This post is part of our “Leadership in Challenging Times” blog series, which highlights the inspiring work of the HBS community in addressing the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, alongside the fight for racial equity and an especially polarized political climate. In this post, Stratton Lloyd (MBA 2000), COO & Executive Vice President of the Essex County Community Foundation, discusses the importance of systems-level thinking and the power of collaboration in addressing complex social issues.
Tell us about your work.
I am COO and Executive Vice President of the Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF), which serves the ~800,000 people in the 34 cities and towns north of Boston that make up Essex County, Massachusetts. Essex County is socioeconomically, racially, and ethnically diverse, and is a mixture of urban and rural communities. I think of it as a microcosm of the United States. At ECCF, I oversee finance, investments, technology, and our community leadership work, a brand-new “systems philanthropy” effort that is reimagining traditional place-based philanthropy. Our work is centered around five core areas with multi-year, multi-million dollar county-wide efforts for each: workforce development and advanced manufacturing; arts, culture, and the creative economy; small business resilience and microlending; adult education and financial literacy; and digital equity.
How has your organization and your role responded to recent challenges?
The systems approach that I helped create and implement has been a tremendous way to encourage and inspire collaboration across the county. It has helped educate leaders realize that if we work together towards a shared goal, we can have a greater impact on big societal issues. During the pandemic, the need to collaborate has become amplified and more urgent. We have found that establishing a systems-level, collaborative approach builds long-term resiliency for a community. In communities where collaboration and collective action had already been happening before COVID, they have been much more agile and able to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, ECCF has also doubled-down and accelerated our programming to better serve our constituents, and even expanded into other issue areas such as food services and supporting undocumented workers and vaccinations.
Is there a memorable story or insight that has been defining in your work this year?
Last June, we gathered about seventy county leaders – state representatives, CEOs, nonprofit executives, funders – and facilitated a design thinking exercise to discuss the greatest challenges facing the social sector and reimagine what the sector might look like post-pandemic. One of the major learnings from that event was the prevalence and ubiquity of the digital divide, impacting every single sector of our community, from elderly care, to small businesses, to healthcare, to education. This inspired us to launch our $2 million county-wide initiative for digital equity to empower Essex County residents to fully participate in the digital world. COVID has exposed inequities that have long existed in our communities, and made us realize that we need to work together if we want to solve these inequities.
What do you draw upon from your HBS experience?
When I was a student at HBS, I conducted an Independent Project with professors Allen Grossman and Michael Porter to evaluate private investment practices and how they might be relevant to philanthropy. That project continues to impact my work today and inspires me to apply a business and growth mindset to philanthropy.
We have also collaborated and developed partnerships with several HBS faculty including Jeff Bussgang and Brian Trelstad, who are interested in studying systems thinking in areas outside of Boston. These partnerships have been tremendous opportunities for learning and collaboration.
What has inspired you to keep going during these difficult months?
The pandemic has made me even more aware of the many inequities that exist in our communities. That consciousness has motivated and inspired me to make others aware of these issues, and to continue to educate myself and reflect on my role in uncovering inequities and seeking solutions to these challenges. This time of crisis is also a time of opportunity to think innovatively and creatively about how to tackle some of society’s toughest challenges, and to inspire collaboration and collective action that will have lasting effects on our community.
How can someone interested in this area get involved or learn more?
To learn more about our work, please visit our website, where we share as much about our learnings and best practices as possible. On the website you can find a white paper on systems philanthropy, a recent article in The Foundation Review, and more information about our work across all of our issue areas. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or ideas.