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The Upswell Forum for Social Entrepreneurs Working in Communities of Color

22 Jan 2024

In November 2023, the Upswell Forum brought together 33 dynamic social enterprise leaders from Atlanta, Boston, and Houston for an extraordinary four days of learning and community building. Faculty and guest speakers led energizing sessions on leadership, strategy, systems thinking, and power and influence, among others. Participants shared persistent challenges they’ve grappled with inside their organizations and within the broader social impact ecosystem. They embraced the case method in the classroom and developed a strong cohort bond as they learned from each other’s experiences and perspectives.

We are inspired by the cohort’s work to solve some of our nation’s toughest problems and look forward to seeing how they leverage their learnings to grow their impact. Learn more about our select members of Upswell by viewing their blog posts about the experience:

Upswell originated with a catalyzing conversation between the Social Enterprise Initiative and the HBS African American Alumni Association leadership in the spring of 2021 to discuss how HBS could support social impact leaders working in communities of color. That spark of an idea grew and took shape over many conversations with potential participants, referral partners and other leaders in the social impact space.  We molded and reworked the content of Upswell as we listened and learned more about the needs of social impact leaders looking to grow their organizations. 

Over the course of our informational interviews, we found that we needed to present a resource that addressed the operational and management challenges of taking a social enterprise from launch to growth, while also being mindful of the development and unique experiences of the leaders themselves.  Under the leadership of faculty champion Archie Jones, core faculty supporters Brian Trelstad, Lakshmi Ramarajan, Tony Mayo, and Monique Burns Thompson crafted a thoughtful and compelling set of cases, workshops and speakers and the Upswell Forum was born. 

At the end of our time together, participants left with the unique insights that come from the HBS learning experience, feeling re-energized in their work, and ready to apply their learnings.  One participant shared, “Being a social entrepreneur in underserved communities can be isolating.  Experiences like this remind me that what I do is needed and that I’m not alone.”  The Upswell Forum will continue into the Spring of 2024 with several virtual sessions bringing the cohort back together to hear from faculty and guest speakers.  The Social Enterprise Initiative will host closing events in Atlanta, Boston, and Houston respectively.