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Shifting Paradigms: A Dialogue Series with the 2024 Catalyst Fund Awardees

How do we, as leaders, break free from old assumptions and patterns to pave the way for a more inclusive future?

Our world is shaped by the paradigms we operate within—systems of thought and norms that dictate how we distribute resources, solve problems, and interact with one another. But what happens when these paradigms perpetuate inequities and hinder progress? These are the questions at the heart of a two-part dialogue featuring seven leaders across the globe driving change in their communities, hosted by the McNulty Foundation and the Aspen Institute.

Held on April 23 and 30th, the dialogues brought together a diverse group of leaders, all recently announced Catalyst Fund Awardees and Fellows of the Aspen Institute. From improving access to health and education in rural Rwanda to fueling a pro-democracy movement, these leaders are on the frontlines of change, challenging entrenched norms and fostering inclusive solutions.

The events followed a round-robin interview model and were moderated by Kaya Henderson, CEO of Reconstruction US (and a previous Catalyst Fund awardee), and Lola Adedokun, Executive Director of the Aspen Global Innovators Group. Each awardee acted as both interviewer and interviewee, allowing the fellows to share dynamic insights into their personal journey, their organization's impact, and their vision for the future.

Here are five key takeaways from the series:

To Define Your Purpose, Listen to Your Calling

One common factor among several of the Catalyst Fund leaders is how they felt spurred to action through an "unexplainable calling." This call to purpose, and subsequent reimagining of their life's work, was often inspired directly by their lived experiences, both motivating and debilitating, that forced them to envision a future of new possibilities. For Anatole Manzi, seemingly inescapable abdominal pain from malnutrition and intestinal worms formed his perception of health norms in rural Rwanda. Upon his return to the country after his public health studies in the US, Anatole quickly noticed students lying in the grass at school, just as he had many decades ago. Confused by this lack of change, he confided in school teachers who revealed that although they knew what to do to address these health problems in schools, they often lacked the resources and connections to health systems that would solve the problem. It was this realization in partnership with the community, that led to Move Up Global.

Jonathan Klein was formerly a 5th-grade teacher. He takes pride in addressing educational inequity and providing opportunities for students. It was his attendance at a climate strike with his daughter in 2019 that ignited his passion to partner with school systems to make an equitable transition to zero emissions. Climate change has a clear and disproportionate impact on learning opportunities. Students were distinctly aware of this and were vocal in their desire for infrastructural change. Inspired by their convictions, Jonathan created Undauntedk12, which works with America's public schools and simultaneously prepares young people to build a more sustainable future in a rapidly changing climate.

Driven by their lived experiences, Jonathan and Anatole felt compelled to act and catalyze change within their ventures.

I set out to understand the intersection between educational equity and climate change, what role schools could play, and how I could show up .

Jonathan Klein, Founder & CEO, Undauntedk12

Jonathan Klein, Yordanos Eyoel, Kacey Eichelberger, and Anatole Manzi with Moderator Lola Adedokun

To Expedite Change, Mobilize Youth

Many leaders spoke to the necessity of youth leadership to catalyze informed, passionate, and innovative change. they emphasized the need for the inclusion of youth in decision-making spaces and called for intergenerational exchange to foster empathy, respect, and collaboration. Jack Hsu supports youth to inculcate a spirit of social innovation in China and inspired students to look inward as they work towards change. In doing so, students at the Qi Social Innovation Center are coached on "Being" or the understanding of self that often drives passion and purpose. Yemi A.D. has built Moonshot, a global platform for youth innovators and believes that they rarely need help to be inspired towards change. Instead, he urges older generations to create environments where youth can be vulnerable and use their voices. Youth, he says, are well equipped to make the changes they seek, but to do so effectively will require consistent, clear, and collaborative work and communication intergenerationally.

The first part of our framework is the understanding of self. What matters to students, what impacts their moral compass. We are helping kids at a young age to discover their purpose.

Jack Hsu, Founder, Qi Social Innovation Center

Moonshot Student Group

Social Innovation Day at Qi Social Innovation Center

Connectedness and Interconnectedness Drive Renewal

A number of the awardees identified the power of connection- to themselves, others, and the natural world- as an integral part of their successes. Connection to the earth invigorated a sense of responsibility for engaging with, protecting, and understanding the land. And, connection to themselves and their communities grounded their sense of purpose and belonging in their work. For Alex Bailey, this was most apparent during the outdoor excursions that he led with a group of young Black men. Integrated in the natural world, looking up at the stars, the group felt strongly connected to their ancestors, themselves, and each other. These were "aha" moments for Alex, given that his own experiences outdoors as a young Black man often resulted in the acknowledgment that none of his peers looked like him. These experiences shared by the Black Outside community renewed his commitment to creating spaces to drive connection and introspection through interaction with the outdoors.

We are creating and cultivating spaces for Black youth so they feel connected to each other, and can still continue to push and expand their own boundaries of connectedness to the natural world.

Alex Bailey, Founder & Executive Director, Black Outside

Black Outside Students Exploring the Outdoors

Paradigm Shifts Require a Focus on the Short and Long-Term

Paradigms are often deeply ingrained thoughts, ideas, behaviors, and beliefs about ourselves and our external environments. Changing them and redefining systems to be diverse and accessible for all people requires a two-part focus on short-term problems and long-term solutions. In an effort to fuel the pro-democracy movement globally, Yordanos Eyoel identified the need for collaborative, global efforts with her organization Keseb to fight authoritarianism and promote sustainable and resilient democracies simultaneously. To do so, she suggested that we shift focus away from elections and a "win-loss" game in the short term, and emphasize the ability of democracy to manage losses in the long term. Additionally, the ability to identify gaps and provide community-driven solutions often address both short and long-term grievances, impacting both present-day problems and fortifying the strength of equitable and inclusive systems.

Government needs to be functional, it needs to work properly, and we need it to support a more inclusive society.

Yordanos Eyoel, Founder & CEO, Keseb

Keseb Fellows

Effective Change Requires Active Listening

All seven of the leaders identified a need for collaboration with communities on the journey towards a paradigm shift, but it was Kacey Eichelberger who highlighted the importance of active listening throughout this process. To "make healthcare systems inspiring," for pregnant women with substance use disorder, she passionately spoke to the power of intently and intentionally listening to community members who had ideas about redefining systems. In doing so, she founded the Magdalene Clinic around the idea that to make prenatal care more accessible, care providers must allow patients to act as the experts in their own lives, and listen lovingly to their lives experiences and suggestions. Kacey has described this shift as delightful, and said that working closely with communities to change systems has been a blessing for her career.

It is a lot more fun to practice medicine and be in community when you're in these spaces with a lot of other people working towards the same goal, but at a pace that is slower and your goal is to listen and not to talk.

Kacey Eichelberger, Founder, Magdalene Clinic

Kacey Eichelberger and Anatole Manzi Share How They Make Healthcare Inspiring

The Catalyst Fund exists to support early-stage ventures from the Aspen Institute, which brings together promising leaders from around the world, and immerses them in moral leadership and entrepreneurial education, culminating in a commitment to turn their platforms and experiences into action.

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