goal of increasing jobs and livelihoods for young people. These collaboratives will focus specifically on creating action plans in support of “opportunity youth”—young people who are out of school, unemployed, or working in informal jobs.

The announcement was made at the 2018 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit, which convened more than 550 technical experts from 50+ countries committed to advancing the social and economic well-being of young people globally.

The Global Opportunity Youth Initiative is currently housed at the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions and is being co-designed by partners GDI, Prudential Financial, and YouthBuild International.  Prudential has also generously committed more than $5 million to seed the initiative. The organizations bring complementary strengths and expertise to the challenge of global youth unemployment and share a deep commitment to supporting pathways for economic opportunity. In addition to the design partners, the initiative has been informed by dozens of expert interviews and thought leaders whose collective input was captured in the recently released report A Global Opportunity: Get Youth Working, which can be accessed here.  

“There is now an opportunity for the sector to evolve from a perennial focus on finding the next “silver bullet” single model, innovation, or organization.  Instead, community leaders will work collaboratively to identify systemic approaches that draw on the best elements of different youth interventions most relevant to their local economy.”

– Jamie McAuliffe, Senior Fellow, Aspen Forum for Community Solutions

GOYI will support community collaboratives through catalytic funding, a learning community, global advocacy, and a rigorous focus on data and evidence.  GOYI will emphasize diagnosing and addressing the current and future impact of technology on economic pathways for youth, particularly young women. By 2023, GOYI will seek to establish collaboratives in five communities experiencing chronic youth unemployment and will aim to show positive, sustained economic impacts for hundreds of thousands of youth. GOYI’s long-term vision, aligned with the 2030 Social Development Goals, is to expand the network to include dozens of communities that are leading the way to achieve results for millions of global opportunity youth.

“Today Prudential furthers our commitment to supporting pathways for opportunity youth in the United States with an anchor investment in the Global Opportunity Youth Initiative.  We look forward to collaborating with other private and public sector partners to accelerate economic opportunities for the millions of opportunity youth worldwide.”

Sarah Keh,Vice President of Corporate Giving, Prudential Financial, Inc.

GOYI is currently validating and refining its approach through meetings with community leaders, youth, and other decision makers in advance of its official launch in 2019. GOYI is exploring opportunities to engage with communities in Kenya, South Africa, Colombia, and India through a series of workshops and site visits. In December 2018, the Global Opportunity Youth Initiative will convene 20 global opportunity youth leaders in Philadelphia. There, participants will provide input into the initiative’s design pre-launch, and will form the initial cohort of a global opportunity youth network that will be a key supporting pillar of the effort.

“Over 40 years of YouthBuild history, we have seen and celebrated the profound ripple effect that the leadership of young people can have on the world – from the favelas of Brazil, to post-conflict Bosnia, to right here in Washington D.C. The Global Opportunity Youth Initiative will ensure youth voice and agency is central to its design and implementation. “

– Tim Cross, President, YouthBuild International

GOYI will work with a range of partners and funders and welcomes the opportunity to speak with others who share the vision and ambition and are interested in partnering. To learn more, please contact Jamie McAuliffe, Senior Fellow at Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. (; or, +1-917-282-9353).

“Our experience building social impact initiatives at the Global Development Incubator has taught us that creating systems-level, scaled impact requires working with communities to meet them where they are. Expanding jobs and livelihoods for global opportunity youth is no different – and we’re excited to tap the power of local communities through this new initiative.”

– Alice Gugelev, Director, Global Development Incubator

Read more about the initiative here >>

GDI taps global development leader Gary Edson as President and CEO

PRESS RELEASE: GDI taps global development leader Gary Edson as President and CEO

Appointment will elevate GDI’s reach and capabilities as the premier organization building social impact startups and partnerships 

WASHINGTON, DC – September 25 – The Global Development Incubator (GDI), a leader in building social impact initiatives to address some of the world’s toughest challenges, announced today the appointment of Gary Edson – a White House veteran, non-profit executive, and business entrepreneur – as President and CEO. 

Edson is a recognized leader in global development, whose experience includes conceiving and establishing the ground-breaking Millennium Challenge Corporation to fight global poverty and co-leading the development of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest commitment ever by any nation to combat a single disease.

“Gary is an inspiring leader with a proven track record of turning innovative ideas into real-world results. We are excited to welcome him and confident that his vision and leadership will open new opportunities for GDI to create large-scale, lasting impact globally,” said Elchi Nowrojee, GDI U.S. Board Chair and a Principal at The Carlyle Group.

“Gary has launched some of the world’s most transformative global development initiatives,” said GDI Founder and Executive Director Andrew Stern, who will be transitioning to a new role as Director of Business Development. “His unique combination of public service, private sector experience, and social entrepreneurship is exactly what is needed to take GDI to the next level.”

Under Edson’s leadership, GDI will build on its first five years of designing, launching, and advising cutting-edge social impact initiatives, such as EYElliance, which is improving the lives of the visually impaired; citiesRISE, which is addressing mental health for young people in cities across the globe; and the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, which is tackling one of the greatest humanitarian challenges of our time. 

“I’m honored to be joining the talented team at GDI,” Edson said. “Under Andrew’s leadership, GDI has gained a reputation for challenging the conventional, pioneering the unorthodox, and pushing the envelope of global development. I look forward to working with the GDI team to create even bigger and bolder solutions with new and existing partners.” 

Prior to joining GDI, Edson was a Principal of Civic Enterprises and Acting CEO of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, where he oversaw the development of a new strategy to end cervical cancer deaths among HIV-positive women in sub-Saharan Africa and the launch of the Partnership to End AIDS and Cervical Cancer.

Previously, Edson served in the George W. Bush White House as Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy National Economic Advisor. In addition to his work on AIDS and global poverty, he served as the president’s chief negotiator for summits of G7/8, Latin American, EU and Asia-Pacific leaders; coordinated the U.S. response to financial crises in Latin America and elsewhere; and oversaw the launch of initiatives on clean water, human trafficking, global peacekeeping, and food security.

Earlier in his non-profit career, Edson served as President of Conservation International and was CEO of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, helping Haiti rebuild after the devastating 2010 earthquake. His private sector experience has centered on private equity and business strategy. He was a Managing Director of Baker & McKenzie Policy and Compliance Consulting LLC and a Managing Director at what is now the Albright Stonebridge Group.

GDI works across multiple sectors and geographies, regularly partnering with governments, foundations, NGOs, and the private sector to develop new and scalable solutions to global challenges. With Edson’s diverse background and breadth of experience, GDI is well-positioned to build on its success and achieve even greater impact worldwide.

MEDIA CONTACT: For media inquiries, contact

ABOUT THE GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT INCUBATOR: The Global Development Incubator (GDI) is a non-profit that builds startups and partnerships to address some of the world’s toughest global development challenges. Since its founding in 2013, GDI has shaped over 35 social impact initiatives – including designing, building, launching, and exiting several entirely new initiatives that now stand as independent organizations including Convergence, the first investor platform for blended finance; Co-Impact, a philanthropic collaborative pooling funds from ultra-high net worth individuals; and citiesRISE, a challenge for cities to turn the tide on young peoples’ mental health. GDI’s partners come from diverse sectors and include Omidyar Network, Mastercard Foundation, the Gates Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, Visa, and the Canadian government. GDI is headquartered in Washington, DC, and has offices in New York City, San Francisco, Nairobi, and Hong Kong. Learn more at

Download the full press release here.



What happens behind the scenes? Explore GDI’s 2017 Annual Report

We’re excited to release GDI’s 2017 annual report, which gives a behind-the-scenes look at how we build startups and partnerships to address some of the world’s toughest global development challenges.

Highlights include:

  • Deep dives on how we’ve collaborated with partners to build the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, Emerging Public Leaders, the Partnership for Economic Inclusion, and other initiatives
  • A “Where are they now?” look at exited initiatives Convergence, Co-Impact, and HealthEnabled
  • Lessons from both can’t-believe-it-successes and downright failures of 2017

> Explore our annual report

A GDI Case Study: ISF Advisors

How does GDI design and build social impact startups?

It’s a question we get a lot, so we’ve tried to answer it in a new GDI case study on ISF Advisors (formerly the Initiative for Smallholder Finance).

Starting with a Dalberg state of the sector market sizing report, GDI convened and facilitated a range of partners to design, build, and launch ISF in 2013. ISF initially launched as a research and facilitation platform to close the smallholder farmer finance gap but after two years, the platform pivoted to become an intermediary and advisory group helping to structure rural finance investments and partnerships.

GDI made ISF’s transition from a research platform to an advisory firm possible by helping ISF bring in approximately USD 6 million in flexible funding, providing strategic support, and building out ISF’s core staff of 10+ experienced hires. Today, ISF remains in GDI’s portfolio but continues to discuss exit opportunities as they arise.

To learn more about our partners along the way and understand what we’ve learned from both successes and challenges in building ISF, read the full case study here >

Want to learn more about how GDI builds initiatives? Check out our case study on Convergence.


In Collaboration with GDI, Village Enterprise Closes Investment for First Development Impact Bond for Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa

In collaboration with GDI, Village Enterprise has announced the completion of its first round of funding for its Development Impact Bond (DIB), resulting in $3.5 million in capital raised. The DIB will fund Village Enterprise’s poverty alleviation efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. With the DIB’s funding, Village Enterprise will “provide first-time entrepreneurs who live in extreme poverty with seed capital, training and mentoring to start more than 4,600 small sustainable businesses in rural Kenya and Uganda by 2020.”

The Village Enterprise DIB ties funding to impact results that are pre-agreed upon and subsequently verified. Avnish Gungadurdoss, Managing Partner of Instiglio and one of the partners in building the DIB, noted, “This DIB, which pays Village Enterprise for improvements in income levels of extreme poor households, is remarkable because of the ambitious outcomes it incentivizes. By tying funds to such ambitious outcomes and providing full flexibility for Village Enterprise to innovate on its program design and delivery practices, this DIB aims to enable a leap in the program’s cost-effectiveness.”

The DIB model isn’t new, but at GDI, we’re excited to be piloting a new twist on it by adding a “trustee” role to the Village Enterprise DIB, which could ultimately lower the costs and structural complexity that often plague DIBs and limit participation. As Trustee, GDI serves as the central “clearinghouse,” holding all cash inflows from outcome payers in escrow until we disburse funds to service providers, once payments are verified. GDI also contracts individually with all parties involved, minimizing the challenge of connecting organizations of different sizes and capabilities.

The longer-term goal of incorporating this role is to scale a poverty alleviation outcomes fund to increase the pool of capital available for poverty reduction and job creation programs while ensuring that measurable results are achieved. According to Alice Gugelev, who has led GDI’s work on this DIB, “Efforts are underway to scale the outcomes fund in order to address existing challenges with impact bonds such as high processing costs and complex documentation. In the scale-up, the outcomes fund plans to engage additional high caliber service providers like Village Enterprise and increase impact through this innovative and efficient mechanism.”

Learn more about this work on Village Enterprise’s website.

Emerging Public Leaders Names President Sirleaf as Co-Chair

Emerging Public Leaders (EPL), a GDI-incubated initiative, has named President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (the former Liberian head of state) as Co-Chair, positioning Emerging Public Leaders as an influential driver of youth leadership in Africa. Through a two-year, highly competitive fellowship, Emerging Public Leaders is preparing the next generation of competent and ethical public-sector leaders in Africa. GDI is incredibly excited to celebrate this major milestone with Emerging Public Leaders as it continues working towards the “tipping point” for good governance in Africa.

President Sirleaf served as the president of Liberia from 2006 to 2018, becoming the first elected female head of state in Africa. She said of Emerging Public Leaders, “I am delighted to join an organization at the forefront of professionalizing Africa’s civil service. I know firsthand how critical a strong civil service is for any country hoping to drive towards good governance and democracy, deliver quality services to its people, and spur economic and inclusive growth – especially for women – and look forward to helping Emerging Public Leaders expand its partnerships and footprint across Africa to achieve that mission.”

Emerging Public Leaders expands and adapts the model of the President’s Young Professional Program in Liberia, which receives operational and advisory support from GDI. During the past decade, this program has recruited and supported over 140 public service fellows in Liberia; the vast majority of whom continue to work as professionals in Liberia’s civil service. With Liberia’s success and innovation, Emerging Public Leaders has recently expanded its public service fellowship to Ghana and intends to grow a pan-African network of 500 public sector leaders by 2022. President Sirleaf will play a crucial role in the program’s efforts to professionalize leadership in Africa’s civil service, encouraging other partners and governments to join the effort as the organization continues to expand to other African countries.

Read the full press release here.

To learn more about Emerging Public Leader’s work, check out their website here. And don’t forget to follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook!

If a Report Is Published and No One Reads It, Did It Really Happen?

You’ve probably experienced it before: After months of conducting interviews, research, and analysis for a landmark report, only a small group of people actually read the final product you publish. This situation is not only dispiriting, but also presents a serious impact challenge to many of us working in the global development space. Funders and organizations may spend millions of dollars each year on research that never makes it into the hands of those have the power to drive change on the ground.

But, there is a way to bridge the gap between publishing research and changing behavior.

In a new article published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “If a Report Is Published and No One Reads It, Did It Really Happen?”, GDI’s Malia Bachesta Eley lays out four key tips for ensuring that important research is read and put to use in solving global development challenges:

  1. People want less talk and more action.
  2. Shorter is always better.
  3. Know your audience and tailor the content accordingly.
  4. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Throughout the article, Malia draws insights from the experience of one GDI initiative – the  Rural and Agricultural Finance Learning Lab (RAFLL) – but shows how we can all be champions for intentional, strategic communications to drive greater impact across sectors.

Read the full article here >>

Emerging Public Leaders announces its first Ghana class

Emerging Public Leaders (EPL), a GDI initiative, announced its first class of fellows in Ghana. The class includes 21 of Ghana’s brightest young leaders, chosen through a competitive process of more than 400 applicants. As part of EPL, these new fellows will be placed in two-year positions within Ghana’s civil service, where they will use their talents to enrich the country’s government and achieve social impact. They will also have access to a broad range of support, including mentoring, professional development, and EPL’s alumni network.

Building from the successful model of the President’s Young Professionals Program of Liberia, EPL is committed to driving development in Africa through a stronger civil service. EPL’s expansion into Ghana is a core part of its strategy towards achieving its goal of building a pan-African network of 500 young leaders in public service by 2021.

To learn more about EPL’s work, check out their website here. And don’t forget to follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook!

Global Digital Health Index launches alongside World Health Assembly

Press Release: Global Digital Health Index launches alongside World Health Assembly

Index to track, monitor, and evaluate the use of digital technology for health across countries

May 22, 2018 – Geneva, Switzerland –  A global group of leaders at the World Health Assembly today launched the Global Digital Health Index (GDHI), an interactive digital resource that tracks, monitors, and evaluates the use of digital technology for health across countries. The GDHI will empower health ministries, funders, policy makers, and industry players to make informed strategic decisions as they build sustainable digital health solutions at scale.

“To achieve universal health coverage over the next decade, coherent use of digital health will be key. The Index will be a valuable tool at national level to know where to focus efforts, and to allow comparison with other countries that have faced similar challenges,” said Dr. Peter Benjamin, Co-Founder at HealthEnabled, a digital health nonprofit that co-facilitates the GDHI with the Global Development Incubator (GDI), an organization that builds social impact startups and partnerships.

Technologies such as mobile phones, tablets, remote patient monitoring devices, and sensors have the potential to save lives, extend the reach of healthcare services, and reduce healthcare costs – yet many countries face persistent challenges in integrating these technologies into their health systems at scale. By benchmarking countries against standardized digital health criteria, the GDHI will allow them to track progress and identify weaknesses within their digital health initiatives so they can mature their digital health policy and practice over time. The GDHI will motivate improvements in national digital health systems and more targeted investments globally, ultimately using digital health to accelerate and monitor the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 3, “Ensure healthy lives and wellbeing for all at all ages.”

“Digital technologies have reached a level of maturity wher, if properly deploye, hey can transform healthcare nd build sustainable digital health systems as a common good for al,” said Dr. Vajira H. W. Dissanayake, President of the Commonwealth Medical Association and Chairman of the Commonwealth Centre for Digital Health. “s the Commonwealth Centre for Digital Health collaborates closely with countries to help them strengthen their health systems through the deployment of digital technologies, the Global Digital Health Index will be an invaluable tool to help us identify countries’ needs and provide support to address them.”

The GDHI steering committee includes a broad range of government, private sector, academic, NGO, and other top institutions and individuals in digital health. The group includes representatives from the Ministries of Health of India, Mali, and Thailand, as well as from Royal Philips, Commonwealth Medical Association, PATH, Asia e-Health Network, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, World Health Organization, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), Johnson & Johnson, the International Development and Research Centre (IDRC), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Joanne Peter, Health Tech Lead for Global Community Impact at Johnson & Johnson, noted, “Johnson & Johnson is proud to be an early supporter of the Global Digital Health Index, a tool to help countries around the world move towards mature digital health systems that are more efficient, more responsive to data and trends, and more patient-centered. We believe that digital technologies are an essential enabler as we work collectively to change the trajectory of health for humanity.”

The GDHI’s development began in 2016, when HealthEnabled and GDI partnered with Dalberg’s Design Impact Group (DIG), ThoughtWorks, and representatives from 20+ countries and 50+ international agencies to ideate on a tool that could help countries benchmark and monitor their investments in digital health over time. Using the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Telecommunications Union (ITU) eHealth Strategy Toolkit, the GDHI took shape. Since its beginning, the GDHI has received financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, Royal Philips, and HIMSS.

“By measuring the impact of digital tools and technologies, we can help increase levels of understanding, collaboration and adoption of value based care strategies,” said Jan Kimpen, Chief Medical Officer at Royal Philips. “This means working towards better healthcare experience and outcomes, achieved at lower cost. Royal Philips launched its Future Health Index three years ago to help benchmark and evaluate the impact of connected care, and we welcome the launch of the Global Digital Health Index as a complementary platform to support more patient centric and sustainable global healthcare.”

The GDHI version one that launched today includes data from 10 countries including Bangladesh, Benin, Jordan, Malaysia, Mali, Mongolia, New Zealand, Nigeria, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Dr. Ousmane Ly, CEO of the National Agency for Telehealth and Medical Informatics of Mali, commented: “The Index is a fantastic opportunity for countries to assess the progress made and understand what steps they must take to ensure digital health provides all citizens with quality care. Mali will use the Index as a permanent monitoring tool for its national digital health program.”

Dr. Robyn Whittaker, Associate Professor University of Auckland & Clinical Director Innovation Waitemata District Health Board, participated in the initial workshop to design the Index. She commented, “The Index comes at a great time for New Zealand, as the Ministry of Health has been working on our digital health strategy. While New Zealand has been doing really well on some fronts, the Index helps us to take a comprehensive look across the range of indicators and identify areas where we might be falling behind, in addition to helping us measure our overall progress.”

Countries looking to learn more about their digital health maturity, how it compares to other countries, and how they can improve it are encouraged to reach out to to contribute data.

Media contact: For media inquiries, contact

About HealthEnabled: HealthEnabled is an Africa-based organization that helps governments integrate proven life-saving digital health interventions into their health systems. Learn more at

About the Global Development Incubator (GDI): GDI is an organization that builds startups, incubates partnerships, and strengthens existing organizations for social impact around the world. Learn more at

GDI kicks off collaboration with FHI Ventures

GDI is excited to kick off a collaboration with FHI Ventures, which launched today as a social enterprise accelerator supporting early stage businesses with the potential for high impact and a commitment to delivering social and financial returns.


GDI will provide tailored support and coaching for each company in the inaugural accelerator class of FHI Ventures – helping them hone in on their endgame strategy for scaling impact and set specific action plans into motion.


Alice Gugelev, Director at GDI, joined representatives from USAID, ANDE, the Global Accelerator Network, and Innovations in Healthcare at the launch to discuss discussed the realities of impact investing in emerging markets with the FHI Ventures-selected social enterprises (above).

Glasses Change Lives: EYElliance featured in New York Times

A pair of eyeglasses can change a life – without good vision, children can’t learn, and adults are excluded from a world of economic opportunity.

That’s the central idea behind the EYElliance, a multi-sector coalition increasing global access to eyeglasses at scale, that the New York Times featured on its front page today.The article, titled “A Simple Way to Improve a Billion Lives: Eyeglasses” highlights global efforts underway to address untreated vision problems, which cost the global economy $200 billion annually to lost productivity, according to the W.H.O.

GDI is proud to have incubated the EYElliance in its early stages, from shaping its first strategic plan together with partners from VisionSpring and developing its brand with Emergence Creative, to building a business plan and eventually transitioning the initiative in 2016 a new home at the Tides Center. We’re thrilled to see the progress the EYElliance has made in the past two years to identify proven models and integrate them into existing systems that can expand glasses access for all, and we hope this story opens new doors for the initiative as it continues to drive coordinated action!

Read more about GDI’s collaboration with the EYElliance here.


GDI-incubated Collaborative for Frontier Finance hosts workshops at Sankalp Forum 2018

GDI-incubated Collaborative for Frontier Finance (formerly for the Collaborative for Early Stage Finance) hosted two workshops at Sankalp Forum 2018: 1) idefining asset classes for early stage finance; and, 2) capital advisory models and opportunities to improve their sustainability. These workshops were two in a series of meetings the Collaborative is hosting to uncover pain points that hinder progress in early stage finance and design solutions to overcome them.

This workshop was run in collaboration with Intellecap and funded by Collaborative for Frontier Finance anchor partner, infoDev at the World Bank. GDI is leading the design and incubation of the Collaborative, a new initiative that aims to catalyze $5B in appropriate capital for early stage and moderate growth enterprises

To read more about these workshops, take a look at the Post-Event Report from Sankalp.

GDI-incubated SDG Compacts speaks at Responsible Business Summit NY

It’s no secret that we can’t achieve the SDGs without concerted action from groups across sectors – but how can businesses in particular integrate SDG targets into their operations, when their primary responsibility is often to shareholders?
That’s the core question Dr. Paul Zeitz, co-founder of GDI-incubated SDG Compacts, will discuss with business and CSR leaders on Monday, March 26 at the Responsible Business Summit NY. Specifically, Dr. Zeitz’s presentation will aim to help businesses understand the critical role they must play in helping cities and local governments accelerate local-level implementation of the SDGs – and how they can move from ideas to action.
His fellow panelists include Richard Ellis, Group Head of CSR, Walgreen Boots Alliance; Adam Gordon, Engagement Director, Global Compact Network USA; Ahsiya Gordon, Director, Pulse & Global Volunteering, GSK; and Cassandra Nattrass, Sr. Business Development Manager, Southpole. The workshop titled “SDG Integration” will cover key questions including:
  • How to fully integrate the SDGs into business operations and communications
  • How to decide which integration method is most appropriate to a given business
  • How a business can bring senior management, employees, investors and suppliers into the SDG integration process
Following the panel discussion, participants will split into working groups in which they can share and get feedback on specific SDG integration action plans to take back to their businesses.
Follow the conversation at #RBSNY on Monday, March 26 from 11:30am-1pm ET and follow SDG Compacts at @SDGCompacts.

5 Minutes with a Social Agitator – Sarika Bansal of BRIGHT Magazine on igniting productively uncomfortable conversations

In this installment of 5 Minutes with a Social Agitator, we talked to Sarika Bansal, the editor-in-chief of BRIGHT Magazine (formerly the Development Set) and founder of Honeyguide Media. Here, Sarika discusses the role of compelling, nuanced storytelling in shaping how we think about and solve global development challenges.

In a nutshell, what big global problem are you trying to solve, and how?

My goal is to help people see each other as human beings, through journalism. I came into journalism in a slightly untraditional way;I had previously worked as a consultant for McKinsey and in microfinance. I transitioned to writing because I grew to understand that before we can solve big development challenges – whether it’s global health or gender equality – we need people to see each other as human beings. Storytelling has a huge role in changing that. I came into journalism determined to present each person with as much dignity as I could – and that still drives what I do.

At BRIGHT Magazine we are trying to publish stories that are about social issues in a way that isn’t dull, is more vibrant, and involves more voices than traditional journalism.

What are some key elements of each Bright Magazine story that help you do that?

We have five storytelling principles, and each story we publish usually hits two to three of them:

  1. Experimenting in storytelling format – We’re trying to be creative in publishing with things like comics, short stories, and photo essays.
  2. Keeping our stories jargon-free and approachable.
  3. Staying solutions-oriented when it’s possible – That means we’re not shying away from the potential solutions, and also not just presenting the global south as a place of war and destruction.
  4. Making people uncomfortable – We try to have conversations that are deliberately provocative, but that will also make people smarter.
  5. Showcasing a diversity of storytellers – we mean this in every sense of diversity.

If you could get two groups that don’t usually collaborate to work together in some way to help solve a global challenge, what would that look like?

In the U.S. the hyper-partisan news has in part destroyed people’s empathetic muscles. When BRIGHT Magazine did our refugee issue, some of the comments we received were…so bad. We were trying to reach an audience that wouldn’t necessarily be generous towards refugees, but it didn’t work. Sadly, I have become more cynical over time about how possible it is to evoke empathy.

There is still more work to be done among the hyper-privileged who say they support certain things, but don’t actually change their lifestyles to act upon it. With that in mind, I would bring a group like those that went to Davos, the “limousine liberals” – people who say things such as “black lives matter” but never actually do anything – together with, say, young student debaters. The students would ask the adults why they say the right things but haven’t effected change, and haven’t changed their lifestyles to fit their supposed social values. I would love to have some popcorn and watch how the conversation plays out.

Tell us a story of a time something went massively wrong with your work, and how you rebounded.

For our refugee issue, we did a story about how Christians in the U.S. are fighting the refugee ban. We tried to bring the story to Christian groups as part of our engagement strategy and it didn’t catch fire. It showed we weren’t ready to be a part of that conversation, and that we weren’t the right people to present it.

We didn’t have authentic relationships with people in those communities and that showed. I was hoping it would result in responses on Christian blogs and dialogue with Christian churches. We did a good job of outreach, but it was just too far outside of our comfort zone. We are now trying to understand our existing audience better and cover topics relevant to them – but that will also stretch them.

What advice do you have for other “social agitators” driving urgent global change?

One thing I’ve learned over the past few months is how important it is to build a team and internal culture that aligns with your social values. That is the only way to make transformational change. I don’t like the myth of the Silicon Valley unicorn who does it all alone – that is a very reductive way of thinking about social change.

After moving to Kenya, I hired a new team of people who are fantastic and care as much about BRIGHT Magazine’s success as I do. BRIGHT Magazine would not be here today without the dedication of this team. We set aside time to have  big conversations about our future, while also setting tangible and ambitious goals that we measure our performance against.

If you had control over significant philanthropic funding, what “big bet” would you fund?

I’d invest in building critical thinking skills among people of all ages. The fact that it’s so hard to distinguish fact from fiction could spell the downfall of modern civilization. My other big bet would be climate-related, like desalination, as climate is the slowly ticking time bomb in many places. Having traveled to Cape Town in December, I think clean water will be the biggest problem that will affect most major cities in the next 10 years.

Where do you see yourself and Bright Magazine going next?

My goal for BRIGHT Magazine is for us to be the go-to magazine for social issues and the magazine on record for these topics. I want the magazine to grow from an online platform to hosting live events with storytelling so that we can have productively uncomfortable conversations.

For me personally, I feel like I am growing and learning a lot every day. I want to be the best editor that I can be and completely plugged into the social change space. I also never want to be beholden to any person, funder, organization. I like to be able to speak my mind and cause agitation.


*This post is part of GDI’s series “5 Minutes with a Social Agitator.” We define social agitators as people driving urgent change around the world using unorthodox approaches that cut across silos. If you would like to be featured or get in touch with GDI, contact us here.

A GDI Case Study: Convergence

How does GDI design and build social impact startups? 

It’s a question we get a lot, so we’ve tried to answer it in a new GDI case study on Convergence.

Starting with a high-level concept, GDI convened and supported a range of partners to design, build, and launch Convergence – a platform for blended finance that now stands as an independent organization based in Toronto.

Among other key steps, GDI helped Convergence secure over CAD 25M in funding and grow its team from zero to ten full-time staff. Today, Convergence has over 180 institutional members on its blended finance investment network and has awarded over CAD 5M towards the design of new blended finance structures.

In our new case study we explore: What does it actually take to build an organization like Convergence? And what did we learn along the way, from both successes and challenges?

View the case study here >>