Spotlight: Kristen Engberg

Kristen long

What drives you?

The reward of seeing people truly fulfilled by their sense of purpose.

How do you define social entrepreneurship?

I don’t. We mainly work with social innovators and to me, that is someone who has thoroughly  assessed a problem, and understand what systems and solutions are currently in place. He or she has ideas and a plan for building off what currently exists in a fundamentally different way that will offer some kind of breakthrough.

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

I have experienced two trends. Firstly, what I see with Millennials is a huge emphasis on the social/emotional aspect of working in the social impact space. They are very identity driven. Social change is not always their primary motivation, it is to live a good life and be a good person. It has influenced the nonprofit world in an interesting way. Back in the day, it was more about crusading, shouting at people and sacrificing yourself for your cause. The more recent change has affected how we treat each other in the sector.

Secondly, I am happy to see that the impact space has started increasing transparency about vanity metrics: The number of Facebook likes or lowering overhead to twelve percent does not tell us much about the impact a social organization achieves. Professionals in this sector are increasingly willing to confess it or call it out, and admit it’s distracting from real impact. Five  years ago people were all about data, because it was new that we had so much of it. Today, it’s about relevant data.”


Apart from her experience as consultant and manager at various organizations like Greenpeace USA and Human Rights First, Kristen says about her background: “I have more than 25 years of experience in trying to get and keep people engaged in social causes. From receptionist to CEO, funder and consulting firm – I have been supporting organizations in different roles to figure out what conditions make  innovation happen. Beespace was a great opportunity to shape something, bring forward what I have learned and support the next generation of nonprofits as they are shaping up.”



Spotlight: Camila Pazos

Camila long

What drives you?

I believe that in an inequitable world, the power of a community can be transformational. I view my role as a vehicle for access for those who are so often underrepresented from this space.

How do you define social entrepreneurship?

I like to think of social entrepreneurs as community mobilizers. They are change agents with innovative ideas to solve social problems in their communities, who take it upon him or herself to address them.

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

I’m seeing many applicants come to us having pivoted from their career and taking a bet on something completely new that at the same time feels incredibly true to their purpose. These are leaders who realize that they have a different role – and it’s always refreshing to see some of these stories.


I was born and raised in Colombia, which gave me a unique perspective to understand how the world outside of the U.S. operates. I have a background in Sustainable International Development, and have spent my professional life working on programs related to social entrepreneurship and public health.




Kristen Engberg is CEO at Beespace New York – an incubator for nonprofits. While for-profits are eligible to apply; however Beespace places high value on ventures whose social mission is priority and to date, this has led to nonprofit participants such as the Malala Fund, The Adventure – a movement to fight extreme poverty – and Organize, a venture enhancing effectiveness and impact in organ donation.

Support Philosophy

Beespace New York was founded by Marissa Sackler in 2012 with the intent to provide a co-working space to nonprofits while taking care of their administrative work. Kristen explains “The idea was that creativity would flourish in a space like this. When I joined Beespace nine months into their first program, we observed the teams and decided to pivot. Over the first two years we tested ways to infuse more innovation into the social sector. Our goal was never to create more nonprofits, but better ones.”

bee hive

The Bee Hive

Kristen speaks like a true startup entrepreneur when she tells me how – after their pivot – they experimented with different formats and are continuously testing hypotheses about their program to tailor it to the needs of the nonprofits they work with, and the sector at large. She further explains: “We just did a big pivot and were very open about it. Between the first cohort and this one, we have changed the program entirely. For a donor, however, this means that we don’t have a track record, other than a track record of experimentation. Therefore, we look for donors who are interested in the model of incubation and ecosystem building, who understand the value of experimentation in the nonprofit sector, and comprehend what it takes to refine something that is really successful. We look for donors that value patient capital. Philanthropists who come from the tech world haven’t haven’t had the exposure to social impact organizations, they don’t know that the ROI doesn’t come that quickly.”  

Program & Selection

Beespace offers a two-year incubation program including

  • rent-free co-working,
  • outsourcing of back-end operations,
  • seed grants, technical assistance, and access to interested donors and an Innovation Fund, and
  • an integrated curriculum that includes experiential learning, field trips, formal skills-building workshops, peer-to-peer learning, and hands-on executive coaching.

With only five teams every two years, the selection process is competitive by nature. Kristen explains: “We work with nonprofits at the idea and prototyping stage. We are looking for people who want a  high-touch experience and are keen on engaging in a program, instead of just co-working or grant-funding. It is crucial to us that participants want to be part of  a learning community. One of the hypotheses we are testing is that peer-learning and support can make an instrumental difference in organizational effectiveness. This doesn’t happen automatically in a co-working space. So we are trying to foster a peer-community through culture setting by explicitly defining our values and who we want to be as a community. Self-awareness and emotional intelligence are a prerequisite for this to work.”

In order to be an effective innovator, you need to be emotionally intelligent. Click To Tweet

Kristen and her team reached out to other Fellowships, incubators, accelerators, foundations and universities as part of their effort to build a network of nominators for Beespace. They received 100 nominations for this second cohort. After a first screening, selected applicants were invited to submit a video about themselves (and didn’t talk about their nonprofits at all). In the next phase, 30 applicants were invited to submit a full-scale application, eleven semi-finalists joined a full-day retreat to get to know each other and the Beespace team. In February 2016, they started their incubation at Beespace.

Beespace’s program revolves around three key elements:

  1. Emotional Intelligence
  2. Design & Experimentation, and
  3. Sustainability.

“During the first year we focus on entirely on human-centered design, we don’t look into the business plan or how to develop a board. We want them to get their strategy right. Often, that means really slowing them down to work on their logic model and test their hypotheses. During this first year we take charge of their bookkeeping and other back-end operations with the intention to move them into self-sufficiency during the second year. By then, they have a viable pilot and are in a position to take the reigns over their administration.” Kristen says. Participants and the Beespace team convene at monthly gatherings to discuss their development against their initial design brief and progress against their role as innovators. Beespace itself self-evaluates their overall program and operations quarterly. Kristen sees their role as more than just an incubator: “Our internal purpose is to have an effect on the five organizations that are our incubees. Our external purpose, however, is to change the conversation about pivoting and experimentation in the nonprofit world. There is a lot of work to be done in this sector.”

How Beespace is different

Any criticism I have ever had about the charity/nonprofit sector, Kristen and her team refute by running Beespace like lean startup entrepreneurs. They do not assume to know what any nonprofit needs at any given time. They ruthlessly challenge and test their own assumptions, and adapt their program to the needs of founders. They initiate a peer-based support system and place emphasis on developing founders’ emotional intelligence. “Some founders struggle with the idea that the issue they are working on may be perceived differently by their beneficiaries. It is crucial to be self-aware and open-minded in this discovery process. If you base your logic model on flawed assumptions, you are not going to be able to fulfill your mission.”

The majority of philanthropic funders prefer supporting proven methods to do good instead of funding experimentation – a main obstacle in spurring innovation in the nonprofit world. Charities and nonprofits can’t try out new ways of achieving social impact or decreasing spending, because their funds are tied to the activities they have carried out for years. It is great to see that Beespace sets out to prove that innovation in the social sector is possible with the right kind of patient capital. I can’t wait to see how the lean startup is shaping their program and what impact numbers will look like a few cohorts down the road!


Echoing Green

Echoing Green is one of the most established support organizations for social entrepreneurs not least because they have been around for almost 30 years and come with a long track record of supporting social entrepreneurs. Established in 1987, Echoing Green has worked with nearly 700 emerging leaders, working in more than 70 countries, looking to launch initiatives to create change in their communities.  In recent years, Echoing Green’s reach and impact has grown significantly: Application numbers rose from 941 in 2009 to 2077 in 2016 Headquartered in New York City, I had the opportunity to speak to Camila Pazos who directs the search and selection process for the Fellowship program at Echoing Green.


Xiaoyuan Ren and her team wit her My H2O campaign

Selection & Program Outline

Every year Echoing Green holds an open call for applications for their Fellowship program and receives thousands of applications from self-identified early stage social entrepreneurs. “We work closely with Outreach Partners such as universities, peer organizations, foundations, incubators and accelerators to spread the word about our opportunity and find the best applicants. Echoing Green’s mission is to track down the best and brightest leaders, bringing them together, and launching them on a path to success.”, Camila explains. Echoing Green offers four different programs

  • Fellowships
    • Global Fellowship: flagship program for emerging social leaders, across the world, working on smart solutions to challenges in their communities
    • Black Male Achievement Fellowship: supports leaders who are dedicated to improve the life outcomes of black men and boys in the United States.
    • Climate Fellowship: program for aspiring social entrepreneurs who develop innovations to mitigate and adapt to climate change
  • Direct Impact: experiential board leadership program to prepare exceptional young business leaders for high-impact nonprofit board service
  • Work on Purpose: a program designed to guide young professionals in creating impact in their careers
  • Impact Investing: supports Fellows seeking or receiving investment, and produces research that elevates the profile of global early stage social entrepreneurship and impact investing and the field level.

Camila and I mainly spoke about the Global Fellowship whose parameters are identical across all Fellowship programs. Selection criteria focus on both the individual (passion/purpose, resilience, leadership, ability to attract resources) and their organization (innovation, importance, potential for impact, business model) (website).

If selected, participants benefit from

  • A stipend of $80,000 for individuals (or $90,000 for two-person partnerships) paid in four equal installments over two years
  • A health insurance stipend
  • A yearly professional development stipend
  • Leadership development and networking gatherings
  • Access to technical expertise and pro bono partnerships to help grow their organization, a dedicated Echoing Green portfolio manager, and support from Echoing Green chaplains
  • A community of like-minded social entrepreneurs, public service leaders, and industry leaders including the Echoing Green network of nearly 700 Fellows working in over sixty countries all over the world.

“We are not just a grant making organization but a Fellowship program.” Camila clarifies. ”We look to accelerate leaders with purpose creating change in their communities. While we work with them individually, one of the main strengths of our program is that we convene them within the greater Echoing Green network.”


2016 Climate Fellow Radwa Rostom at Hand Over

Fellows are selected in June, and come together for a New Fellows Retreat in July. Together with their portfolio managers, they develop their Individual Fellow Plan (IFP) outlining what it is they want to achieve throughout the Fellowship, and how to get there. Fellows also benefit from a leadership development fund to invest in their training, and access to service partners to work on specific aspects of their ventures.

How Echoing Green is Unique

What surprised me about Echoing Green is that they have been managing this large program from one headquarter in New York City. I realize they work with partner hubs at the West Coast of the US, India and some African countries. But still, stemming this kind of operation with participants from all over the world out of one location sound challenging.

At the same time, Echoing Green’s model lends itself to this central management not least because their system is built on Portfolio Managers who take on a number of Fellows and guide them through their Fellowship with the help of their Individual Fellow Plans. Portfolio Managers may be able to serve on one or more of the five following roles::

  • Connector -Is the best positioned to help a Fellow access the tremendous resources in the Echoing Green Community;
  • Expert Advisor – Can, where possible and justified, drawn on personal experience and expertise to help a Fellow solve key organizational challenges;
  • Thought Partner – Serve as an extra brain to think critically, as smart generalists, through any sort of issue a Fellow may face, such that they don’t have to do it alone;
  • Confidant – Will listen, without prejudice, to professional and personal challenges; and
  • Advocate – Promote a Fellow to potential donors and peer institutions, awards or even for opportunities within Echoing Green itself.

The Individual Fellow Plan is an “informal written document that identifies [Fellows’] current strengths and weaknesses and identifies the areas where Echoing Green is best placed to be helpful over the course of the two years and beyond.” It hones in on leadership skills that will affect the Fellow’s ability to

  • Raise money in appropriate amounts for their stage and size of need.
  • Operate according to clear, written short-term plans and goals.
  • Internalize a philosophy of regular measurement against a documented theory of change
  • Remain committed to keep working on their issue and/or organization, at a high level of passion and energy, in the years after their Fellowship.
  • Identifying and mapping solutions for two to three additional areas that may only be relevant to that particular Fellow at that time, such as hiring an executive team or building a thought leadership capacity.

Dive into their support philosophy here.

At the time of publication (June 2016), Echoing Green just announced their latest Fellow cohort. Learn more about them here.



Log 01: LH426

January 12, 2015

Log [n.]: Personal reflection

When I left Hamburg, Germany, in July 2014, I had taken all possible measures I could think of to make sure I was set for success. Organization, discipline, SMART goals – all in order to make sure that I would not fail. I had lists and spreadsheets for different sections of my life to make sure I got a paid job in no time and the H1B visa. I was going to be an independent strong 21st century women (read Amazon!) who would take the US in a storm.

Fast forward 5 months and I am writing this on the plane back to Germany,  no job, no visa. When I first had to admit that my professional superhero scenario was not going to come true, I was mortified. I had failed. And you know what? It didn’t matter. I didn’t even care all that much. It occurred to me that the only one who was beating herself up over this supposed “failure” was myself. It dawned on me that I had set the wrong kind of goals, that I have been striving to return to the system as quickly as possible. Social security number, pay taxes, and – God forbid – make sure my LinkedIn profile showed an employer under “current position”. Now don’t get me wrong, I still look forward to having a US social security number  and I think it is important to pay taxes. But I realized that I was focused on ticking those boxes rather than creating my own. I had had this idea for a project of my own which would later turn into Social Venturers. I have been putting it off for a year now. The first six months I didn’t have time to work on it because I was full-time employed in Germany, the second six months I couldn’t possibly devote any time to it as I clearly needed to find a full-time job first. Which in turn would have pulled me away from this project again. I had created this perfect little vicious cycle which would never allow me to just try it out and see what happens. And so the Social Venturer was born – after a year of contemplating, not daring, and finding excuses.

By Dominik Schroeder

By Dominik Schroeder

Of course it wasn’t all this black and white. The idea needed some time to mature. I needed time to mature and convince myself that I can do it. Also, I have managed to get some freelance work with my old company and of course you never really go back to square one, you are wiser and more experienced than you were the first time around.

As I am writing this, the plan is to go back to Europe to find professionals who devote their careers to supporting entrepreneurs with a social mission, and learn what it means to be good at it. There is plenty of buzz around social entrepreneurs, they are being studied, awarded and hyped – and that is ok in its own right. What we don’t hear so much about, however, are the support organizations behind these individuals – all the incubators and accelerators, summer schools, university programs, even angel investors that search for this talent around the world to nurture it. There is an entire industry of professionals that devote their careers to training and educating, mentoring, coaching and financing start-up entrepreneurs with a social mission. These are the people I want to meet, talk to, and learn from.

I joined the Managing Directors conference of the Global Accelerator Network in New York in October 2014 thanks to one of the contacts I had made during my first weeks in the States. The MD’s came together in New York for three days to discuss their common challenges, their individual challenges, good and best practices, industry trends, you name it. I was baffled to see how openly every leader spoke about what was really going on in the space and how they respond to these pressures. While these were supporter from the conventional start-up space, one thing holds true:

When it comes to supporting start-up entrepreneurs – social or not – a dialogue about how we as an industry can best address their needs and nurture their talent is tremendously helpful in designing better programs and creating higher social impact. I am setting out to find fellow Social Venturers and listen to their ideas, opinions, concerns and forecasts for the social entrepreneurship scene. I want to gain and share insights into their career paths as individuals and their work within their organization.

Global Accelerator Network Conference in New York, October 2014

Global Accelerator Network Conference in New York, October 2014

Why all that? I want us to start talking about good practices, valuable lessons and common challenges encountered when designing and implementing support programs for social entrepreneurs. I want us to start learning together, sharing our experiences and deciding how we can move this industry forward as a whole.

The plan is to document this journey and the Social Venturers I meet to learn and share these learnings.

Update May 17

One week until the website goes live. Looking back, I can tell that the first four months (almost exactly!) have been a great experience in giving it my best shot because I have stopped making excuses. Even though my freelance work keeps me busier than I want a lot of the time, and the funding is still nowhere in sight, I have worked on Social Venturers as my first priority. Confronting the person who wrote these earlier lines meaning to check in with myself about what I have achieved. I am currently visiting country number 5 to talk to the 23rd and 24th support organization. I am not as nervous as I thought I would be. That said, I still have a week to go, I don’t know what I don’t know about the launch of a website yet.

All in all, I can say that I am chuffed to see how many people I have met and how much I have learned from the over the past four months. Now it’s time to roll it out and see what you all think.