In early May I packed up my car and drove West from Ann Arbor to Seattle for a summer opportunity with Social Venture Partners Seattle (SVP) to help them to develop a strategic planning process. SVP is a nonprofit network whose mission is to, “cultivate effective philanthropists and strengthen organizations driving community change – building powerful relationships that advance shared community goals.”
During my first day I met with SVP staff and received an overview of SVP’s programs. I was particularly struck by their Fast Pitch Program. SVP Fast Pitch is a business pitch competition that supports nonprofits and social enterprises addressing critical needs and making a positive impact in the Puget Sound region and beyond. Since 2011, SVP Fast Pitch has connected changemakers with over $2 million in grants, investments, and prizes as well as thousands of hours of coaching from local professionals.
I knew I would have my hands full with the strategic planning process, but I was eager to learn more about Fast Pitch, and to help out where possible. That opportunity came, but in a very unexpected and serendipitous way.
One evening I went with a group of friends to a Seattle Sounders soccer game. After the game I ordered an Uber to drive me home. I struck up a conversation with my driver, Emmanuel, and asked where he was from. He informed me that he was from Liberia, and working on starting up a nonprofit organization, People Caring Organization America (PCO), to help promote peaceful communities. Emmanuel had founded PCO Africa in Ghana in May 2003 in the Buduburam Refugee Camp in response to the growing humanitarian problems refugees who resided in the camp were facing at the time.
As a result of PCO’s work in Ghana, 1,000 children received free quality education, single refugee mothers were empowered with vocational skills, and more than 2,000 refugee community leaders and tribal leaders were engaged in peace and reconciliation activities. In 2006, PCO expanded its operations to Liberia. PCO was successful in bringing together community leaders and providing compassionate listening training to help reconcile communities.
Emmanuel told me that he had registered PCO as a nonprofit organization in Washington state less than six months ago. His vision was to help African migrant groups in the Puget Sound Region who are facing a number of challenges as they seek to maintain their identities and communities while also learning about and fitting into the cultural and societal patterns in the United States.
I was inspired by and in awe of Emmanuel’s story and work. I gave him my contact information and offered to help in any way that might be useful.
After a few days I received an e-mail from Emmanuel inviting me to their next staff meeting. I attended, and quickly realized that PCO would be a perfect fit for SVP Fast Pitch. Since I would only be in Seattle for a few months, I knew that the most useful thing I could do would be to connect Emmanuel and his team to local resources.
I told Heather Lewis, the Director of Fast Pitch for SVP about my meeting with Emmanuel and she shared my enthusiasm about his work. She also informed me that Uber was a corporate supporter of Fast Pitch and had an existing relationship with SVP. The next week, Heather, Emmanuel and I met over coffee to learn more about the organization and see how SVP might be able to help. Heather had a long list of resources to offer Emmanuel in addition to Fast Pitch.
Emmanuel applied to Fast Pitch and has made it through to the first stage of the process. He was also interviewed by Uber and featured in an e-mail that went out to Uber drivers encouraging those operating a nonprofit or social enterprise to apply.
This experience demonstrated to me the tremendous value of connecting and networking. SVP seeks to do in a systematic way what I was able to do in an ad-hoc manner: connecting promising changemakers with the resources required to bring about meaningful and lasting social change.
I look forward to cheering on Emmanuel and PCO throughout the Fast Pitch competition!