21 Sep. 2016 | Comments (0)
Created in 1997 by digital pioneers Jean and Steve Case, the Case Foundation invests in people and ideas that can change the world. The Foundation is particularly focused on promoting entrepreneurship as a means to tackle global challenges, transform communities, create jobs, spur economic growth and close the opportunity gap. In this Q&A, Jean Case discusses the Foundation’s deep commitment to inclusive entrepreneurship as a way to level the playing field for all entrepreneurs, particularly women and people of color.
Q: You've invested a great deal in entrepreneurship. What can companies learn from you about how to advance entrepreneurs?
A: At the Case Foundation, we believe there is more than one way to drive innovation, create lasting social impact and solve big challenges. That’s embedded in our mission—investing in people and ideas that can change the world. And that’s why we have launched and funded programs designed to uplift and support founders across the globe—from the Startup America Partnership to our most recent work in inclusive entrepreneurship. We believe in leveling the playing field for all entrepreneurs—particularly women and entrepreneurs of color. But also those that come from less obvious places, whether it be the nation’s heartland or places like Southern Africa or the West Bank.
By ensuring all individuals with breakthrough business ideas have a seat at the table, we can more swiftly tackle intractable global challenges, transform communities, create jobs, spur economic growth and close the opportunity gap. To begin to lift up all entrepreneurs, we are focusing our work on three key areas for women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color. The first is improving access to social capital through mentoring and networking with others who have found success. Secondly, we’d like to see increased access to financial capital. And we absolutely must change the narrative on how our culture represents entrepreneurs. That last piece will be key to ensuring that any individual with a great idea can see starting a business as a valid path or, better yet, can envision him or herself as the next great entrepreneur.
Q: What's the role of philanthropy in helping to grow entrepreneurship?
A: There is huge potential to break down the silos between philanthropy, government and the private sector to spur entrepreneurship. With growing populations, increasing resource scarcity and growing income disparity we know that government and philanthropy together can’t tackle the vast number of social problems facing communities around the world, but we see a true opportunity for social entrepreneurs to step up to the plate. They have the potential to catalyze solutions in the areas of education, poverty, sustainability, global health and other pressing social problems. We have the opportunity to invest in these bold entrepreneurs through impact investments and bring new funding resources to breakthrough business ideas.
Impact investing offers a unique opportunity to invest in businesses that have a profit and a purpose—not limiting dollars to foundations or social responsibility programs, but rather enabling and encouraging businesses to use their core areas of expertise, or their established products and services to tackle persistent challenges.
Philanthropy is also in a unique position to bring significant support to ecosystem builders to ensure that the support services needed for entrepreneurs (both social capital and financial capital) exist. By building up networks and geographic hubs outside of Silicon Valley and across economic, gender and color lines, philanthropy can expand the opportunity for all entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to market.
Q: What makes inclusive entrepreneurship such a compelling force in helping to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems?
A: Data tells us that the full potential of entrepreneurship is being unrealized with half the team being left on the sidelines. Today, less than 3 percent of venture capital investments go to companies with a women CEO and less than 1 percent have an African-American founder. As movement catalyzers, we see the potential to accelerate more inclusive and broad growth by being very intentional about leveling the playing field for all entrepreneurs—particularly women and entrepreneurs of color—in all places in order to create stronger communities.
What we also know is that entrepreneurs solve problems. And the best entrepreneurs develop solutions to problems she or he has lived or experienced. For far too long solutions for underserved communities and broader challenges that dog our society have been drawn up under fluorescent lights and often by those who haven’t lived the problem firsthand. Imagine what can be accomplished when more and more women and people of color, along with geographically and economically diverse entrepreneurs are brought off the sidelines and into the game.
Q: How can corporations foster more inclusive supply chains?
A: Much has been said in recent years about building up green supply chain management and the importance of environmental, social, and governance impacts—or ESG—for the world’s largest corporations. As we observe a world with increasingly finite resources, businesses are looking at environmental sustainability as an operational imperative. And rightfully so. But more attention could also be paid to how we can best target women-owned suppliers and suppliers from communities of color—a win-win proposition for companies and communities.
In the wake of the Detroit race riots of 1967, General Motors started a supplier diversity program to help bring jobs to the local community. Since then other big corporations from Walmart to Microsoft have recognized the importance of ensuring that their supply chains reflect the diversity of their customers. We still have a ways to go but now many organizations are investing in local communities to help train, educate or upgrade the capabilities of minority producers. These producers in turn help to strengthen the quality, quantity, and security of the supply for a company as well as bring jobs to local economies. Globally, we can look to examples in Nigeria and Bangladesh, where many textile companies are training local minority artisans to help diversify their product lines and to source new opportunities, while also strengthening local economic development.
Q: How can corporate foundations support and complement corporate strategies to promote more inclusive entrepreneurship?
A: We’ve seen a number of corporations—including the eBay Foundation, the Levi Strauss Foundation, and Google for Entrepreneurs—lead the charge to invest in and highlight inclusive entrepreneurial networks, but so much more is needed to bring all entrepreneurs to the table.
We look to partnerships and programs that aim to reduce common barriers to entrepreneurship faced by diverse entrepreneurs, and scale local pilots into national programs serving women and entrepreneurs of color. We have learned a lot through our partnership with Forward Cities, a national learning collaborative aimed at identifying the secret sauce of driving inclusive innovation in cities. Forward Cities brings together local leaders from startups, corporations, government and nonprofits to bring forward plans that will bolster their economy through inclusive entrepreneurship. By giving all parties equal voice, corporations can hear and learn from their peers in the space and incorporate local priorities in their strategic plans.
Q: How is inclusive entrepreneurship good for business?
A: The face of business is quickly changing. The Brookings Institution says that diversity defines the Millennial generation. Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest living generation, will represent the largest employee group and will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025.
Those who work for large corporations believe that these organizations have a responsibility to be catalysts for change. Even more interestingly, this growing population is actively pursuing autonomy and innovation in their careers, and many Millennials are pursuing entrepreneurship at a younger age. The oldest millennial will turn 36 this year, and the average age of an entrepreneur is currently 40. So business needs to engage and stimulate a globally minded and diverse workforce, while also partnering with young and diverse entrepreneurs to scale big ideas.
Q: You've been highly influential in helping to drive civic engagement, philanthropy, impact investing, and corporate social responsibility. In reflecting on your experience, what are a few of the most valuable and perhaps most surprising lessons you’ve learned?
A: Over the years we have made significant investments in nonprofits, causes and campaigns through our work at the Case Foundation and through our own personal giving. And we have learned over our nearly two decades of Case Foundation history to rethink traditional models, that the old way of doing things is simply no longer effective in this new world. It’s time for all of us—whether we’re at a foundation or nonprofit organization, in the private sector or government—to take risks on new ideas, approaches and initiatives. It’s time for us to be bold, to act with urgency and to resist the tendency to let caution be our guide. It’s time for us to Be Fearless. That is one of the most invaluable lessons we have learned and it’s what drives me and my staff every day as we work to fund and uplift innovators who are changing the world.