In this episode of Capital for Good, Cheryl Dorsey, a trailblazer in the social entrepreneurship movement and the president of Echoing Green, fuses the personal and professional, explaining how, from an early age, she was encouraged and inspired to address the economic and racial disparities in the world around her — from her childhood in an unusually diverse Baltimore neighborhood to her medical school years at Harvard where she saw black babies dying at three times the rate of white babies in communities neighboring the world’s premier hospitals.

As head of Echoing Green, an organization that, over its 30-year history, has invested in more than 800 dynamic leaders across 86 countries, Dorsey has observed and walks us through some of the important shifts that have occurred in the field of social innovation, including more changemakers embracing for-profit business models to solve problems. She has also long advocated for greater access to philanthropic and commercial capital for people of color; Echoing Green’s recent report on racial disparities in philanthropy and new Racial Equity Philanthropic Fund have provided a roadmap for others in the field. We conclude with some of Dorsey’s insights on history and public health. “I had a strange obsession with plagues in college and a lot of my time was spent studying pandemics, especially the bubonic plague,” says Dorsey, who concentrated in history and science as an undergraduate. She reminds and exhorts us, “pandemics simply amplify the structural inequities that already exist. They reveal our fault lines in a way that puts them front and center. But they also are moments in time that offer up great opportunity… We have a moment to rethink and re-imagine so many things about our world… How will we seize this moment?”

Mentioned in this episode:

About Cheryl Dorsey:

Prior to leading this social impact organization, Cheryl was a social entrepreneur herself and received an Echoing Green Fellowship in 1992 to help launch The Family Van, a community-based mobile health unit in Boston. She became the first Echoing Green Fellow to head the social venture fund in 2002.

An accomplished leader and entrepreneur, she has served in two presidential administrations as a White House Fellow and special assistant to the US Secretary of Labor (1997-98); special assistant to the director of the Women's Bureau of the US Labor Department (1998-99); and vice chair for the President's Commission on White House Fellowships (2009-2017). Cheryl serves on several boards including the Bridgespan Group, Skoll Foundation, Oak Street Health, and Northeast Bank and, previously, the Harvard Board of Overseers. She has a medical degree from Harvard Medical School, a master’s in public policy from Harvard Kennedy School, and a bachelor’s degree in history and science magna cum laude with highest honors from Harvard-Radcliffe Colleges.

Cheryl is a frequent speaker on racial justice and equity in philanthropy. She has advocated for equitable funding for leaders of color on panels organized by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Skoll World Forum, The World Economic Forum, and more. In 2020, Cheryl co-authored a research report in partnership with the Bridgespan Group, Racial Equity and Philanthropy: Disparities in Funding for Leaders of Color Leave Impact on the Table.

Cheryl has received numerous awards for her commitment to public service, including the Pfizer Roerig History of Medicine Award, the Robert Kennedy Distinguished Public Service Award, the Manuel C. Carballo Memorial Prize, and Middlebury College Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Vision Award. She was also featured as one of “America’s Best Leaders” by US News & World Report and the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School in 2009, one of The Nonprofit Times’ “Power and Influence Top 50” in 2010 and 2011, one of “America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers” by the Business of Giving in 2016, and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2017. In 2019, Cheryl was named a Schwab Foundation Social Innovation Thought Leader.