AOL cofounder Steve Case and his wife Jean were always focused on pushing entrepreneurship through their foundation, but it has become evident that some people were being left out.
“When we look at the data, it looks like half the team is being left on the sidelines,” said Case Foundation Senior VP for Social Innovation Sheila Herrling. That half is made up of women and people of color, she said.
In an interview before she took the stage to speak at the JHU Social Innovation Lab’s Impact and Innovation Forum, Herrling talked about how the foundation is looking to create more opportunity for women and people of color.
She identified three types of capital that the foundation is looking to open up for entrepreneurs:
- Networks are key for entrepreneurs to open doors. To increase opportunity, everyone needs access to mentors and founders who have been there that can help move the needle. In cities, that also means ensuring that networks look like the communities where they are located.
- Who controls the money is a big factor in where it goes. “When you’re human and you’re funding people who have similar experiences to you, there’s probably a correlation to why it’s all the white men that are getting the investment dollars,” Herrling said.
- When people don’t see images of successful entrepreneurs that look like them, they’re less likely to believe they can do it, too. The media images are mostly a “Mark Zuckerberg face,” Herrling said, which won’t naturally inspire women and people of color who don’t look like or have the same background as the Facebook founder.
In listening to Herrling, it’s clear that getting the team off the sidelines will also change the type of game they’re playing on the field. Steve Case has said the “Third Wave” — which is also the title of his new book — will include efforts to solve big challenges in health, education and local government, Case says.
In other words, social innovation.
Herrling has seen these conversations go hand-in-hand. The Case Foundation has been part of a collaboration called Forward Cities, which involves Detroit, Cleveland, Durham, N.C., and New Orleans. On Thursday, they also convened social impact stakeholders from Baltimore, D.C. and Philly at Impact Hub Baltimore in Station North.
At Impact Hub, she identified intentional efforts to bring in entrepreneurs and others who were representative of the community around them. As a result, they will look to solve the problems directly affecting them.
“For the most part, apps are making life for the already-rich easier,” she said. “If you bring that mindset down to solving local problems, [just] imagine … and we’re seeing that happen.”
With that shift in mindset, measuring social impact as well as financial returns and making connections to policy are becoming more important, Herrling said.