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Episode 56: From I to We: Trust, Co-Creation and Ego in Social Innovation with Jeroo Billimoria - Dimagi


From I to We: Trust, Co-Creation and Ego in Social Innovation with Jeroo Billimoria

Episode 56 | 56 Minutes

Co-hosts, Jonathan Jackson and Amie Vaccaro are joined by Jeroo Billimoria, a remarkable serial social entrepreneur. Starting at age 12, Jeroo has founded several impactful organizations, including Child and Youth Finance International, Aflatoun, Childline India Foundation and Catalyst 2030. In this candid conversation we learn about her journey and discuss:

Topics discussed include:

  •  Solving for root cause problems
  • Creating impactful outcomes through co-creation and collaboration

  • Building collective ownership and trust

  • Letting go of ego and planning for organizational transition

  • Managing the relational and management aspects of scaling an organization and a movement

  • The art of listening

  • How to stay optimistic The journey of Catalyst 2030 in creating a social innovation sector

  • Advocacy and changing funder mindsets

  • Increasing representation from the Global South

Show Notes


This transcript was generated by AI and may contain typos and inaccuracies.

Amie Vaccaro: Welcome to high impact growth. A podcast from Dimagi for people committed to creating a world where everyone has access to the services, they need to thrive. We bring you candid conversations with leaders across global health and development about raising the bar. On what’s possible with technology and human creativity. I’m Amy Vaccaro, senior director of marketing at Dimagi.

And your co-host along with Jonathan Jackson, Dimagi CEO. And co-founder. Today we are thrilled to be speaking with Villa Maria. One of the most accomplished and also most humble humans I’ve encountered. Drew started founding social impact organizations at the age of 12 and never stopped.

She founded child and youth finance international. Aflatoon child savings international. . Childline India foundation and child helpline international. Most recently, she co-founded catalyst 2030 alongside Jonathan Jackson. Uh, collaborative movement of social entrepreneurs coming together to create a social innovation sector. And work towards achieving the sustainable development goals. The organization has already beat its ambitious targets in the first two and a half years.

And a personal note. This is the first episode that will air since I’ve returned to Dimagi after maternity leave. Before we hit record Donovan and I were discussing how much more important it becomes to really love your work.

Once you have kids, because the opportunity cost of your time is just so high.

Recording this conversation today reminded me why I came back to work.

In today’s conversation, we get a peak into Drew’s ethos and way of being. We’re going to hear about her journey and digging on her current initiative. Catalyst 2030.

You’ll learn how to create incredible high impact outcomes through co-creation and collaboration. How to build collective ownership and trust. How to let go of your ego and plan for your own transition out of an organization you founded. How to manage the relational and management sides of scaling an organization. And the importance of listening, optimism and spirituality among many other things.

I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did.

Welcome. Today, we are so excited to be joined by Jeroo Billimoria. Jeroo, thank you so much for joining us on the High Impact Growth Podcast.

Jeroo: Thank you very much for having me. I’m excited to speak with Jonathan and you. Thank you.

Jonathan Jackson: Wonderful. Thanks, Drew. It’s a pleasure to have you on the podcast. We’ve known each other for ever, I think. Um, and so, uh, lots of exciting questions on, on the amazing journey you’ve had and, and the work that you’ve been up to for the last few years.

Amie Vaccaro: Yeah. So Jeroo, I’ve been reading a bit of your, your background and really helps that you have a Wikipedia page, which is amazing. And just so impressed by your series of accomplishments and organizations that you’ve created. Um, I really got this sense that your career has been sort of solving one problem after another, ?

Finding the root cause and getting to that problem, then finding another root cause, getting to that problem. Um, I would love to hear just a bit from you about your, your story and your journey.

Jeroo: There isn’t much to say, you know. Uh, I just go with the flow, in a sense, and I started really, really very young because my mom was a social worker and my dad believed you must help the community around you. So I always laugh and say I was indoctrinated into social work and social change from a very, very young age, and I think I started my first enterprise when I was 12.

So, from there, it grew to MailJolt, to ChildLine, to which, you know, um, um, ChildLine, which basically helps street kids, and then became India’s largest phone service and NGO, then moved to ChildHelpline International, to Aflatool, which was the preventive angle of, you know, child protection through financial inclusion.

to Child and Youth Finance, which we actually shut down by handing it over to OECD. So I think that’s also a nice different thing. And then now, which I co founded with Jonathan, Catalyst.

Jonathan Jackson: was, that was way too humble of a description, Drew, of your, your journey. I think. Um, for those listeners who know Drew, you know, she’s a force of nature. For those who don’t, um, the organizations she just ran off each in their own right were amazingly successful. , and Drew, I think one of the things that drew me to being so impressed by your journey and your approach was you would solve one part of the problem and then move.

to an adjacent part of the problem. And I think, um, we, we just, uh, had several discussions and episodes with founders of successful enterprises who are transitioning and each transition can feel emotionally very difficult. You know, founder CEOs are often have their identity wrapped up in an organization.

Um, and it can be difficult to step away from being an operator to. a catalyst or an orchestrator. Um, and you seem to have been able to move through those different roles in your career. Um, I’m curious if that felt natural or it was really painful at the time as you, you know, you transitioned between these organizations, between these modes and into different, into different models.

Jeroo: So I think my first transition, probably when I was very young, was staff. But after that, um, I actually built in a principle. Um, so I think I was asked this question very early on is, you, what happens if you are hit by a bus with your organization? What happens? And this was for my second organization. I didn’t have an answer.

So I went back and my mom, who’s a major influence in my life, I was talking to her and she said, Well, your ego is attached to your organization, and that’s why you couldn’t come up with an answer. And I didn’t raise a daughter to be an egoist, so go and rethink your life philosophy. Well, so, that’s what I did do, and since then, every organization that I have initiated or movement or whatever, I have always given myself an exit date.

So the latest one, Jonathan, where you are a co founder with Catalyst. Even when I started, I said that I will be exiting and you know, I will be exiting hopefully in the next month or two. And we will have two fantastic successors who will take over from me. And honestly, it’s a joy. It’s, it’s really a joy to transition.

I am not on the boards of any of the organizations I started, but I love to say that whenever they need me, I am there and they’ve come back. So after years of just being told nice things that happened in Childline, recently I’ve been called back to support. So I’m doing that, not as a board member, but from the outside.

So I think for me, Honestly, start, build, let go, enjoy.

Jonathan Jackson: I think that’s, I think that’s wonderful advice and easy to say after you’ve been as successful as you are, Drew. But I do remember when we initially talked about Catalyst 2030 and bringing that organization to life from day one. You know, you had been talking about succession planning and, You know that you were gonna leave.

And I think all of us on the board were like, no, no, no. N drew you. You need to stay running this thing. You’re uniquely qualified. And I think we can often get caught in that trap of feeling like we’re uniquely qualified or feeling like our perspective is the best and um, you know, change.

It’s definitely, and it’s not better in every way, but it certainly is something that, um, you know, I’m looking forward to, and I think you were very clear, um, when you, when you got that started, but when you look at starting things like that, and I want to focus on ChildLine a bit first, because that’s such an Yeah, sure. journey, um, that you’ve had, what, you know, where, -where did the idea come from and working with the government in India can be very difficult and very arduous and, um, isn’t necessarily top of top of many people’s list of things that sound, you know, exciting to go tackle with the entrepreneurial spirit.

That you have. So how did that idea come to be? And then I know you had a, just an incredibly long, successful partnership, um, you know, with the public sector around this. So as a, Younger in your career trying to do that and build that like what, what was that like? And, and what nuggets of wisdom, you know, did you learn around that process of engaging with the largest democracy in the world, but also what can at times be a very challenging, um, you know, partnership.

Jeroo: Yeah, thanks. Really good question. Uh, because I was young and when, at least I’ll speak for myself, I was young, I was not the smartest person. You know, you’re naive and stupid and you say, okay, how am I going to do things? Um, but, uh, uh, uh, by background, um, I’ve studied management. And I was a social worker, so every decision in my life I have made with my heart, but then going back to management and said, what is the most, I’m an accountant’s daughter, okay?

That means everything is how cost effective is it? It’s probably front and center in my decision making. So even when, so starting Childline was a very emotional decision because I was working with street kids on the streets. They used to come to my house all the time. I would go there in the nights and sort of the program evolved very much with street kids.

So that was the whole emotional part. There was one thing which my street kids said which has always struck with me. They said, Didi, Didi is elder sister in Hindi. They said, Didi, I’m here in Bombay today, but I’m going to be in Delhi tomorrow or in Calcutta. So I need a phone number which is going to be everywhere if you’re going to have a phone number.

So I think that was the one thing where the kids had already posed two challenges. One is they wanted something which was beyond nine to five. The second is they wanted something which was, uh, National. So now that is the mandate with almost no money. So then I started doing very nice, that time Excel wasn’t so much.

So on sheets of papers, running numbers, on if I had to do this service, and I had to take it through all of India, what would it cost? Then I went and cross checked with all the other fundraising organizations and organizations and their budget, and I knew that we could never scale to every part of India.

If we were going to be on that budget, that means I had to see who was the best partner of choice, and the best partner of choice was the government. And therefore, right from day one, after the pilot was done, we started with the government and partnered with them to take it forward. And it was Well, it’s challenging, but it wasn’t that challenging because I never went in telling the government, you will do this or this or this.

I went in saying, this is the service, let’s co create it. And that’s been fundamental to everything I do. Let’s co create it. This is how we will. And they were really much part of it. And I had some of the most amazing bureaucrats who helped. There were a set of challenges also with a few others, but, and.

And the last part I will say is that not only did we partner with the government, Chiang was never one NGO. We have 1,200 plus partners in Chile. So I didn’t start Chiang. Overall, Chiang was started by 1,200 different NGOs in their different cities and different blocks and different governments. So it was just building the ecosystem.

Jonathan Jackson: So I, I love you bringing up the term co create cause we talk about it a lot on, on Catalyst 2030. Um, I have to admit, I, I am at times skeptical as I’ve voiced to you on co creation’s ability to produce the outcomes we’re looking for. But clearly, it does and can and is better when it works, and you’ve been able to find pathways to do that, even with the bureaucracy, the largest bureaucracy in the world.

Um, and, and so, often I think our industry can use the term co creation and not really mean it. And clearly you really mean it when you talk about, you know, doing successful co creation. How have you been able to really get the buy in, you know, from your partners early on that, that they can do it in this co creative model?

Because I feel like a lot of times we’re like, Oh yeah, we’ll, we’ll try it. And then everybody goes their separate ways or everybody goes back to their own individual interests. And you’ve really succeeded at this in multiple different organizations with multiple different, I know part of it is just Drew herself is, you know, immensely, um, convincing at, uh, uh, getting people bought into this model.

Um, and she’s shaking her head for those who can’t see her, but, uh, as a, as a board member, I, I can tell you this is true. Um, but, uh, it’s. It can breed, it can be, you can be pessimistic about it. You can be skeptical and in some cases, even cynical about co creation. And so when you’ve been working with those governments that early on, when you were working with a thousand NGOs who are all worried about funding and fundraising and their own survival, like how do you get people bought in to.

doing co creation to doing this um, you know, aspirational model.

Jeroo: So there is the management part of it and there is the relational part of it. Um, I think, uh, I’ll start with which part would you like me to start with? Because I don’t think it’s just, it’s really both of them roll together.

Jonathan Jackson: I think that’s the great start. So either one, either one.

Jeroo: um, so I think if I have to look and I’m now talking from Catalyst, because we were doing our impact, as you know, Jonathan, as a board member, we exceeded our three year targets, which were very ambitious in two and a half years. So I think that can, yeah, and I think that can only happen because of the amazing collective power that we have of our Catalyst community.

So, when we said 75 countries and 100 collaborations, we had no money, we said, let’s just try it. And I remember all of us saying, but, you know, we have a value of humble audacity, so why not do it? You remember, Jonathan, we had that board meeting where, so. But we did it, and that was the power of the collective.

And I think what was in the power of the collective is, Though we set that principle, we set our north star, but we did not necessarily predict how we are going to get there. So we had a rough pathway, but if you ask anyone in the beginning, no one knew how we were going to get there. There was this bold vision, this dream, and I think Let’s try it.

So I think one of the things is a strong sense of co creative trust, because I always listened. I believe the true essence of co creation is not trying to have your words, but listening to what people say and trying to understand that and piece that together. So we really created that. The second is because of that, there is a lot of ownership.

Catalyst has so much ownership amongst its members. Catalyst. You know, and they are the ones who took it through. So for me, it is this collective ownership, which then comes, which creates a collective power and collective learning. I think I am so lucky with the amount I have learned through Catalyst. So over a period of time, we were analyzing our impact.

And I said, we have, we’ve actually. In impact, I said, donors want to know the numbers, they want to know the outcome numbers of what you’ve done in this, and I said, that’s impact. But if we really wanted to create accelerated impact, look at the relational arc of catalyst. And that starts with shifting mindsets when people come in to make the move from the I to the we.

Then it starts with collective learning, because we say, okay, I don’t know everything, you don’t know everything, let’s do it together. Moving it to collaboratively co creating something which may not be just, you know, in it, and then moving to actually shifting narratives and creating the impact we wish to see.

So I think that is the whole relational aspect which leads to the change that we want. And then the second thing is having the management systems and operational systems in place. Because I think sometimes we tend to forget that. And I’m sure, Jonathan, you remember because I know you were called by McKinsey also to say, Okay, let’s have some sort of a strategy plan.

You can throw it out. But you need the plan. You need some pathway, but the ability to then move away from the pathway and let it flow. And, you know, I always, this is my favorite, favorite saying, a river originates in the mountain. It knows it has to reach the sea, but it has so many twists and turns and tributaries till it reaches.

And I think that’s the journey for change. If we let it flow. You know,

Speaker: That’s so, that’s so beautiful, Drew. Wow. Um, for, for folks in the audience that aren’t super familiar with Catalyst 2030, could you share a little bit more just about that, those ambitious goals that you said, and, and you mentioned, you know, exceeding your targets within two and a half years. Love to get a bit more background on

Jonathan Jackson: And also

Jonathan Jackson: just the origin story, Drew, like how did, how did it come together?

Jeroo: You should say it, Jonathan. You were there right at the beginning. Jonathan’s being humble. He was one of our co founders and right in the beginning, very I was, but, but you’ll remember when you first called me, I tried to say no until you said, no, no, no, no, that’s not going to work.

Jeroo: Yes,

Speaker 2: amazing. I love this.

Jonathan Jackson: um, but no, I mean, I, I think that it’s such an amazing, um, organization and, and the, the, the genesis of the idea and the, um, desire to co create and collaborate amongst. Many individuals who are on their own successful, but felt like we needed to shift how we were doing things, how to do it more collectively, how to do it more collaboratively.

Um, but for a lot of the initial discussions, I think I wasn’t actually, you know, in the room for some of those. And so I’d love to hear Drew, your perspective on how this came together. I know. The social entrepreneurship community in general, whether it’s from the Schwab Foundation, Catalyst 2030, Skoll, you know, many of these cliques and groups and networks, um, that are all part of Catalyst 2030.

Um, but I know that initial set of discussions must have been really exciting to kind of germinate this idea. And so, what, what was the problem statement? Like, what was the sense people were having that required a collaborative approach to solve?

Jeroo: I think, um, I will go back, Jonathan. I think, uh, there were many genesis points, but one of them, if you remember, was when we were at Harvard and, uh, we were trying to do the systems change course and all of us rolling our heads and saying, this is not systems change. What are they teaching us? We were the rebel class over there, if you remember.

And in it was maybe if we as social innovators tried to co create something for ourselves. We would have a very, very different course, and we would have something very different. Then in school, there were people meeting, saying, We come every year at school, but what’s the use? It’s great. We have lots of fun.

But then what, when we go away? So I think there were different emerging points which were there, but ultimately it was like, should we do something? Maybe let’s create a WhatsApp group. So Catalyst started as a WhatsApp group and remained a WhatsApp group for the first nine months. And because, you know, we had no money and nobody thought we would succeed because the first myth was that social entrepreneurs will not collaborate.

So donors were not willing to fund us to start with. You know, and so we said, okay, we know there’s no money. We can’t do much. Let’s create a WhatsApp group. And if you remember, we just started meeting on Zoom where we said, let’s do something. The big thing was getting Ashoka, Skoll, Schwab, and Echoing Green together because we realized that if you have to create something, you need the main players in the room with you.

So getting them together. We started that. And then from there, that’s the management brain of me. I said, we can keep meeting and have wonderful talks. We’ll frizzle out. So getting in McKinsey to start helping us evolve a management plan. And then, uh, we launched at the World Economic Forum, though we were still not full in our plan.

And then, uh, we, I love to say the story. We had no money, no one funding us. And one of our members is Karen Spencer. And she said, come to my house. So we actually were like two in a room, three in a room. We thought we’ll have 10, 15 people. And we were like close to, I think, 90, who just showed up. Everyone’s spending their own money.

And those like Jonathan who couldn’t come for whatever reasons actually called in. So we made sure we had collective voices. And from there we created our first plan. And then said, okay, what is it that bothers us most? It’s funding, it’s not having a seat at the table, and it’s proving to people that we as a sector can collaborate.

So let’s look at the three things that bother us the most and let’s move from there. And that’s where Catalyst started and then it’s evolved into what it is now.

Jonathan Jackson: And I think that, that This was pre COVID, I think it was my last, I was trying to

Jeroo: Yeah, pretty much. We had the meeting at Karen’s house in February and then COVID hit in March.

Jonathan Jackson: yeah. So I mean, it had already hit in China, right. But yeah, I remember this was like,

Jeroo: Yeah, yeah. I mean for Europe and the rest of the

Jonathan Jackson: and I wonder, you know, as you reflect on, on trust, I think you mentioned trust talking about the story of Childline and in co creation, and I think trust is absolutely critical and feels like a really big chicken and egg problem because, you know, you have individuals who have their collective, their individual interests.

They’re aligned to the potential of a collective, but everybody has a tendency to withdraw and say, Oh, but I’m still going to go out on my own. I’m still going to do my individual thing and my organization’s thing. And so building that trust is absolutely critical. Both trust at a interpersonal relationship level, one to one, but also trust in this bigger initiative, this bigger ecosystem play.

being worthy of your time, being a win win. Um, and I think that Colleen and I was so jealous cause it was just clear how much of that trust was being built in that, that connection, but then immediately going into two years of virtual everything, right? I wonder how much the. In person meetings and the in person discussions were critical to building up that trust to having all that social connection available.

I’ve noticed this in some of the other failed efforts I’ve been a part of where tried to stay totally virtual, you know, everybody was aligned. We, we were aligned on the objectives, but we weren’t able to form those interpersonal relationships that really connected at the human level. And so when things got difficult or when it felt like you wanted to just go do your individual thing, your organizational thing, you had that human to human connection that kept you going, that kept that, you know, trust reservoir full.

Um, and so I think the ability to meet in person, the ability that you drew everybody together, as you said, we were thinking 10 to 15 and 90 people came. How much do you think that that was critical? I mean, particularly with COVID having hit just after that, in terms of really building that momentum, um, among the network, among the group, so that you had enough trust built up that we could, you know, be that river flowing downhill where it wasn’t just that it flowed in different directions we didn’t expect.

It’s like people wanted to take it, you know, in different directions and, and any decision we’ve ever made. Right. There’s multiple viewpoints as to, um, and so as you reflect, like, I, I’m just so curious. Cause as you said, like, that was a big ask, fly to Europe, you know, spend multiple days on this thing that we don’t know what it’s going to be yet.

And 90 people showed up, you know, to, to participate in that.

Jeroo: Yeah. So I think yes, uh, actually the way the meeting was structured was the whole first day and a half was only based on personal sharings and personal journeys. And we really did consciously try to build that circle of trust. But I also want to say that many of the people who came, they were friends.

So there was the trust beyond. Like to me, even though you weren’t there, you were still a friend and I still called you when I was hassled on so many times, you know, saying, Hey, Jonathan, I don’t know what to do, help, you know, pretty much like that. Uh, so I think, uh, the circle of trust, yes, definitely was high, but our governing council, even which emerged was not only the people who were there at the first meeting, it evolved based on people who were volunteering.

So I think the center and catalyst is the spirit of generosity and the trust comes and builds because of the spirit of generosity that people bring into it, you know, and from that develops friendships. So I’ve had members who’ve never really met in person and someone has been counseling them on Zoom.

You know, saying, you know, I went through my divorce and this member just helped me and this happened and, you know, so I think, yes, part of it was the in person meeting, but part of it is what is very inherently built into Catalyst, which is when we start, we, well, we didn’t do it immediately, but pretty much we have a very thorough induction.

We do ask people to actually take a pledge in which spirit of generosity is really highlighted. Immediately after that we go into very interpersonal conversational cafes, team building. So there’s a lot of activities to generate the trust and the community engagement which is there. And it’s a very conscious strategy.

It doesn’t just happen. So we create the infrastructure for it. You know?

Jonathan Jackson: And I think that that builds on the point you were making about Childline as well, which is you weren’t building these networks from scratch. You know, there was a lot of people coming together who had pre existing relationships, who were already friends, who had alignment, and maybe commiserated over the phone for years before that on the problems in our sector.

And, uh, you know, so it wasn’t, it wasn’t as if this was like a de novo group, you know, coming together for the first time. These were, these are a lot of pre existing relationships.

Jeroo: And that’s catalyst entry also, so people can join through the reference of a friend.

Jonathan Jackson: Yep. And so,

Jeroo: Or wait for

Jonathan Jackson: um, as you mentioned, like, Catalyst has been incredibly successful in forming these collaborations. At a high level, give us the elevator pitch on what Catalyst 2030 is trying to accomplish for listeners, as Amy said, who are less familiar with what it’s doing. And how, how it’s, you know, performed over the last several years in terms of fostering those goals, those collaborations.

But just give us the one on one of, of what it is, what members came together to try to do and some of the success stories out of the amazing work that, that Catalyst 2030 has been doing.

Jeroo: Sure. So I think, uh, as I said, we had three main issues which we tried to change. Uh, one was trying to get a seat at the table, because many of us, especially, were not able to. Uh, so currently next week, as you know, Jonathan is catalyzing change week. Uh, inauguration is with, uh, Su, Su Sherpa from Brazil for this G20 presidency and the head of COP.

And these are two main things which we want to influence because then we’re influencing financial policies and we are influencing how to have the climate. Another major flagship session is we are launching the, uh, Global Champions, no, the Government Champions for Social Innovation and Impact, which are government people whom Catalyst got together and are now launching their own government body in which Catalyst will be a support.

So there’s, they are going to, and they are going to have a peer to peer, so a catalyst type structure around government innovators. in governments. That means we as social innovators will have section, you know, have something with them to go to them. We are talking to USAID on how to shift USAID funding, and Jonathan, please ensure that you’re there in the USAID session.

Uh, where, because they are reviewing their policies, so how can they be made more social innovator friendly, and we have a lot of things. We are speaking to the World Bank, which is starting a facility, which we have helped and are co structuring and co facilitating, which is looking at how we are doing it.

We are working with COP to create a roadmap to COP. Uh, we, Thanks to our member Neelam have managed to get Promenade 57 so we will have actually our own Promenade building at Davos. So, um, what I’m trying to say is I’m just giving a few examples where we are going to actually start having what we wanted when we started a seat at the table to have meaningful dialogues.

The second thing we wanted to do was shifting funding paradigms. So we have started with the Embracing Complexity Report. At Skoll, we launched the Donor Self Assessment Tool, which 800 donors have already taken. And they really look at this as how can they improve and people say don’t criticize, Catalyst is about solutions.

So we gave them the solution and now they want to work with us to see how they can shift their funding practices. And the same because compliance for organizations like USAID is such a big issue, they’re trying to see how to shift compliance to make it much easier for grassroot level organizations. So rather than talking and we have the donor learning group, etc.

So rather than talking, we’ve come up with a lot of solutions to shift funding practices and the whole ecosystem is changing and evolving and we are having a voice in it. The third is collaborations. I said a hundred class collaborations, the roadmap to COP, what happened in World Bank, all of those are part of our collaborations which have emerged and is taking it forward.

You know, we, so there’s, there’s a whole level in addition to set halfway through we realize that Because we were part of Ashoka’s Gold Schwab, many of us were from the global north. So it was our board, people like Jonathan, who said, Listen, we can’t just be from the Global North, let’s look at the Global South.

And today, Catalyst, more than 60 percent of its membership is from the Global South and growing. And we have 75 country chapters. We never thought we’d have country chapters. But we have 75 country chapters and those country chapters have started lobbying. So India initiated the work in the G20. Our Brazil chapter, the co chair, they’re really really taking it forward and now just today I was speaking to someone to say how can we really make South Africa strong and then we’ll start prepping for U.

  1. with Jonathan and all our U. S. chapter members. So it’s the ecosystem and the change where Catalyst, if I were to say in one sentence what we’ve done, we started not, you know, we started saying we have some issues. In the next three years, we are going to create a sector, and that’s going to be the social innovation sector, which will give us more funding and a seat at the table.

So, that’s where we are. That’s the one sentence, and I gave a whole long other

Jonathan Jackson: That was not one sentence, Drew, but it was, uh, amazing to hear, even as somebody who’s been on this journey, being able to step back and kind of interview you like this, it’s so motivating to hear all the accomplishments. Um, and I think that that seat at the table can sound vague, and I have to admit that was one that I was like, what are we, what are we talking about here when we mentioned this, but looking at the amazing amount of advocacy.

Catalyst 2030 has supported, participated in. I know it’s on the World Economic Forum’s agenda. We’ve participated in reports they’ve published. This is aligned with work that Ashoka, Echoing Green, Skoll, many of the other leading funders of social enterprises are supportive of. I’d say advocacy probably has parallels to what you mentioned of water at the top of the mountain trying to, trying to get down to the sea.

Um, I know you’ve been incredibly successful in your advocacy journey and, and probably. even more successful in mentoring and nurturing others. and their advocacy agendas. But it can feel so daunting, you know, working with these major governments, these major bureaucracies, and trying to move the needle a little bit with each discussion.

How, how do you think about advocacy? How do you find the, um, the strategy To carry it forward. It can be hard to measure what success looks like at times. You know, how do you just, how do you think about advocacy when, when we talk about social entrepreneurs in the global South, having the rightful seat at the table and not just the seat at the table, but ultimately helping shape and drive.

Some of these things, um, because they do have the best ideas. They do have the best experience. They know how to do it more cost effectively. Um, and they knew how to do it more collaboratively, but man, it can feel hard. Um, you know, so what, what do you, how do you think about it and how do you think about the strategy and think about the way to achieve our advocacy agenda?

Jeroo: Uh, advocacy can be daunting, and if we try to change every single thing, we can’t do it. So, uh, for Catalyst, very clearly, we said, what are the three to five things we can wrap our heads around? And that’s what we started with, you know, and it’s been a tough journey. I’m not saying it’s all very easy and nobody ever pays for advocacy.

So that is like, you have to do it in the 0. 5 percent of your time, you know? So, uh, I have to admit, but we knew that if we had to have a seat at the table, how we would do it. And also some things we tried, but we didn’t really get far. So it’s also taking those tough decisions and saying. We’re not going to start over here.

So we started a lot, if you remember, with the UN, but we realized we were not making that much headway. So I said, let’s not take the UN and let’s move to OECD and G20, where we may have higher headway and then move back. And then we did, because we then started working with the UN Task Force on Social and Solidarity and are working on their action plan.

So it’s constantly navigating and not spending too much time on it. But spending as little time with the maximum impact. So, like today, and this is the real strength of Catalyst, I have to say. Today I was sitting, we have an initiative called Africa Forward, uh, which is basically our African members saying, our funding never comes to Africans, it only goes to, you know, organization from US and UK.

So how can we shift that? So they launched Africa Forward and I was sitting with the Africa Forward team this morning and they listed, I think, around 60 different places they could be in the year. I said, that’s brilliant. We don’t have the budget. So how are we going to do it? Of these, we identified the top where we had to, but we also said, how will we?

So basically now what we’re going to do is every event is taking place in some African country by and large. We have members in all of those countries, so we’ll highlight and profile those members. And that way, our amplified voice is so much that we don’t need to. So, I think that’s what we are doing with Catalyst, you know.

Our membership is going to be able to represent us and make it happen. So it’s knowing your advocacy places, knowing where you have to focus, but not leaving out anything and leveraging the membership to do everything. So I think that’s in a nutshell how to do it. And, and playing the role of my favorite quote, an honest broker.

That means I rarely, if ever, profile myself. So unless it is extremely important, people don’t know it. So even in our general assemblies, therefore, other than introducing the chairs, I’m not there, you know. So it’s really, really critical. That also builds So I think that’s, for me, probably one of the most important things, and I have to tell you this story, Jonathan, because I think that’s the going forward, if you don’t mind.

I was at a meeting and someone told me to join Catalyst.

Jonathan Jackson: That’s the best. That’s the,

Jonathan Jackson: that’s the, that’s the, once you get that, you know, I, I actually, I just had. This wonderful, last night, this wonderful WhatsApp I received from a. An amazing woman, um, who left Dimagi and went to a new organization. And she said yesterday, her CEO opened up, um, to funder, uh, highlighting Dimagi as a, uh, you know, successful innovation that went on to support entire ecosystems.

And we’re doing a lot with the mental health, um, movement right now. And she texted me, she’s like, Oh my God, you know, our CEO. Just talking about Dimagi in this context, it’s so amazing to sit here, you know, with somebody who helped build it on the other side and, and being told about it. So I, I totally get that, Drew.

And I think it’s, it’s a testament to, you know, how it’s going and what we’ve built, but yeah, that’s, that’s so awesome that somebody told you to join.

 I’ve also been sitting in meetings in my other organizations. I said, that’s the time I have to let go. When in ChildLine, I was introduced to someone and they said, this is the founder of ChildLine. You know, do you know of a flood when I was like, ah, so that’s why when I had that, I said, it’s really the time for me

Jonathan Jackson: That’s right. That’s right.

Jeroo: you know,

Speaker: that’s, that’s amazing. Drew, that, I mean, that kind of comes back to your story from the beginning where you shared how your, your mom basically said, You have to let go of your ego, right? And that feels like such a through line to your approach to leadership. Um, I’m curious, do you have any practices, advice, guidance for like, what does that actually look like?

Right? I mean, it’s, it’s nice to talk about no ego, but to actually embody that, um, is, is so hard and a daily struggle, I think. Um, so I’d love to hear

Jeroo: because all of us have an ego. Let’s be honest. You know, uh, but again, uh, for myself, I, I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual. There are three religions in my house, okay? So there’s definitely not a religious bias, but at the same time, a very spiritual bias. And every night before I sleep, there’s one thing I don’t say a prayer, but I ask myself every night, the work that I have done, will it really be helping someone?

Will it be helping my street child? Maybe not directly, but indirectly. And if I haven’t been able to do that, then what is the use? So I’m always asking my question that. And that’s sort of like an evaluation of my work and looking at it. And I always say, okay, because it has to be. A dollar a day, I, I basically say, you know, you can, I’m just giving a global currency.

In a dollar a day, you can eat, feed somebody, but that’s not what’s important. That means my work has to be 10 or more to be able to have more of that impact. So it’s always asking that part, which I look at it, constant questioning is all I can say. And I have the most fantastic family, which gets me down to earth all the time.

You know,

Jonathan Jackson: Families,

Jonathan Jackson: spouses, kids are a great way to stay grounded. They care very little about, about your accomplishments in the industry they don’t

work in. Yeah.

Jeroo: exactly, they’re like, mom, where’s the food? Okay. That’s the most important, you know? And then you’re like, yeah, okay. Stop taking yourself too seriously. Everything will come around,

Jonathan Jackson: That’s right. That’s right. And I, you know, I think the, it’s hard though, Drew, Amy can attest, like it’s, it’s difficult to, you know, fundraise and create this brand and try to be, you know, out there with the most followers. So you get the most press coverage and we’re all competing for the same awards and it creates this toxic, you know, sense of competition among social entrepreneurs.

And I think, um, You and many of the leadership on Catalyst 2030, I think, exhibit this generosity and, you know, it’s not that we don’t have egos, it’s not that we’re not driven, um, to make our own organization successful, but that, that sense of generosity, that sense of what the collective and the collaborative could accomplish that is so obviously more.

Than any one of us as individuals could, or even our, our own independent organizations could. I think it’s really hard to remember that, you know, even in this conversation, I’m literally just smiling ’cause I’m, I’m, thinking about these things in a way that like, I haven’t even as a, you know, active number of Catalyst 2030 and, and it, it.

This industry forces us to be so individualistic to tell our story in such a look at look at what I did look at how great I am look at how great my organization is and how how do you I think people should balance that who have the real challenges of fundraising, right? As we do at Catalyst 2030 as well, who have the real needs to convince people this is a great ROI, a great idea, and still carry forward that spirit of generosity and that spirit of collectivism that is so important to actually accomplishing your goals because nobody’s going to do it on their own, right?

Jeroo: Yeah. I think the only way we can do it is by changing funder mindsets. That’s why it’s one of the priorities and working with funders to make them realize that if you have to do it, you have to do something different. But it’s what I really. What inspires me to get up every morning is the amazing membership and leadership that is there in Catalyst.

Because it truly embodies going from the I to the V. And I think if the whole sector moved away from the I to the V, starting from the donors who want to constantly shine light on a few, to, and the best examples, to creating a V, I think we would have much more. And I think to building a sector. So my current favorite other story is that we are this beautiful house with every room having lots of wonderful, each pilot being a wonderful object of art or painting or piece of furniture, which is very important.

But we don’t have plumbing, we don’t have electricity, we don’t have heating, we don’t have running water or gas or anything that we would need. And that’s what Catalyst is trying to create. The basic infrastructure, so you don’t need a fancy house, but everyone can live comfortably. And I think that’s what we need to move towards, you know, that’s to me really

Jonathan Jackson: That’s, that’s wonderful and it’s bringing me back to two things you said earlier. One is listening, right? Like finding those opportunities for, Um, how to create that shared plumbing or that shared electricity in our house. And the, the other, when you were talking about advocacy, there’s just, Your comments right there brought back up for me is, you know, this river is going to flow downhill and you can’t do everything, but also just because you don’t agree with an initiative or a direction somebody wants to take the collaborative you’re working on doesn’t mean it’s bad, right?

You’re going to need to try 20 things. Many are going to fail. Many aren’t going to work if we, you know, had the UN as our target and said it’s do or die on the UN. We got to put all our effort into there. Well, maybe we bang our head against the wall instead of saying, okay, they’re not picking up the phone.

Let’s go somewhere else where we’re getting more resonance and then come back in a year. And I think often collaboratives can get really stuck up on, we said that was our top priority. We got to go do that. And it’s like, well, it’s not working. Let’s go around the tree and then, you know, come back at a, at a later point.

And even I’m like reflecting on some conversations I’ve had on the board where I was, I was the stubborn one, you know, saying, no, no, no, we said this was the way we got to do it. And if you are open to, to really listening and coming up with these other approaches, even if you don’t agree with them, like, yeah, let’s try it.

Let’s try everything, right? There’s so much work to do. There’s so much need. And the, the, I don’t have all the good ideas. Even as the CEO, as the entrepreneur, as the X, Y, and Z, that listening in a collaboration is so critical because you’re not going to agree with everything. In fact, you may like really disagree, but you’re going to be wrong.

You know, a lot of the time on these things, because it’s so, who knows what’s going to work. Right? What we’re doing, trying to do is really, really hard stuff. Who knows what it’s going to lead to? Who knows how it’s going to go? And I think that is such a, such a great way to think about the problem of building the sector.

Like, we just got to try so much stuff and we can’t be, um, you know, stuck on our own ideas. Uh, we got to figure out where the energy is at this moment in time with this opportunity. As you mentioned, you know, we 60 events, but we have people everywhere. and we can get them into these events, we can get them to show up, and um, are they Drew?

No, but are they going to do even better than Drew? Maybe, and are they going to do great? Yes, right, and so how, how do you look for those alternative paths, you know, to, to that goal, which may in fact be, end up being better than the initial path we thought.

Jeroo: Yep, you’re absolutely right. You saw me just nodding away, you know, because that’s what it is. And, uh, I think it was a word one of our board members use, it’s really leveraging the power of our collective, you know, and it’s the collective, which also gives us strength to speak out. So I’ve had so many members say, Oh, I just said I was part of Catalyst and that made me feel so good.

You know, so even without us saying it, you know, and I think that’s really what, what gives collective strength. So I, I think it’s, yeah, it’s given me a lot of strength. Catalyst, I think I have got so much more from Catalyst than I’ve ever been able to give it, you know,

Jonathan Jackson: That is,

Jonathan Jackson: that is, I know people sometimes mean that that is not true in this case, but uh, the, I get the sentiment, but Drew, you’ve been, I mean, I, I honestly, for those who know you, for those who have worked with you, we have this joke on, on certain calls with Drew where you get voluntold to do something um, by Drew and uh, you can’t, you can’t say no, but it’s because you know she’s right that this is worth trying, you know, and, and it, because.

You know, you can contribute in this way, even if it’s an extra couple of hours that you, you wish you had. And because the work is, is so important to try, you know, who knows where we’ll end up and the impact we’ll end up making within our own organizations or as Catalyst 2030, but it’s just definitely worth trying, right?

Speaker: Hmm. Something that’s kind of coming to mind for me as you’re sharing all this is this phrase, uh, fall in love with the problem, not the solution, right? Um, and it feels like that’s maybe at the root of some of your, your approaches, Drew, is it, there’s going to be so many different possible solutions and we have to, to try them all.

And, People are going to come from all different places with all different ideas and that ability to really listen humbly and, um, allow the water to flow and, and see where it goes. And, um, I think that’s such a incredible strength that you’re, you’re sharing with us here. Um, One thing I noticed listening to some, some other interviews that you’ve, you’ve given, Jeroo, is that you are such an optimist at heart, right?

And like, you have to be, to be doing some of this work. And I am curious, it feels like it’s so easy to just get bogged down in the negative these days, right? With so many crises, so many challenges, so many things going wrong, so many leaders around the world that are concerning to me. Like, how do you, how do you stay optimistic?

Jeroo: Surround myself with optimistic people like Jonathan and you, you know, honestly, the Catalyst, uh, uh, I mean, and also family. I think personally, so I think firstly our community in Catalyst, social entrepreneurs, I think they have it in their DNA to be optimistic. Even when we think we want to be pessimistic, we’ll end up being optimistic, you know, it’s so part of it, I think, is just the DNA of the community that is there in looking at it.

But I think also on a personal level, uh, I think it’s family and never letting, you know, keeping that work life balance, which sounds cliche, but I think is really, really, really important. You know, and sometimes when I’m bogged down. My husband will say, enough, come on, we’re going out for dinner. Let’s celebrate.

Like you did, Jonathan, you know, with your son yesterday, you know, it’s, it’s just having those moments of family time, work time, you know, and making it.

Speaker: Yeah, that’s beautiful. And it brings me back to that I to we movement that you’re speaking about, right? If, if you, if you truly believe that you’re part of a we, you can be uplifted by the people around you, as opposed to feeling like you’re alone with this incredible

Jonathan Jackson: Well, and, and,

Jeroo: I have never felt alone in Catalyst ever, ever, ever,

Jonathan Jackson: and, and the Ida Weedy also, you know, when you’re running your own thing or taking a very individual view, rejection also feels awful. You know, not that rejection feels good in Catalyst 2030 or as a collective, like you wish you could convince everyone. But, when you have that we mentality, when you, when you have that collective mentality, you can also, I think, possibly take it, take the, the rejection differently as a, okay, we’re going to come back to you later.

Like maybe I didn’t have the right message for you at this moment, but we will definitely, uh, you know, be able to convince you at some point, just like your story with the UN drew. And it, it is hard to keep getting. You know, our business has a huge amount of rejection, whether you’re applying for awards or asking for funding and trying to partner with the government.

And so there’s also so much power in that collective to lean on each other. And so, yeah, it didn’t work today, but we’re going to come back and do it again tomorrow. And when you have an individual. Mindset, it can be really hard and you take all of that rejection on yourself. And of course you can say, don’t take it personally and this and that, but it’s a lot easier to not take it personally when you view yourself as part of a we, when you view yourself as part of a greater collaborative and you just say, okay, it wasn’t, it wasn’t, didn’t work today, but we’re going to, we’re going to have the resilience to come back and try again tomorrow.

Jeroo: I think you’ve summarized it fantastically, Jonathan. See?

Jonathan Jackson: You mentioned Catalyze and Change Week. I actually, Amy, I think we should try to push this out ASAP. Um, that’s next week. I’m sorry. It’s Friday, but, uh, but we’ll try to get, we’ll try to get it out next week. So we can, we can, uh, tie this up with the Catalyze and Change Week. But, um, so we’ll be at least in the midst of it, or if not after Catalyze and Change Week, right.

This is such a cool. week that we host every year with the ability for anybody to run sessions, anybody to join hybrid, online, offline, tons of different content about different subjects. Um, and I think this seems to be a theme of how I’m prepending a lot of stories, but I was skeptical the first time we were running this, um, you know, about how we would get participation and, COVID was burning everybody out on zoom meetings and stuff.

But I mean, this has just been awesome to see the enthusiasm for hosting sessions, for joining sessions that you mentioned. And I think that collaborative approach of empowering our community to, to be able to do what they want. You don’t have to participate. If you don’t want to, you don’t for in a session, you don’t have to show up.

But, um, man, the energy and enthusiasm and the. The platform for some people who this might be the first time organizing a panel or their first time, you know, running a session and providing that, um, that platform as an opportunity for people. It’s just such a such a wonderful thing to do. Um, so you mentioned the funders who are coming to some of the sessions or hosting some of the sessions to hear from the community, but there’s also just a ton of amazing content.

You know, that, that our community Yes, definitely. is running and putting out there. So Amy, depending on when we deep with this out, you know, I’d encourage all of our listeners to, to check it out, um, to sign up, we do this every year. Um, you know, so if you want to host a session, if you want to participate in the session, recommend one, um, a ton of work behind the scenes goes into it, but it’s, it’s just a wonderful week and it’s, you know, fully virtual.

So anybody can participate, um, and, and join the huge amount of sessions that are up on the website right now.

Speaker: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to that and I will clear my plate today and try to get this episode out so we can get people excited for next week and, and joining.

Jeroo: Thanks. To me, Catalyzing Change Week is the power of the week.

Jonathan Jackson: Yeah,

Jeroo: And us, because that’s what it is, really.

Jonathan Jackson: that’s great. Well, we’ve taken up so much of your time, Drew. We, we love, uh, having this conversation with you and thank you so much for, for spending an hour with us.

Jeroo: thank you very much. It’s been a real pleasure. And thanks for all the support you give to Catalyst, Jonathan. You are a rock star. Thanks a million. Really. Thank you.

Thank you so much to Daru. I loved that conversation and I hope you feel as uplifted as I do. Please check out catalyze and change week. Next week, we moved quickly to get this live today. See, might be able to check out that incredible event. The link is in the show notes..

I learned so much from today’s conversation. Think my biggest takeaway is that we’re really in this work together. And we need to be mindful of our own egos, which can be really hard. If you’re feeling too attached or too critical to an initiative, it might be time to let go. As drew says, start, build, let go.

Enjoy. And on that note, a huge shout out to Sarah Strauss and Michael Keller, her who kept this show publishing while I was offline for maternity leave. That’s our show, please like rate, review, subscribe, and share this episode. If you found it useful, it really helps us grow our impact. And write to with any ideas, comments, or feedback. This show is executive produced by myself.

Sarah Strauss is our editor, Michael Kelleher’s, our producer and cover art is by Sudan. Shrikanth.

Meet The Hosts

Amie Vaccaro

Senior Director, Global Marketing, Dimagi

Amie leads the team responsible for defining Dimagi’s brand strategy and driving awareness and demand for its offerings. She is passionate about bringing together creativity, empathy and technology to help people thrive. Amie joins Dimagi with over 15 years of experience including 10 years in B2B technology product marketing bringing innovative, impactful products to market.

Jonathan Jackson

Co-Founder & CEO, Dimagi

Jonathan Jackson is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Dimagi. As the CEO of Dimagi, Jonathan oversees a team of global employees who are supporting digital solutions in the vast majority of countries with globally-recognized partners. He has led Dimagi to become a leading, scaling social enterprise and creator of the world’s most widely used and powerful data collection platform, CommCare.



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