The Nexus Global Youth Summit describes itself as a global organization of more than 1,000 young investors who work to increase and improve philanthropy and social impact investing. The group’s co-founders, Rachel Cohen Gerrol and Jonah Wittkamper, recently met with Private Wealth to discuss the organization and its effort to bridge the communities of wealth and “social entrepreneurship.” Here’s what they had to say.
Prince: Let’s begin by having you explain your thoughts on social entrepreneurship.
Gerrol: If business entrepreneurship is the innovation of the marketplace to meet unmet needs or to achieve business needs in more effective ways, then social entrepreneurship is the equivalent in the social sphere. It’s characterized, on one hand, by non-profit ventures that address root causes, yet generate income so that they can remain financially viable, and for-profit companies that generate profits as well as social and environmental returns. There’s a spectrum from ventures that prioritize addressing social issues above all else to ventures that prioritize generating profit above all else.
Prince: How is this definition different from mere corporate social responsibility?
Wittkamper: First, social entrepreneurship is about innovation: doing things in new ways, tackling unmet needs, reusing resources creatively. Second, social entrepreneurship is about the entrepreneurial spirit: taking risks, refusing to give up, obsessing about solutions until they are found, creating new things and bringing them to scale. Finally, I should mention that the phrase means many things to many people and that there is no one authoritative [definition]. These thoughts primarily represent my experience.
Prince: What is Nexus: Global Youth Summit?
Wittkamper: Nexus is a global platform to connect and unite the millennial generation in order to address global problems in three primary ways. One, it serves as a bridge between communities of wealth and social entrepreneurship. Two, it advances the potential and influence of young people across lines of industry, expertise, partisanship, race, nationality, religion, etc. And, three, it inspires greater philanthropy and social impact investing. It enjoys a membership of nearly 1,500 from over 70 countries. They include leading young social entrepreneurs, influencers, connectors and members of hundreds of the world’s most influential families.
Prince: How do your members work together?
Gerrol: Nexus members are collaborating in big ways. They hire each other. They join each other’s boards. They fund each other’s projects. They help redesign each other’s companies and organizations. They brainstorm new social movements and create new things together that never existed before.
Prince: Can you give us a couple of examples?
Gerrol: Nexus members were instrumental in a company called Constellation. The most common form of cancer is skin cancer. It’s also the most treatable when detected early. The best way to catch skin cancer is to examine and track the moles on your skin. Constellation is a health-tech start-up that is developing a full body scan to monitor and track your moles. This way your entire body is completely and carefully examined, enabling you to see any changes in your moles over time and identify irregularities.
Wittkamper: Another example is Satisfeito, which is a global movement to help eliminate child hunger while preventing food waste at restaurants. Then, there’s the Common Ground Donor Network. Here, donors from different political and cultural orientations are coming together, forming an affinity group of philanthropists to build bridges to address social and other issues.
Prince: So it’s clear that Nexus is working. How did the two of you get together to form Nexus?
Gerrol: Our families are old friends and we knew each other as young children. We reconnected in adult life and discovered that we had both wandered deep into the territory of philanthropy and social entrepreneurship. Upon discovering the power of our united networks and visions, we joined forces.
Prince: Who joins Nexus and why do they join?
Wittkamper: Young wealth-holders and social entrepreneurs join Nexus. If you have a lot of extra financial resources, or will someday, and you are seeking the latest ideas in social innovation and impact investing, then you are probably eager to both connect with your peers and leaders in the field.
Gerrol: Nexus is the leading global platform for this group. If you’re a social entrepreneur, and you care about social and emotional health in communities of wealth, then Nexus is a space for you to share your expertise and develop relationships.
Prince: Central to how Nexus works is the summits. Can you explain what they are?
Wittkamper: Picture the United Nations. Picture the inspiration that comes from meeting people from dozens of countries. Picture the ability to help bring ideas into action because people with talent and resources are at the table and eager to work with you. This is Nexus. It is a movement that bridges communities of wealth and social entrepreneurship by hosting summits both at the United Nations in New York and in major cities all over the world.
Gerrol: Through keynote speeches, panel discussions and expert-led dialogues as well as informal meals, one-on-one sessions and online forums, Nexus offers a wide array of educational and experiential learning opportunities, as well as an amazing community of people for once-in-a-lifetime quality connections and collaborations.
Prince: What are your plans for expanding Nexus?
Gerrol: Currently, seven major financial services institutions organize delegates of their top clients and potential clients to Nexus. And the number is growing. Nexus is quickly becoming the leading platform for educating next-generation wealth-holders and young business leaders about impact investing, philanthropy and responsible leadership.
Wittkamper: I believe that in just a few years we will be working with a majority of the families on the Forbes list and a majority of the top banks. Part of our expansion will happen by design and part will happen in response to the demand from the market. Some banks hire us to help develop their programming internally and others outsource it to us. We currently have teams in about 20 countries organizing Nexus summits in their biggest cities. Next year, we will have summits in every major region of the world. Our partnership with the United Nations is growing, and there will be more regional collaboration there as well.
Gerrol: As our global footprint expands, we are developing greater local programming as well. Local programs include salon dinners for members of the network to explore key issues and build relationships; leadership development retreats to foster greater personal awareness, self-identity, management abilities and more; and tours and site visits to organizations, foundations and social impact businesses around the world. Beyond improving, increasing and diversifying our programming at local levels, we’re also exploring partnerships with the U.N. and other governmental agencies to help organize the influence of young people in those institutions and to push the envelope on public-private partnerships.
Prince: What are the biggest obstacles to running such a worldwide membership organization?
Wittkamper: We don’t charge for annual membership, though this may change, and we have operated on a freemium-type model so far. This has enabled our viral growth, but it has limited the financial resources we have to invest internally in our team and our infrastructure. In addition, we pledge not to fund-raise from our membership as it can put them off, so the philanthropic support that we do receive is modest. So, ironically, even though we influence hundreds of billions of dollars in family wealth, access to financial resources is one of our biggest obstacles. This financial arrangement has compelled us to begin offering fee-for-service programming, which will come out in early 2014 for the first time.
Gerrol: Another obstacle is media. We have an internal debate about whether or not to make Nexus well known all over the world. At the moment, with a relatively modest media footprint, we fly under the radar and don’t have crackpots and fund-raisers knocking on our door. Fortunately, the word has spread informally among young wealth-holders and social entrepreneurs. Our discreet profile has allowed us to attract many families that avoid celebrity. But as we face bigger questions such as “What should our legacy be as a generation?” we recognize that an expanded media voice will give us greater influence on the world stage. Ultimately, our membership will guide us in one direction or another.