What began as a group of Peace Corps volunteers has since grown into its own organization. Human-centered design and social entrepreneurship are the guiding principles for projects in Guinea and Benin, where the team works directly with youth to inspire innovation and address important socioeconomic problems from the inside out.
Although Dare to Innovate is an organization that takes on big problems, they have a big problem of their own: they’re spread out around the globe. They can’t be together in the same space to define their goals or their game plan.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Hilary Braseth, one of the founders and Executive Vice President of Dare to Innovate. In the conversation below, she opens up about how the team confronts challenges of time and distance so they can innovate together from all around the world.
MARIANO: Tell us a little about what you do and why you do it. What is Dare to Innovate all about?
HILARY: Dare to Innovate mobilizes a network of context-specific, human-centric resources for youth in Francophone West Africa who face disproportionate levels of unemployment. In this fight, we catalyze and support youth to become changemakers in their economies by becoming social entrepreneurs in their communities, fostering livelihoods for themselves and others. In general, we’re in the business of disruption. We discovered our roots as Peace Corps Volunteers in a landscape—Guinea—that faces the direst of conditions: a recent military coup, a rocky transition to democracy, 70% youth unemployment, and a recent Ebola outbreak, to name a few. In a part of the world that consistently ranks as the world’s worst economy, we became acutely aware of the power of social entrepreneurship to transform the developing world landscape from the inside out. Why do we do it? Because the power of youth is nonnegotiable, and because amidst the world’s direst circumstances, the possibilities and potential for holistic transformation are ripe for a revolution.
Why do we do it? Because the power of youth is nonnegotiable, and because amidst the world’s direst circumstances, the possibilities and potential for holistic transformation are ripe for a revolution.
M: Tell us what makes you guys special and unique. What’s your secret sauce?
H: We invest in youth and are resolute in their capacity to transform a nation. We believe fervently that they are the experts of their contexts and provide the cutting-edge training, support and mentorship necessary for them to build market-based solutions to social challenges. So our impact is multi-fold: youth build revenue-generating social businesses that provide livelihoods, create employment and solve social challenges all the meanwhile — a sustainable, inside-out alternative to the traditional models within the World of International Development. And we’re not shy about our process; we consistently prototype our methodologies and practice what we preach, bringing the latest thought-leadership in design thinking, creative techniques and social entrepreneurship to the most unthinkable places. Our secret sauce is courage and a willingness to fail — they’re the hidden keys to nimbly navigating and breeding hope within an otherwise volatile place.
Our secret sauce is courage and a willingness to fail — they’re the hidden keys to nimbly navigating and breeding hope within an otherwise volatile place.
M: What's the team are behind all of this? Who do you work with and where are they located?
H: The magic behind this machine is spread between four continents and six time zones. Our pro-bono Board of Directors, many of whom were co-founders of Dare to Innovate from their days in the Peace Corps, straddle these divides and meet at least once a month via Google Hangouts and MURAL, iterating the pathway forward and consistently working toward the most intentional approach to operations and growth. We support two in-country staffs: one in Guinea, made up of mostly Guineans, and another in Benin, made up of mostly Beninese.
M: What role does design and/or creativity play in your business?
H: Pinnacle. The very basis of our curriculum for catalyzing youth social entrepreneurs is rooted in the leading methodologies for design thinking, mind-mapping, open space dialoguing, social entrepreneurship, creativity and leadership-training. Not only do we teach it, but we also use it on ourselves, consistently embracing ambiguity and challenging ourselves to ask, how do we best support our alumni, fellows and their businesses? How do we build a foundation for sustainability? How do we grow with intentionality? And how do we continue to define, measure and share our impact?
M: What problem does MURAL address?
H: For a young organization obsessed with design thinking and its ability to change the world (even in the most unthinkable places), MURAL is transformative to our process and work. It enables us to practice what we preach, breathing collaboration into our monthly Board calls where, quite often, in straddling four continents, technology and communication are our biggest hurdles. We fluidly use Google Hangouts, Slack and Appear.In, but MURAL fills an even deeper need that is centrifugal to our DNA: visual, visceral, tangible collaboration. From deciding and voting on how we’ll spend our next donations, to helping us codify and align our mission’s guiding principles, MURAL is essential, and we can’t wait until our young West Africans begin to use it, too.
...MURAL fills an even deeper need that is centrifugal to our DNA: visual, visceral, tangible collaboration. From deciding and voting on how we’ll spend our next donations, to helping us codify and align our mission’s guiding principles, Mural is essential
M: How does your team use MURAL? What did you love about it?
H: At least once a month, our Board of Directors meets via Google Hangouts or Appear to connect on all development fronts; quite often, some of our projects require lengthier working sessions. For an organization born of design thinking with deep roots in collaboration, MURAL has been transformative to our work and our ability to collaborate — especially now that we reside in desperately different locations. We love how it so directly mirrors the collaborative process that we normally use, which involves a plethora of stickies on a white space, and are thrilled with how it’s allowed us to push forward thinking on several fronts.
For an organization born of design thinking with deep roots in collaboration, MURAL has been transformative to our work and our ability to collaborate — especially now that we reside in desperately different locations.
M: What impact has MURAL had on your work and on your business?
H: MURAL has allowed us to truly collaborate in ways we might not have experienced in lengthy Google docs or spreadsheets. From codifying our mission’s values, voting on the organization's next expenses, to outlining our Theory of Change work for our operations, MURAL has been nothing short of a godsend for Dare to Innovate.