Operating at the Intersection of Social Innovation and Social Justice


Forbes OZ Summit Series: Cheryl Dorsey, President, Echoing Green

On May 21, the Sorenson Impact Center interviewed key opportunity zone players at the inaugural Forbes OZ Summit in Newark, New Jersey. 

Echoing Green has a number of best practices for opportunity zone investors that they’ve gained from over 32 years of investing in social entrepreneurs. As a seasoned social venture fund and incubator, they’ve provided $58.5 million in seed funding to entrepreneurs around the world. The current President of Echoing Green, Cheryl Dorsey, says that the organization has been supporting the same community and economic development goals as the opportunity zone incentive for decades. By supporting people with the best ideas, Echoing Green states that this helps deliver transformative change.

Human capital or talent is considered to be the most important asset class to Echoing Green. Dorsey explains, “We think talent is the predicate for all thriving neighborhoods and communities.” Based on her work with Echoing Green, she believes there is “no shortage of leaders and entrepreneurs in cities” who are close enough to local problems and challenges to understand what methods will work best for their community. Dorsey says the challenge for disinvested communities instead lies in confronting invisible barriers to capital – and not just financial capital, but also network capital and access to other resources. Opportunity zones could serve as a coalition-building framework to support those with shovel-ready solutions, she reflects. By connecting communities with access to capital that they need to implement great ideas, the invisible barriers could be removed. 

Echoing Green operates at the intersection of social justice and social innovation. Dorsey believes that there “has to be a justice claim that animates the work of things like purpose-driven finance.” She challenges us to think about “who these efforts are for, how the accrual of benefits support both investors and communities, and what frameworks, measurement and coalitions will ask the right questions.” Dorsey says there’s a long way to go because finance has traditionally been predicated on placing capital with the lowest risk possible for the highest returns, and “that is often a calculus that leaves out a diverse group of entrepreneurs and… communities.” 

Dorsey can speak personally to the potential residing in disinvested communities. As a 1992 Echoing Green fellow she launched The Family Van, a community-based mobile health station in Boston. Coming full circle to now lead Echoing Green, Dorsey could not be more resolute in her support for social entrepreneurs with a diversity of experience and perspectives. “If you find incredible entrepreneurs that are optimizing around social return on investment, and back them with capital and technical support, you can actually transform communities and transform the world,” she says.