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Fellowship Program Equips Business Leaders to Drive Impact Through Innovation

With growing demand for business leaders to embrace progressive business practices that respect both people and planet showing no sign of slowing down, it is now more important than ever to empower high-potential professionals to innovate and lead change. Companies already have social intrapreneurs in their midst — accomplished innovators inside companies — whose efforts are helping them meet these new sets of pressures and expectations. However, they don’t always possess the skills and support they need to reach their full potential and help companies achieve greater profitability and positive social and environmental impacts.

The Aspen Institute First Movers Fellowship Program is changing that. Housed within the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program (BSP), First Movers is an innovation lab and leadership development program that aims to equip social intrapreneurs with the tools, skills and network they need to help their companies develop competitive advantage by more effectively integrating social and environmental value into their core strategic priorities.

“Corporate social intrapreneurs are important new drivers of corporate behavior. They see possibilities for generating enterprise value and social impact that others miss. In doing so, they are raising the bar for business performance and redefining the measures of business success,” said Nancy McGaw, First Movers Fellowship Program Founder.

For the past eight years, First Movers has brought together participants for three four-day sessions at Aspen Institute facilities over the course of a year. In addition to taking seminars and meeting with mentors, Fellows work on innovation projects aimed to help their company move toward greater strategic integration of a critical social or environmental objective.

Projects are broad in scope and have in the past included launching and sustaining a supplier development program to mitigate supply chain risks by building socio-environmental capabilities for strategic categories (Renata Frolova, Maersk, Fellow since 2013), developing compostable, soil-enriching packaging to reduce waste (Steven Sorrel, Colgate-Palmolive, Fellow Since 2015) and distilling ESG data into a single risk signal for 5,000 of the largest global public companies to help portfolio managers distinguish between companies with high and low ESG risks (Michelle Edkins, BlackRock, Fellow since 2012).

While the innovation projects are key components to the First Movers program, participants stand to take away much more from the Fellowship than a fine-tuned action plan. Fellows learn how to use effective story-telling to gain buy-in from colleagues, to develop champions in corporate functions and to influence broad sets of stakeholders — all of which have been proven time and again to be crucial elements in helping businesses to successfully achieve their sustainability goals and maintain the bottom line. Additionally, Fellows join a lifelong network for ongoing professional development, support and cross-industry collaboration that will to empower them to create solutions for the world’s most challenging problems.

“The big change for me was that the Aspen Institute really opened up a new world of possibility. I am able to take that enthusiasm and that confidence to do the type of work I want to do within my organization,” said Erin Bina, GE Power, Fellow since 2012.

Nominations are accepted year-round, however, the nomination deadline for the 9th class is February 28, 2017.

Learn more about the nomination process by visiting or contacting [email protected].


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