Inspirational Woman Interview: Erica Lock Munsky

Erica Lock Munsky is the Director of Fellowship Programs at Echoing Green, an international nonprofit that provides fellowships, leadership development programs, seed-stage funding, and strategic support to social entrepreneurs. She manages the three verticals of work, setting the strategy and building partnerships for Search & Selection, Individual Fellow Support and Fellow Community. She also has managed portfolios of Echoing Green Fellows and executed multi-day events and conferences. A thorough line to her work, Erica believes in the strength of systems and evaluation, a philosophy she strives to live every day. Before joining us, Erica worked at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability in the Bloomberg administration, MTV Networks, and various marketing, branding and advertising agencies in research, operations and business development roles. She holds a M.B.A concentrating in Social Enterprises from Columbia Business School and a B.S. in Economics, concentrating in Marketing, from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

You are currently the Director of Fellowship Programs at Echoing Green. How did you come to join Echoing Green and can you tell us about some initiatives you’ve led?

Erica Lock Munsky: I went to business school specifically to learn more about social enterprise – the field and the career options for someone with my background. I leaned toward entrepreneurship because I found the work super interesting and dynamic. However, I know that at this point in my life I am not the entrepreneur, but rather the enabler. Stemming from my past career in advertising, I like to call it being on the “agency” side of things. Echoing Green was the exact opportunity to work with entrepreneurs and help them grow their ventures, and my role in the Fellowship program has allowed me to utilize both the tactical business acumen and the leadership development practices I’ve gained in school and my past work experience.

Since I started at Echoing Green in 2010, I’ve helped to triple the size of the Fellowship team and led on two major internal restructures. I also led my team to formalize and standardize the support that we give to our Fellows into a leadership development framework that plots and drives the development of these early stage entrepreneurs along a series of competencies. Another significant process improvement has been our annual Fellowship selection process, which I believe now is one of the most rigorous but also supportive applications among start-up social enterprise competitions. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve shifted focus and resources to strengthening the power and impact of our community of Fellows and peers. In this sector, collective action is what will be the tipping point to realizing social change, and Echoing Green has the network of past and present Fellows that can come together to move the needle on society’s most pressing issues. We’re just at the beginning stages of this, but I’m optimistic that large scale, cross-sector collaboration will be the linchpin to systemic social change.

What are some of Echoing Green‘s unique programs and resources for its Fellows?

Erica Lock Munsky: The Echoing Green Fellowship is a leadership capacity building program that selects and supports high-potential start-up social entrepreneurs for a two-year period. Fellows receive an unrestricted grant plus technical and leadership development support from a dedicated portfolio manager on the team. They also have access to the community of over 700 Fellow Alumni, plus our sector peers, corporate supporters and other friends of the organization, all of whom are dedicated to the Fellows’ success.

There are two main aspects to the program that I think are unique among similar granting organizations:

  1. Echoing Green focuses on the leader. We believe that by instilling skills and competencies within the entrepreneur themselves, we are investing in long-term social change. We know that historically a good percentage of start-up ventures fail, but even so we are confident that our investment in the leader will pay off with every subsequent endeavor.
  2. Echoing Green fosters community. Social entrepreneurship is often a lonely gig. It’s not even until quite recently when it’s becoming more accepted as a career option. What started out as camaraderie (or commiseration in many cases) has led to communities of practice – both formally in groups of founders reaching out to each other for assistance and best practices, and informally in online communities (we use Slack, which is great not only for peer learning but also for amassing resources for future founder challenges). Mentorship often blooms from these relationships, and that can be the driver behind a leader’s success.

What do you love the most about your job with Echoing Green?

Erica Lock Munsky: I love that there is always something new to learn and accomplish. By working with these entrepreneurs, I’m constantly listening and learning what their challenges are in building their organizations. Not only is their work inspiring and exciting, but the context and landscape they are operating in is always new and changing. Then in terms of the program that we’re running, I’ve been at this long enough to understand what works and what doesn’t, and I think I have a good idea of what early-stage social change leaders need to start and scale. I’ve been lucky enough to have the runway in this organization to keep improving the offering – adding or shifting programs and initiatives as needed. I’m currently enjoying my role of building partnerships – expanding the reach of our influence beyond the social sector so as to strengthen the ecosystem that will support our entrepreneurs.

Previously, you worked at Viacom/MTV Networks. Can you tell us about your experiences at Viacom/MTV Networks and how you transitioned from media and marketing to nonprofit organization management?

Erica Lock Munsky: I worked in the Creative Services department, which primarily served as the in-house agency for MTV Networks’ corporate (i.e., non-channel) functions. We did most of the company’s CSR creative and it was there where I saw the career potential for working in the public good arena. I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I did what a lot of soul-seeking recent grads do – apply for business school – to figure it out. Columbia has a really strong social enterprise program and I was able to take courses and internships my first year to dive headfirst into all the options. I spent my summer working for the Bloomberg administration’s sustainability department and determined that, while fascinating, government is not where I am best suited, so I sought out full-time roles at non-profit organizations.

How is Echoing Green primarily financed and how will Echoing Green continue to remain financially sustainable? 

Erica Lock Munsky: Echoing Green is a non-profit that relies on grants, and corporate and private giving to fund our annual operating budget. We have a strong base of donors but of course as we are growing our programs we also will need to expand our reach for support. Because we operate out of a NYC office, most of our supporters are local, but we’re now trying to establish our brand in other locations, like San Francisco and Atlanta, and potentially some international cities.

If anyone reading this is interested in supporting early-stage social impact leaders, please email me at erica@echoinggreen.org!

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

Erica Lock Munsky: I’ve had a lot of strong women in my life who have influenced my personal and professional path but I’d have to say that the one (besides my mom) who has most influenced my career trajectory is my former boss at MTV Networks, Leslie Leventman. She not only supported me throughout my time there, allowing me to create my own role based on opportunities across departments, but also encouraged me to apply to business school to pursue a future in the social good sector. Her best advice was never to take the easy route – constantly challenge yourself, seek out opportunity and be relentless in your pursuit of your own definition of success.

What is your advice for the next generation of social entrepreneurs?

Erica Lock Munsky: Be creative, collaborative and uncomfortable.

What are your favorite books, websites, films and/or resources related to entrepreneurship or social impact?

Erica Lock Munsky: Because this sector is so dynamic, I mainly read blogs, newsletters or social media. A few standouts:

And then when I just want to glance at a ton of headlines to find something interesting I like to check out Alltop‘s Nonprofit page.

And of course the Echoing Green blog.

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