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Home » Blog » Breeding Optimism to Stir Change

Taking a close look at our own lives can give us invaluable leadership lessons. We must pay attention to them and our communities if we are to do big things. Fiona Macaulay brings her own personal experiences and journey as a social entrepreneur to the table, which has shown to be beneficial in the creation of communities.

Here is an edited transcript of the podcast conversation.

Gaurav: What was the defining moment in your life when you decided to shift gears and dedicate your life to social entrepreneurship?

Fiona: I was sitting in a trading room in South Africa, in a very low income area outside of Cape Town. So in South Africa, their slums are referred to as townships. And I was in Khayelitsha Township. And I say training, I used the term training room loosely because it was sort of a center, poorly lit cinderblock room, you know, very crowded with unemployed, semi literate adults who had come to an opportunity to learn how to learn basic business skills that they could immediately apply to their micro enterprises. And I was using an experiential training tool, which did not require significant amounts of literacy, but did invite people to bring the experience that they had and apply it and sort of quickly build on the expertise that they had and acquire more. And two things happened that evening. 

Number one, I could see the light bulbs going off over the heads of the adults, as they were being taught in a way that leveraged their knowledge, met, met them where they were at, and was able to quickly add value to them, right. So it added value for them taking time away from their families and time away from their businesses to be there that evening, it was worth their while. 

The second thing is I realized that I had a special knack for creating experiential learning tools and environments that would allow these kinds of lightbulbs to go off over people’s heads. And that was so pivotal to me, because I felt so deeply that we should be meeting low income people where they were at with entrepreneurship and business education content, so that they could earn even more money quickly.

And as time progressed, I realized that that ability that I had to create high energy interactive community building learning opportunities, could be extended to other populations as well. And that’s really what my social enterprise career has been all about for the last 25 years. But going back to that evening in Khayelitsha Township, that was really the spark of where I felt like my mission at that time was to help low income people get ahead economically by meeting with them where they were at and providing these learning opportunities for them to be able to build from there.

Gaurav: What are those moments of accomplishments that you’re really proud of today as well.

Fiona: What I am most proud of was being able to help about 10 million people spread around the world. And I did work in 50 countries, helping people get ahead economically by learning skills that were in demand by employers, by linking people to financial services, like having a safe place to save money, as well as learning the fundamental business skills to start and grow a micro or small business. And the way that I did that work was by building the capacity of organizations in developing countries.

So while I have helped about 10 million beneficiaries that I know of, I also helped 1000s of professionals in emerging economies to be able to acquire the skills, the tools, the networks, the mentorship, to be able to serve the people they were working with, even better than they were then they were already doing. And this capacity building approach symbolizes, I think, one of the things I hold to be true, which is that each of us is capable of incredible things, given the opportunity. 

And what differs between us is what are the opportunities that we need? You know, is it a credential? Is it access to the neck to a certain network? Is it access to a tool? Is it somebody saying, I see you, and I see what you’re capable of, and I’m going to trust you, I’m going to share my power with you, for you to be able to realize the potential that you have. And I have been so fortunate in my career, to work with truly incredible people who I think have been keen to seize the opportunities offered to them, and at the same time, to use their opportunities to extend opportunities for others. And it has truly been one of the greatest joys of my life professionally and personally, you know, to be able to work with this incredible global workforce of people committed to helping others achieve their potential. And I’m grateful. While I can, I’m just fascinated by the kind of numbers that you have touched. And also I can sense, I could extend the kind of passion with which you would have worked with that. 

About The Speaker: Fiona Macaulay

“Fiona Macaulay works at the intersection of innovation, leadership and global development.

She’s a serial social entrepreneur, educator and field-builder committed to helping strong leaders become even stronger, and great organizations become even greater.

Fiona founded WILD – the Women Innovators and Leaders Development Network- to support global development sector leaders to scale their impact, and thrive.

WILD convenes the annual Women in Global Development Leadership Forum. The first it’s kind, this event is at the hub of a movement to increase women’s leadership, equity, diversity and inclusion in our sector.

The upcoming hybrid live/virtual Forum takes place May 2022 www.WILDleadershipForum.org.

In the academic world, Fiona is a Professor of Entrepreneurship at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, where she also runs a leadership clinic for MBA students, and serves as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence to mentor and coach social innovators and leaders across campus.

Fiona is an active Member of the Board of Governors for Junior Achievement Worldwide, and past Board Chair for CAMFED USA Foundation.”

Every word of Fiona speaks of innovation, optimism and bringing change. Listen to the complete conversation at The xMonks Drive.