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Contrary to your initial reaction, there is a very simple recipe for this- take fifteen Emerging Innovators, and put them in a room. Sprinkle lightly with inspirational leaders and speakers. In 48 hours your recipe to Change the World will be ready!

This is what happened at the American Express Ashoka Emerging Innovators Bootcamp on June 5-6, in New York City. The American Express Leadership Academy includes nonprofit partners from around the globe, including Center for Creative Leadership, Ashoka Changemakers, The Thunderbird School of Global Management, and Common Purpose. By the end of this year, American Express will have hosted more than 50 Leadership Academy sessions in six countries, including the United Kingdom, India, Japan, Mexico, and Canada, supporting more than 1,500 nonprofit and social sector leaders.

In the words of Tammy Tibbets, President and Founder of “She’s the First”, and one of the fifteen Emerging Innovators who participated in the Bootcamp, “Social Changemakers are so focused on developing individuals and communities they are working with, there is limited time and opportunities out there for our own development. The American Express Foundation is one of the few corporate philanthropies who are committed to build leadership in the nonprofit sector.”

Tim McClimon, President of American Express Foundation, said in his address to the young social entrepreneurs at the Bootcamp, “American Express supports all causes equally when it comes to our grants. But we are committed to supporting leadership for the nonprofit sector as a whole-be it with community leaders, social entrepreneurs, or those working in nonprofit management.”

So, why is it important to bring these fifteen Emerging Innovators together to change the world?

Each Emerging Innovator has their own finite skill set- some have business degrees and can audit accounts over drinks, others are networking ninjas, and others still are mesmerizing story tellers. Now, put them all in one room and we have an infinite set of skills! The young entrepreneurs are sharing their accounting software and giving tutorials to each other, introducing others to their network of supporters or helping each other come up with their marketing pitch. All their needs and asks are met without having to leave the room!

The social entrepreneurs are each other’s dream partner organizations. Maybe one’s education program can incorporate another’s leadership curriculum in their program. Can the urban farming organization adopt another’s recycling and composting processes? Yes and yes! That’s just what they were looking for!

But perhaps, most importantly, the journey of a social change leader is a fairly lonely one, and a network of other leaders in similar situations, is just the support system they need. They become each other’s family—to share successes, to cry on each others shoulders during challenges, to ask for help and offer encouragement.

The magic that happened in those 48 hours is perhaps best communicated in brief yet powerful words of Jessica Ladd, Executive Director of Sexual Health Innovtions, “These two days were one long series of a-ha moments!”

Watch a video of The Closing Circle!

(A huge thank you to Smita Satiani, from Ashoka Changemakers, and my supervisor, Windy A Lopez-Aflitto, from American Express Philanthropy, for all their support and hard work towards the Bootcamp, this blog post, and for generally being awesome and changing the world everyday!)

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