Impact At Scale

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Fireside Chat Social Impact Investing Beeck Center

A Fireside-Chat with Mary Ellen Iskenderian

By: Mike Fox, Master of Science student in the School of Foreign Service, Class of 2016
May 2015

Here at Georgetown, there is no shortage of opportunities to hear incredible, world famous leaders speak on a regular basis. However, the chance to talk informally with these leaders in an intimate, small group setting is a less common occurrence. Such is the goal of Beeck Unplugged – a fireside chat series designed and implemented by the Beeck Center’s student-run Impact Board. This past month, Beeck Unplugged was lucky enough to host Mary Ellen Iskendarian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking (WWB). A Georgetown graduate, Iskenderian’s talk was a unique opportunity to hear a first-hand account of the importance of leveraging diverse, cross-sector experience to achieve meaningful outcomes. Her presentation was a deep dive on WWB’s successful practices as well as Mary Ellen’s life experience.

Before an intimate group of around 20 students, Iskenderian provided an overview of WWB’s key successes and its point of view, as well as promising practices for the field. She also took questions from students about her career path and outlook on success, and emphasized the critical importance of embracing personal passions.

It is a well-known development fact that improving the welfare of women raises their family’s welfare and overall economic growth. Mary Ellen discussed how WWB’s model sustains a wide-ranging network of nonprofit and business institutions that provide vital financial access for women. The organization leverages its network to share best practices and conduct research on successful methods to reach its underserved target populations. WWB also provides financial education and training programs for women. Digital technology has recently enabled WWB to reach even more individuals.

WWB’s model innovatively provides aid by blurring the line between business and nonprofit. Dedicated to driving sustainable impact, WWB draws upon best practices from both the public and private sectors to cultivate self-sufficiency among the populations it serves. The greatest impact you can have in development isn’t providing short term aid; it’s ensuring that aid is not needed in the future.

Mary Ellen similarly embodies the cross-cutting nature of WWB in her own career path. During the fireside chat, she shared her belief in the critical importance of seeking out diverse perspectives and experiences to become a well-informed and impactful leader. In her own career, Mary Ellen has worked across a number of sectors, and emphasized that having an open mind about charting your own path in life can actually be more productive than focusing on a narrow goal.

As someone interested in the field of social impact investing, I enjoyed learning about how financing for impact extends beyond providing capital. There is a clear need to not only provide financial resources, but also build an effective and inclusive banking infrastructure in the developing world. Equally important was Mary Ellen’s message on the importance of exploring a diversity of career paths and professional experiences. Hearing from a successful leader that having a diversity of experience across multiple fields is actually a virtue as opposed to a sign of inconsistency is encouraging for those looking to create an impact in a rapidly changing world.

The views, opinions, and positions expressed by the author of this article do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University or any employee thereof.

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