Megan Doepker ( 00:00 ):
Hello, and welcome to This is Candor. I’m your host, Megan Doepker, and I interview folks from around the world who are committed to creating a more sustainable, equitable, and joyful new normal. On today’s episode, I’m joined by Carolina Garcia Jayaram, the founding executive director of the Elevate
Prize Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to amplify the impact of innovators, activists, and problem-solvers. In its first year, the Global Entrepreneurship Competition had nearly 1,300 applicants from 119 countries. This conversation was recorded shortly before the 10 winners were announced.
Megan Doepker ( 00:35 ):
In addition, they’re building a powerful platform to mobilize communities, catalyze positive change, and awaken the hero in all of us. Prior to the Elevate Prize, Carolina served as CEO and president of the National YoungArts Foundation, president/CEO of United States Artists, and executive director of the Chicago Artists Coalition. Her philanthropic work extends to serving on the Advisory Council for Ruth’s List Florida, which aims to elect progressive women to public office, and on the Latin American and LatinX Committee for the Pérez Art Museum.
Megan Doepker ( 01:09 ):
In our conversation, we talked about her background, what makes the Elevate Prize Foundation different, like why they’re industry agnostic and award some of the prize money directly to the entrepreneur in addition to their organization, some of the pain points felt by social entrepreneurs and how they plan to help, and much more. I hope you enjoy this conversation.
Megan Doepker ( 01:33 ):
Carolina, welcome to This is Candor.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 01:37 ):
Hi, Megan. Thank you.
Megan Doepker ( 01:39 ):
So you’ve been at the Elevate Prize for about a year, and a lot has happened in 12 short months, which we’ll get to. But I wanted to start the conversation going a bit further back. You have a really impressive couple of decades leading organizations mostly empowering artists and shaping cultures. But prior to that, you studied poetry in university, and I actually wanted to talk about that transition from artist yourself to being the one to empower and direct resources to artists.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 02:12 ):
Oh, yes. That’s a great question. I think like many advocates in the world, it’s made up of failed artists, the leaders in the art world. I think that both gives you the appreciation for what artists are facing and what their very unique lives are and takes on their career. But also, the awareness that I was much more effective as an advocate, and activist, and leader for artists as opposed to being one myself, which isn’t to say that I don’t consider myself a creative. I think it was just more effectively put to use as a nonprofit leader, but I still read a lot of poetry. I love poetry, and I think much like my law degree, which came a number of years later, it wasn’t the most obvious choice in terms of the trajectory, but I think that sort of commandment of language and exploration of communication came very useful to me throughout my career. I think I’ve put it to use in some unexpected ways.
Megan Doepker ( 03:10 ):
Yeah, and what did that look like when you decided to do your JD in law?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 03:16 ):
So after I received the undergraduate degree, I was in New York, and I went publishing. I thought I had these very romantic notions of being a book editor, and the quickest way to dispel that romantic notion is to go work in publishing. So I was quickly absolved of those notions, and I went into work for a nonprofit, for an amazing nonprofit called PEN American Center, which is an international nonprofit devoted to freedom of expression, defending First Amendment, but also to supporting individual writers around the world. I’d never had really an exposure to nonprofits nor to one that was able to have such an impact to the lens of artists.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 03:55 ):
I was in my early 20s living in New York City, not an idea or clue what to do with my life or how to do it, and really had this great opportunity because my boss at that organization soon after I took the job left. I was elevated into the position of director where all the other directors were good 20, 30 years older than I was and thrust into this position more of an interim, but ended up staying for three years in that position and realized that I needed that next step in education. I felt personally I needed that next step in education and had always been attracted to the law. I was a competitive debater many, many, many years ago, and loved the law, and thought that that was a great stepping stone to eventually leading nonprofits myself. So I saw it as another educational tool that I can use to help people essentially, and it was a great experience for me.
Megan Doepker ( 04:51 ):
I think I read that while studying law, you actually started an organization and were able to incorporate the arts, and a bit of an unexpected. Why?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 05:03 ):
Yeah. Like you said, these paths aren’t linear, and it really is a matter of exploring your purpose, your path at that moment in life when the opportunity resource matches up to the timing, right? Like it’s this magic alchemy of circumstances that I think we have to be open to, especially when we’re young. I think I knew in many ways before I knew on a conscious level that I am an entrepreneur at heart. So when I was at that nonprofit in New York making much less money than I needed to survive, I started a little catering company on the side and got this love of entrepreneurship and this awareness that I really liked building things from the ground up.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 05:48 ):
So when I went into law school, that first year, I was dating an artist at the time, and it was a really magical time in Miami because Art Basel was just starting, which became this juggernaut of an international arts festival that changed the trajectory of Miami forever. But at the time, it was very unknown, and a lot of my artist friends, including my boyfriend at the time, were suddenly cast into the spotlight, these Miami artists, and getting a lot of attention and success, and didn’t know how to defend themselves really and maximize that opportunity.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 06:18 ):
So I started this organization my first year of law school that was actually an independent study project that then evolved into an organization of its own over time. To your listeners who are young leaders, I would say that’s one of my biggest pieces of advice to young leaders always is if you can do these things
while you’re in school, it’s the greatest time because the risk is much lower and you can experiment. Maybe if you’re really lucky like I was, you can get credit for these kinds of things. I had no idea it would turn into an organization and a career at the time, but that’s another reason why. Law school really provided opportunities I don’t think I would’ve had otherwise.
Megan Doepker ( 06:58 ):
Yeah, and you’re teaching as well right now too. Very busy. Is that something you try to inspire in your students as well?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 07:07 ):
I love teaching. I’m actually not teaching this semester.
Megan Doepker ( 07:10 ):
Carolina García Jayaram ( 07:10 ):
I taught last year an art law course. I was stepping in for a very good friend of mine who’s a longtime professor of that course at university here in Miami. I’ve taught short courses before, but this is the first semester-long course. I think for law school… This is a different conversation, but I’ll go into it a little bit. Law schools tend to be pretty traditional in their approach, and they have yet to catch up with the real world and the way especially young 20-somethings want to build a career that’s purpose-driven and meaning-driven. So a lot of times, you get that as a law student through the electives instead of the core courses that you have to take to graduate that are just the traditional kind of contracts, and torts, and et cetera. So through the electives is where you can explore what your own career might look like.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 08:00 ):
Of course, this is for law students who were self-selecting art law. But I think more than that thing with the arts, those law students who were a little bit didn’t fit the mold, which is what I was in law school, which is why I had to start my own organization. So they were kindred spirits of mine, but in teaching them, you learn yourself. That’s the selfish thing about teaching. You end up learning so much yourself. So I really love that, that experience. I hope I can continue to do that in the future when I’m given the time and the opportunity to do it.
Megan Doepker ( 08:28 ):
On the topic of upend transitions, how did you come to find yourself as the founding executive director at the Elevate Prize?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 08:37 ):
We talk about alchemy and magic. So I have left a wonderful organization, the National Young Arts Foundation, and it was one of these moments, fork in the road moments in your life where I realized I had spent the better part of my career in 20 years in the art world by accident because it had happened in response to the environment, and community, and people I had around me being artists and what their needs were. It was great, but then I said to myself, “This is a pivotal moment where if I want to expand or pivot a little bit, this is where it is.”
Carolina García Jayaram ( 09:12 ):
Going back to the entrepreneurial spirit, my instinct was it’s time to build something new again as opposed to taking over an existing organization, which I had done now for the last 20 years. So I was looking at building an organization here in Miami actually one that was devoted to women’s leadership and empowering women entrepreneurs. As I was doing that, I came through a friend and through some coincidences in touch with Joe Deitch, who’s the founder and visionary behind the Elevate Prize.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 09:43 ):
In our first conversation, he explained this incredibly unique theory of change that I had never really come across, but I had lived the need of, as a nonprofit recipient, a funding, this total lack of support around visibility and marketing, and the piece that I felt was really could be the game-changer for somebody nonprofit. So I met Joe. We had one phone conversation. I flew up to Boston and met him, and that was it. It was a great chemistry that we have, but also, again, the right person, right circumstance, right time in both of our lives I think for this to happen.
Megan Doepker ( 10:23 ):
How much of the roadmap and strategy had already been established when you began those conversations with Joe versus how much was a blank slate that you were able to bring your ideas and vision to?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 10:36 ):
I think that that’s such a good question because that’s where it takes a special kind of person like Joe who can identify a person like me who doesn’t need a lot of roadmap and actually does better when there isn’t a lot of roadmap. That’s really kudos to somebody who’s been leading for a long time and had really successful companies that he identified that in me that I’m better off with less of a plan, but led by a very strong passion and vision. His vision was very clear. “How do we leverage these heroes and their incredible passion and impact amplify that, and then use that to then inspire others by creating celebrities out of them?”
Carolina García Jayaram ( 11:18 ):
I have to tell you. When I first heard it, I was really skeptical, especially because he was saying like sports analogies, and I was just really lost at what he was talking about. Once I got to the core of what he meant that why aren’t there huge platforms and people following social heroes. I mean, we were seeing examples of it like Malala or Greta, but they were total exceptions to the rule. For the most part, the airspaces, the social media spaces were being taken up by other kinds of celebrities and influencers, and it was really… I mean, talk about seeing the future.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 11:55 ):
Just six months later, with what’s happened between COVID and BLM, you’ve seen such a shift in how these social media platforms are being used and how influencers and many celebrities, the ones who really have true substance and a voice, and want to use it for good, have shifted their ideas about how to use their platform. So our theory of change was really I think brought to bear and really shown through what’s happened over the past six months and accelerated.
Megan Doepker ( 12:24 ):
Very true. So you mentioned you liked the fact there was going to be a lot of transparency in the organization. Can you speak a bit more to how that’s different from some other foundations?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 12:38 ):
Absolutely. So much like the law world, the philanthropy world can often be very traditional. The big philanthropies, the big foundations who are doing incredible work and obviously, make massive difference to organizations because they have huge endowments and they have the ability to make a real difference. But traditionally, there’s not a lot of transparency in most of these foundations, and they all have their reasons. But as a grantee, oftentimes, I felt running small organizations, even medium or large-sized organizations that I wasn’t really sure what the foundation wanted or needed for me. There was a lot of fear because you depended so much on that funding to shape-shift what you were doing or mission-create even what you were doing to fit that particular grant or that particular foundation.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 13:28 ):
I felt that had there been greater transparency about not just their process, but the vulnerability, like allowing for that sort of openness about what the organization was facing, what they wanted to do, what their goals were, that foundations can maybe be more effective than they have been. I’ve seen this change in some of the larger foundations. Notably, the Ford Foundation, which is led by Darren Walker, has begun to change some of these practices and seeing that, especially younger generations, are demanding this kind of transparency. It’s better for everyone, but for Elevate, it was a chance by building something from the beginning that if we really are inviting the world to join us and make the sacrifices of their time and resources to active, to become active in their own communities, then we owe it to them to be transparent. We think that it will have a much greater impact that way.
Megan Doepker ( 14:24 ):
Another thing I think that makes Elevate Prize quite different is how you’re issue-agnostic.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 14:30 ):
Megan Doepker ( 14:31 ):
Was this something inspired by the younger generation that sees our world more interconnected, or ow did the Elevate Prize come to incorporate this?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 14:42 ):
So I would say on every Joe and I collaborate very closely, and this was a piece that I fought for really hard from the beginning was this idea of radical diversity. Not only because of the moral imperative of radical diversity, but because it’s ultimately good for business. I think that the wider net we cast around the world if… Going back. If this sort of larger vision and goal of the organization is to awaken the hero in all of us and elevate human consciousness, that’s everybody. You can’t elevate human consciousness without everybody, and so why make it about one issue, or one country, or one type of voice?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 15:19 ):
Joe really believed, and so that really married very well with Joe’s belief that the solutions could come from anywhere. You don’t necessarily know. The best help care solution might come out of the environmental sector. These things happen all the time, especially when you put these sectors together. was also inspired by what I was seeing in the art world over the past 20-plus years, which was that traditionally, art schools, definitely in the States, tend to teach discipline-specific. So you go down the track of a sculpture degree or whatever, dance degree, or spoken word degree. Yet, especially over the past 10 years I would say, artists began becoming more normal to disciplinary and wanting to practice along different disciplines and also, collaborate along different disciplines.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 16:06 ):
As you can imagine, much more interesting art came out as a result, and barriers began being broken down. The foundation world has slowly started to really respond to funding things this way, and that was very inspiring to me to take that idea and apply that theory to the social impact world and say, “What if we brought together all of these really diverse people who would normally never touch each other and see how they can learn from each other’s solutions and approaches?” Even just bringing the art world into the social impact world, to me, was such a win to be able to expand Elevate into the art world because there are so many social impact artists, but they usually aren’t identified or seen within these social impact prizes that are similar to ours.
Megan Doepker ( 16:55 ):
When I was looking at the list of the 81 semi-finalists, I was like, “This is awesome. There are artists in here, and you don’t see that very often.” Then, I learned about your background, and I was like, “God, that…” I thought there were some good synergy of, yeah, taking your background and applying it to social impact. What are some of the other similarities you see between artists and social entrepreneurs?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 17:19 ):
Oh my gosh, so many. First of all, artists are natural entrepreneurs. They’re total problem-solvers, and they are able to stretch a dollar into $100. They’re so creative and resourceful because they have to be. Their job in the world is to reflect the world back to us, right? To translate the world that we’re living in, and that’s why if you look through history, it’s really artists who make sense of history for us. Whether you’re listening to music, or reading the plays, or eating the food, or looking at the costumes, that’s how you understand who came before us and what were their lives like.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 17:57 ):
So when you think about how artists could be transformative and social impact, it’s that they’re able to take an issue, like a social issue that’s going on and translating that in a way for the world so that the world cares, so that they understand, and maybe increase their ability to empathize with that cause or those people, but it just creates another pathway in. Of course, some of these projects themselves create social impact. So it’s not just about like telling the story per se, but artists have a very unique approach to social awareness and social impact. They’re highly creative, and I think that they share a lot of the same ethos and ways of working as the social impact heroes I’ve come across.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 18:41 ):
This work is newer to me. As you said, I’ve only really been in this for a year. So I know artists a lot better, but as I’ve met some of these young entrepreneurs, I’d say they have a lot in common, especially that kind of jump in with both feet, eyes closed. “Who cares? We have to do it.” This incredible passion and drive of… There’s just nothing else they would rather do in the world than this.
Megan Doepker ( 19:03 ):
Yeah. I think this is an important message for people to hear right now because arts is not top of mind for people to fund amidst the pandemic especially. It doesn’t seem as pressing, but it is really important, and you see countries I think like Germany recognizing the importance, but it’s not a widely-held belief.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 19:24 ):
It’s extremely sad because I think people just… They take it for granted. They believe, “Oh, it’s just going to be there. We don’t have to water that plant. It will just keep growing on its own. Wait for the rain. Wait for the sun. It will do the job for us.” It’s not true. You have to invest in the arts over generations because if you don’t, children will grow up without not just the appreciation of music, and art, and theater, and so on, but the desire to want to become artists themselves.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 19:51 ):
Like you said, especially in times like this, the artists provide such solace, and inspiration, and hope, and understanding. It’s true, what Germany did. It was such a wake-up call to what they were invested in in their people. They were giving billions of dollars to stimulus back into their arts compared to hundreds of millions in the United States. We’re a much bigger country, many more artists. So here, you’ve seen a lot of foundations step up in huge ways to help the artist community, but it’s really got to come from… It’s really most effective when it’s community-driven and when those communities themselves can do it.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 20:28 ):
That’s a bigger systemic issue within communities that so much of the funding dollars go to the big institutions which… I’m the first one to love the museums and the symphonies in our cities, but they aren’t really designed yet to be the kind of community service centers that they should be. That goes into deeper, I think, issues of the way that these things are set up with boards, and funders, and so on, but it’s more that we need to share those dollars with the community, the community-based organizations who can step up and deliver arts in a way that can bring people hope and unite them in moments like this whether it’s because of COVID or the election, like we’re under the… People are just so divided.
Megan Doepker ( 21:12 ):
I completely, completely agree with that. So hopping back to the Elevate Prize. With I think in your first year, you received over 1,300 applications from a hundred countries. With your model of being transparent, and selecting the finalists and ultimately the winners, can you speak a bit more to what you look for in the entrepreneurs?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 21:39 ):
Yeah. The world is full of so many incredible organizations doing great work. But usually, what it comes down to, what you’re investing in is the leader. You’re really investing in the… Whether it’s the founder or the person who came after them who’s running the organization, they’re… Again, such huge odds. It’s such incredible work. They’re oftentimes so overworked and under-resourced. So these have to be people who know how to and have overcome adversity over and over again in their lives, and have built up the kind of resilience that is necessary to do this kind of work whether because a topic is so heart-wrenching like human trafficking or because it’s just so huge and insurmountable like climate change. You need to be really tough, and resilient, and adaptable to how these changes in the world are happening in real time.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 22:32 ):
So we’re looking for that. We’re really looking for resilience at these leaders, and we’re looking for… because we’re not only issue-agnostic. We’re also pretty agnostic to this, where the organization is and its trajectory. It needs to be beyond just this sort of conception idea thing, but it can still be early stage of an organization. Somewhere between that and being fully functional around the world, we want to catch them in a place where we can make not just an incremental difference, but an exponential difference in their growth. So we want to see what amplification looks like for them.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 23:08 ):
We use the word “scale” a lot, but I know that that’s a loaded term for a lot of organizations because it’s not appropriate to all organizations to say, “Okay. Now, I’m doing this growth education in Malawi. Okay. They want me to say I can be in five countries in five years.” That may not be right for that organization, but they have to make the case of what scaling means to them. How are they going to either go deeper, or bigger, or broader, or how are they going to grow what they’re doing and have a pretty clear sense of what that looks like to them, and then that that’d be matched up with the resources that we have? I think that’s where philanthropy sometimes loses its way, but is most effective when it can really match the opportunity at the right time with the right organization. We have a pretty unique set of offerings. So we just want to make sure that we’re being matched up with the right people so we can make the biggest impact for them.
Megan Doepker ( 23:59 ):
Yeah. It seems like it makes it more difficult to pick the ultimate winners, but it seems very appropriate because there is no one-size-fits-all. I also really like how you believe the solutions are already out there, which really aligns to my beliefs. Now, it’s about, yeah, creating the partnerships and providing the funding. Maybe on that note, you could speak about more to… In addition to the funding, what is the… to your program, what does that look like for the winners, and how do you support the other entrepreneurs that have applied?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 24:38 ):
I’m so excited to get into that because what everybody sees first is the money. Of course, it’s the most exciting thing. It’s the most newsworthy part of prize is like this and especially, it’s a lot of money. It’s $300,000. Hopefully, we’ll keep investing in some of these entrepreneurs longer term, and part of that money goes to them personally, which was really important for me because, again, I know what most of these entrepreneurs are sacrificing to do what they do and that oftentimes they aren’t paying their medical bills. They aren’t taking care of their own basic needs, and if they could, they would do their jobs a lot more effectively. So I really believed very much in giving a significant part of the money to them individually.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 25:18 ):
But in addition to the money, the pieces that I think will be even better received over time once we can show them and practice our professional development curriculum that’s going to be developed over those two years. That professional development curriculum will be tiered depending on where the organizations are. So some of them that are more starting out might need more basic financial services, training, or development training, or board training, or even things like this that maybe you’re starting out as an organization that you may need.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 25:52 ):
Then, for organizations that are further along, it might be like helping them get into impact investing or attract larger scale investing, or if they’re in manufacturing, get a better supply chain like depending on who we’re dealing with. But we’re very interested in the professional development training to help the organization get stronger. But then, also as a cohort, how do we do a lot of peer-to-peer learning within a cohort of people who are coming from different parts of the world, different issues? That’s where I think a lot of incredible learning is going to happen.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 26:24 ):
Also, as a social entrepreneur, I’m sure you knew this, but as… This role of executive director, or CEO, or founder, it can be a very lonely world. Not many people know what that’s like, that particular role, and so this cohort work must become like a group therapy, but it’s extremely important for these people who suffer a lot of burnout and just… It’s difficult psychologically, the work that they’re doing. So I’m really excited to dive in to that work, that coaching and mentorship work there, and the peer-to-peer.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 26:56 ):
Then, the last bucket, which is really the one that’s rooted in our theory of change is how do we create a massive fan base for them? By that, we mean building a platform for Elevate where all of these social impact heroes are able to attract new, and very diverse, and bigger audiences around the world to help them with their work.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 27:20 ):
Now, this was something that was largely based on lived experience of my own and then Joe’s hunch about this. But soon after we started this program, we were inviting judges to participate, and one of our judges works with an incredible foundation called Ashoka that had their own big prizes. They had just finished doing a survey of their thousands and thousands of alumni around the world. What this program officer who was based in Africa said to us, he said, “By far, the most important thing that all of them said they needed was greater visibility. They were really struggling with that, and we know that this just not where foundations tend to invest, in marketing, in branding, in communication.”
Carolina García Jayaram ( 28:03 ):
So that was great because that gave us a little bit more confidence in what we were doing, but building that, that platform. We know will have a great impact for the social entrepreneurs because they’ll be able to hopefully raise more money this way or be able to enact policy change or whatever it is that they’re trying to do. They can do that much more effectively building a movement through having an audience like that. But then, for us, building that audience, we get to leverage these winners to build the audience, and then those are really the people we’re after long-term and where we can make the change. But those three things are the three legs of the stool of how we want to support and amplify the work of our heroes.
Megan Doepker ( 28:45 ):
That’s really awesome, and the money is really exciting, but it is all those other components that can really, yeah, elevate them to achieve the impact they want.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 28:58 ):
Yeah, and sustain themselves, really.
Megan Doepker ( 29:01 ):
Yeah. So you mentioned that you learned from the Ashoka survey that social entrepreneurs were seeking support for more visibility. I’m wondering if there are other organizations you learned from or look to for inspiration.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 29:20 ):
Well, I’ll admit. All my best ideas, I have taken from someone else. [inaudible 00:29:25] thus far. But really, I’m a person who… Knowing yourself is half the battle. I know that I tend to work best when people communicate their wins, their losses, their needs, and then I take that information, and start to create synergies, and tie them together into something that we can use to make a difference. In this case, going into this without really a blueprint for how we were going to get there. I knew what the outcome was we were looking for, “Oh, just raising human consciousness. Okay. That’s easy. No big deal,” but how do we… Working backwards from there, where do we start?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 30:00 ):
Always, for me, my approach with starting, and maybe this is my legal background or whatever, is I just… I research. I start talking to a lot of people. I have a lot of open-ended conversations. Some of these people probably think I’m crazy, but the ones who really understood division and were excited by it were so great, so generous with their time, and so helpful. I spoke with people from the Lipman Prize to Ashoka, like I said, to Hearts on Fire to the David Prize, which is a wonderful prize in New York, and a handful of people we’ve been able to bring in. Then, of course, MIT who’s been our partner since the beginning. Their program director, we ended up hiring and bringing in to become our program director.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 30:42 ):
So MIT was probably the biggest and most important of those resources in terms of informing the framework of what we were building in many ways, but it was just great to hear… especially around what we can expect from these social heroes in terms of how much time they could commit to us, what was realistic because we could offer them a million resource. We also didn’t want to burden them and wanted to be… make the most of their time and what we could do for them. So it was great to hear what other people had found to be successful. But also, as we build the foundation, where do we fit in this ecosystem, and how do we collaborate hopefully with some of these prizes, and foundations, and organizations whether it’s the Obama Fellows? They were also very helpful to us to… because none of us can do it all. None of us can give these organizations everything they need.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 31:35 ):
So for example, if we ask them Fellowship, which is about training social entrepreneurs and how to write really effective op-ed pieces. They’re very specific to what they’re doing. Okay? That fits really well with something that we’re doing, and then maybe Obama Fellows are really focused on leadership development. That fits really well with… For me, I always see it as like, “What’s this big puzzle that we’re all trying to put together?” I think that comes from having led very small, scrappy organizations that it’s all about partnering. I mean, that’s really the only way to move forward both from a practical sense, but also, because collectively, we’re bringing together all these great different methodologies and ways of working, and ideas that are going to lift the most ships.
Megan Doepker ( 32:17 ):
Yeah. So the partnering is really important and establishing the recurring connections with the social entrepreneurs. There’s so much potential that can come from that. Has your plan changed since the… Well, your plan must have changed since the pandemic since I know you’re planning on convening everyone in person.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 32:36 ):
Megan Doepker ( 32:36 ):
What are some of your ideas or things you’ll be testing out to still build that connection?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 32:43 ):
Yes. Unfortunately, we had these wonderful plans to meet all of our finalists in New York pretty much this week during the UN General Assembly or last week, and so we had to pivot not only to change the programming model, but even the foundation building model. I haven’t met many of my staff in person. I hired people and worked with them only remotely over the past seven, eight months, which has just been pretty interesting, but great in so many ways. For the program, just assuming this goes on for the next year or two years to the point where you can’t travel internationally freely or whatever, how we’re going to have to do this is I imagine our convenings will be virtual.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 33:23 ):
I mean, MIT has already been dealing with this in, also, their own convening. So we’ve been watching and learning from them and others who’ve been doing this kind of work. That’s the piece where we’re going to have to be really creative and think about phone calls, or how do you create bonds and relationships between people in this virtual space? I think there’s opportunity because we’re virtual, but there’s also shortcomings in that. So I think it’s too early to tell exactly what we’ll be doing, but it also opens up the possibility for the e-learning platforms that I think we’re going to be investing in more this way than maybe we would have otherwise.
Megan Doepker ( 34:05 ):
Well, yeah. I’m very impressed with what the Elevate Prize has already achieved in its first year, and I’m really excited to see the platform and community continue to be built out.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 34:15 ):
Megan Doepker ( 34:16 ):
So now, let’s go back in time to yourself as the young poet about to transition into activism. What advice would you give yourself?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 34:28 ):
So if I was talking to my 20-year-old self and starting out on this path, I would tell myself then what I know now, and you’ve alluded to earlier that this is not a linear path and that you don’t have to follow these steps just like everybody else to get to that ultimate goal of just feeling like your life have meaning, and purpose, and impact, and to just keep following the passion that you have and work really, really hard, to keep working really, really hard because I just don’t see anybody that gets here without a lot of hard work, but to have that faith in myself, which is very hard in your 20s. I think that in your 20s, that’s when you really are so scared of everything, but it’s facing that fear and overcoming that fear that lets you get into your 30s, which is really when you start to cook with oil as my CMO always says because you have the confidence, a little bit more skills, and training, and education, or whatever that is ability to keep moving forward.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 35:34 ):
There’s a lot of deterrence and obstacles in your way when you’re in your 20s, but the biggest one is yourself always. It’s that lack of belief in yourself, and I’m the daughter… Well, actually, really, I am an immigrant too because I was born in Spain, but I think of myself as a daughter of immigrants because they were the ones who came here as adults and faced so much adversity to get here. I think when you have that… not burden, but that set of expectations on you as the daughter of immigrants, it’s like, “Oh, I have to be successful,” in that traditional way. “I need to have this kind of degree, and I have to have this kind of career.” I had a lot of that pressure on myself when I was that age, and I would take that pressure off myself if I had to do it all again.
Megan Doepker ( 36:17 ):
Thank you for sharing. What are three things you’d like to see in a new normal?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 36:25 ):
Well, one thing I’d love to see in a new normal is the continuation. I think it started with COVID, and I would love to see it continue, the continuation of the acceptance and tolerance of family life and careers. I’d love to see that my kids are running behind me in a meeting and other people’s kids are… I was on a meeting, a call the other day. In the middle of the call, this attorney, a very serious guy was like, “Um, I have to put you on hold for a second. My three-year-old has ran out the front door.” He was trying to stay totally composed, but the three-year-old was fine. Everything was fine, but I think we’ve all been trained for so long, especially people in my generation. I think it’s different for younger people to compartmentalize these parts of our world.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 37:12 ):
You’re doing such a disservice to everyone, and you won’t get the best out of people when you make them make a choice over being a mother, or father, or person who’s caring for family members and their job, and that… Talk about nonlinear. Your day is nonlinear. Sometimes in the middle of the day, you just have to go do something to deal with your personal life. This whole idea of nine-to-five or nine-to-six, and in an office, and face-to-face, I just hope that that’s behind us forever because it’s just not the way… It is not the way the rhythms of the world are now, and it’s certainly not the best way to get people to do their best work.
Megan Doepker ( 37:50 ):
The final question is related to how it’s in time of chaos that really big change will happen, and it could be for the better or worse. It’s what inspired this podcast. It’s really important to me that we do everything we can to ensure it’s positive. So my question to you is if you have any final thoughts on how we can make the most of this moment to create a better world?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 38:16 ):
There’s a million beautiful quotes that are better than how I’m going to put it now, but it’s really like in the darkest time is when you see the most stars, right? You have to know, if you look at history, that it was in these moments whether it’s recessions or depressions when the most innovation has happened. It’s hard to hold on to that in a moment like this when you see so much suffering in the world, and I’m in a position of incredible privilege that I have a job, that I have a home, that I’m taken care of. I have food to eat. All these basic needs are being met. For so many, it’s not. So I can sit here and say like, “Oh, there’s a silver lining to this that this is happening and that’s happening.”
Carolina García Jayaram ( 38:54 ):
I’m fully aware that there’s not silver linings for a lot of people right now, but I do believe if we’re going to look at this in a positive light that this is when people have to get really innovative. This is when you see those drizzling, and people in the world step up and do incredible things because those of us in positions of support in philanthropy or whatever other means of support, we are just desperate to fix this for the world. It really does open up the possibility for really changing the way we do things because we’re seeing that the way things have been done is not working.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 39:34 ):
It’s ironic. I sometimes say jokingly, but I do think it’s true that our president in many ways is the reason we have the Me Too Movement. If it hadn’t been with… I think the collective dismay of women that we had elected somebody like this into office, it took that kind of groundswell of anger to say, “One more thing like this and we’re just not going to take it anymore.” What was that? It was Harvey Weinstein, and this country. It was this domino effect, and you saw this cleansing of really powerful people who would never have been able to take down. But for this collective swell of just power, right, that was built on something that many people would say was negative, all this great stuff came out of it. So I tend to be a real optimist by nature. Maybe naïve in many ways, but I tend to look at these things as breaking open a lot of new possibility for change. Oftentimes, unfortunately, it’s the only way that it will happen is with tragedies on this scale.
Megan Doepker ( 40:41 ):
Yeah. Well, yeah. I think that the Elevate Prize is part of that breaking open new possibilities for change, and it gives me a lot of hope. So thank you for the work you’re doing there. Just to close off, how should listeners get in touch with the Elevate Prize whether they’re entrepreneurs or somebody wanting to follow along on the journey, or are there any other folks you are looking to connect with?
Carolina García Jayaram ( 41:08 ):
We honestly want to connect with everyone, and we hope that everybody finds meaning and ways to feel impacted by the work that we’re doing. Like I said, there’s going to be a lot more opportunities for that down the line. But for now, people can, through our website, sign up for our newsletter, and they can also follow us on every channel of social media, except TikTok. We’re not on TikTok yet. We probably will have to be at some point, but every other one: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We’re on all of those, and we know how important those channels are going to be to be building these movements and helping these incredible entrepreneurs and innovators who don’t have a lot of following on social media. So as we start to build those followings, your listeners can start to discover and find these amazing, inspiring heroes around the world who hopefully can help inform their own work and the stuff that they’re doing. So we do hope they get involved.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 42:04 ):
Then, our application will open again March. So for those who think they’re ready to apply, they should. We heard from a lot of people who didn’t make it past the semi round how useful the application process was to them. It really helped sharpen their tools and their vision, and so even just that process can be really empowering for an organization that’s learning to be eligible for prizes like this. So please keep in touch with us. We would love to have your listeners follow along our journey.
Megan Doepker ( 42:36 ):
Okay. Wonderful. I’ll link to your social media along with all the other things we discussed.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 42:44 ):
Megan Doepker ( 42:44 ):
Carolina, I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time for this conversation.
Carolina García Jayaram ( 42:48 ):
Megan, I’m so grateful for your interest and more for your desire to bring greater hope to the world. It couldn’t come at a better time.
Megan Doepker ( 43:00 ):
Thanks so much for listening to This is Candor. Visit thisiscandor.com to see the show notes and leave feedback. If you enjoyed this conversation and would like to get notified of new episodes, be sure to click “Subscribe” wherever you’re listening to this podcast. Until next time.