Going for good

‘Unconference’ brings together leaders to create sustainable social change

By Kevin Manne

Best-selling author Seth Godin delivers his keynote presentation at the 2017 CLOE conference. Photo: Tom Wolf    

On a rare 80-degree spring day in Buffalo, leaders from the business, nonprofit and academic worlds came clad in T-shirts and jeans to Buffalo RiverWorks, where they learned best practices from organizations that are changing the way business and goodness intersect.

Titled “Leading Innovation in the Social Sector,” this year’s Center for Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness (CLOE) conference was a collaboration with the UB School of Social Work and Blackstone LaunchPad at UB, focused on what happens when the business world and social sector come together for lasting impact.

The sold-out event featured presentations from best-selling author and Buffalo native Seth Godin, Bak USA founders J.P. and Ulla Bak, and deans of the School of Management and School of Social Work, Paul Tesluk and Nancy Smyth. It also allowed attendees to take a deep dive into areas of social innovation and work directly with leaders from numerous mission-driven organizations.

At these breakout sessions, leaders presented real challenges from their organizations and worked with groups of attendees to brainstorm and find innovative solutions. Representatives from African Rights Initiative International (Ghana), Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, Canopy of Neighbors, Lake Shore Behavioral Health, Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY, McCullagh Coffee Roasters, Olmsted Center for Sight and Westminster Economic Development Initiative led the tracks and provided the tools and inspiration for participants to implement in their organizations.

Sasha Yerkovich, executive director of Canopy of Neighbors, addresses conference attendees during her learning track breakout session. Photo: Tom Wolf    

“I was so incredibly encouraged by the questions I got and the need for people who come from the business side to engage their social passion.”
Sasha Yerkovich, Executive Director
Canopy of Neighbors

Bridging the gap

Sasha Yerkovich, executive director of Canopy of Neighbors, served as one of the breakout session leaders. Her organization helps seniors age in place by providing transportation, activities and outings, and practical support with tasks like simple household repairs, yard work and technology.

Sam Magavern, executive director of Partnership for the Public Good, attended the Canopy of Neighbors track and says he saw many ways for leaders in business and nonprofit to learn from each other.

“The quality of discussion and problem-solving was really high,” says Magavern. “People who had never met each other before — and many who had never heard of this organization before — were able to come up with ideas for tangible things Canopy could do right away to reach new people to be members and volunteers.”

Yerkovich says she was inspired to blend business and social innovation to develop the “picture perfect” model for Canopy of Neighbors.

“Seth Godin said that change starts with one person,” says Yerkovich. “I was so incredibly encouraged by the questions I got and the need for people who come from the business side to engage their social passion, but the real work is in the follow-up to form partnerships beyond corporate funding.” 

In the afternoon, attendees developed creative solutions to key challenges facing the organizations they heard from in the morning sessions and presented those solutions to organizational leadership. Photo: Tom Wolf    

Paying it forward

Paul Errickson, head of the Nichols Middle School, and Sarah Jensen, who teaches an entrepreneurial studies course in the high school, attended the conference together. Nichols is an independent, non-denominational, college-preparatory school in Buffalo.

Errickson found out about the conference through his enrollment in the CLOE Leadership Accelerator program and invited Jensen to attend with him. And while she didn’t know much about the event before she arrived, Jensen left with a notebook full of ideas to weave into her course.

“I was absolutely blown away by the reciprocity ring,” she says of the exercise that enables the principle of ‘pay it forward’ in a group. “I had no idea what it was, but I stayed and engaged in the process and now I see how I can use it to help students, faculty or any team empower one another.”

Errickson says the biggest standout moment was sharing inspiration with his colleague throughout the day.

“Having Sarah there and being able to share this experience together was essential,” he says. “While we were in different groups and certainly heard and took away different things from the speakers and presenters, being able to talk about this experience and how we can bring this back to our school was invaluable.”

To learn more about CLOE, visit mgt.buffalo.edu/cloe.

Leading Innovation in the Social Sector was part of the ongoing collaboration between the School of Management and School of Social Work on efforts related to social innovation and entrepreneurship. To read more, see the cover story.