Recently, Cynthia Steele, EMpower’s President and CEO, spoke with Jeremy Llewelyn, Chair of EMpower’s Joint Executive Committee, former UK Board Chair and a lifelong emerging market investor.
From your service to EMpower, over many years now, what do you better understand or appreciate about what in the UK is called the charity (nonprofit in the US) sector?
I’ve served on the EMpower board in various different roles over the last 10 years. I can say without doubt that it’s been one of the most intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying things I’ve ever done in my career. Credit for that goes in large part to the staff of EMpower: their hard work and their passion for what we do. I’ve learned a huge amount from them about many things. EMpower strives every day to be a learning organisation. It’s humble. It’s keen to listen, always willing to learn, and always willing to change. But at the same time, it’s super sure of its own values. A constant process of review and seeking data to verify the success of our theories of change ensures that we adjust our strategies as and when necessary. It’s a great role model for everybody in their professional careers and in business.
The best bit has always been visiting our grantee partners in country. I always recommend to other directors and our major donors that they should go out of their way to do this: either when they’re traveling in-country or on some of the amazing directors’ and major donors’ trips that we’ve run in pre-COVID times (and are keen to restart). These visits have been incredibly memorable for me, and for everybody else that we traveled with. Over the period of my involvement with EMpower, I’ve visited more than two dozen partners in Turkey, Russia, Ghana, South Africa, India, and Peru. I’ve met at least another two dozen when they were able to visit us in London. Each one of those visits has given me a deeper understanding of the country, seen through a completely different lens than as an investor. It’s a lens that’s not available to me in any other way. I’ve learned the importance of listening to local perspectives on solutions to local issues. But I’ve also seen how local partners can benefit from our experience in working on global challenges for the last 20 years and in ensuring that each partner gathers data on the impact that they’re seeking to achieve.
Is there anything additional you want to say about what makes you especially proud of EMpower?
In addition to what I have said about the team, our supporters globally—individuals and institutions in the finance sector and major global foundations—embody EMpower. It is they that have enabled EMpower to shatter fundraising records over each of the last five years, and to double in size since 2015, most importantly more than doubling the amount of grantmaking. This is an untold success story that the finance industry should be deeply proud of: our community has individually and collectively found a way to give back and they’re seizing that opportunity with both hands.
Having daughters, you recognise the huge potential of girls, yet as a British male of a certain stature, you might not have had close exposure to some issues girls and young women living in tough circumstances face. I see how far your thinking has come because you’ve had that exposure.
Just the sheer learning opportunity for me to go on my own to different cultures and spend time with groups of women talking about menstruation, period poverty, the “Right to Pee,” and domestic violence. It is an incredibly traumatic and enlightening experience that I wish wasn’t happening. But to deny it’s happening—and deny people of influence like myself from trying to understand it—is unforgiveable. So many people close their eyes to what’s actually happening around us in the UK and elsewhere. I feel incredibly grateful to EMpower for helping to open my eyes.
Your voice on these matters, as a white man, has great power. Because people hear it from you in a different way than they’ll hear it from me, or they’ll hear it from some of our colleagues. Last question: it’s an incredibly challenging time in history, what is it that gives you hope?
I absolutely agree, this is a critical moment, and one full of change. At the macro level, the big picture level, I’m anxious. So much of the noise is negative. Liberal democracy continues to be challenged in many parts of the world where you think it should not be—let alone in places where it has always been under threat. The impacts of the pandemic, the impact of global warming, and in particular, the impact of those challenges on the most marginalised in society, is deeply troubling.
Yet, without minimizing any of these challenges, there are many good things happening. There’s no doubt that we now live in a global society that recognises the moral and practical importance of inclusion, genuine inclusion, and opportunity for all individuals, regardless of gender or color. I believe we’ve turned a point where that is no longer in dispute. I think we are at a critical turning point around the objectives and accountability of the corporate world, where a company’s purpose and obligation to societies have been greatly expanded. We now have a broader agenda, which is challenging corporate leaders globally, and they are stepping up to that. Then thirdly, there is amazing innovation, especially in health and in technology, that can be highly empowering and can deal with some very significant issues globally. For example, the potential for malaria elimination, and the rapidity with which COVID vaccines were developed and tested.
Closer to home at EMpower, seeing the commitment, passion and fortitude of our grantee partners—never more tested and on display than these last two years—gives me hope. The young people we work with give me hope. They’re inspiring role models for the future of our society. And finally, our supporters who demonstrate their generosity and caring, making a vast difference in the lives of so many young people they have never met, but who will togther make a vital investment in their, and our, future. That gives more than hope, that fills me with great optimism and a sense of purpose.View All News
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