Celebrating Change Agents
Written by Ann Elise DeBelina, March 2022
Serving partners alongside teams in Business on the Frontlines and Frontlines in America is always a privilege. Having supported four projects, I have experienced a consistent pattern in the trajectory that this type of problem solving often takes. The trajectory is important, for we will never solve the big problem in 12 weeks or even in 6 months, but we will look it in the eye. We must look it in the eye so that we can support our partners in taking small steps that chip away at challenges or barriers they face.
Critical to chipping away at the big problem are the change agents and problem solvers we encounter in the field. The peak of our own problem solving trajectory is when we encounter and learn from the movers and shakers on the front lines. These people dedicate their days and, in many cases, their lives to creating jobs and making dignity possible for people in their communities. They are the servants, the visionaries, and the change agents whose work deserves to be elevated.
We meet these people through a combination of preparation and serendipity. There are three examples in particular that have stayed with me over the years.
Indonesia: Ibu Roro is a woman entrepreneur in Linggar Village in the Bandung region of Indonesia. We traveled to an area that is consistently ravaged by floods during the rainy season and suffers from severe pollution due to industrialization, garment manufacturing facilities, and minimal trash removal infrastructure. Ibu Roro employs 15 people who can all walk to work. They spin, wash and dye fabric for sales in garment markets in the port town of Cirebon. Ibu Roro adapts her production schedule based on flooding and can change the fabric dyeing process quickly to best meet market demand for fabrics in Cirebon. Her home is a hub for information sharing and support. It boasts a large fishing pond, chickens and a badminton court that the local children come to play in. Ibu Roro taught us that resilience is built within small, local networks that can adapt quickly to changing market and environmental dynamics.
Puerto Rico: Leonardo Fifth Avenue is a family business run by Leonardo and Ana Sofia Cordero. The Corderos have had this business in their family for more than fifty years. Our team was assessing economic recovery in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which exacerbated structural economic challenges in Puerto RIco including access to capital, a shrinking presence of large multinational corporations and limited access to larger markets and talent. Leonardo Fifth Avenue has set up a strong online presence to promote its brand, offering students from local universities internship opportunities and building a franchise model for growth with outposts in the Dominican Republic and Florida today. Leonardo Fifth Avenue taught us that creativity can be used to build skills and support the local community, which can be further sustained by pursuing growth opportunities through online and franchising.
Chicago: Arthur Lloyd started CNU services, a private security and technology company that employs 3 people and operates primarily in the South Side of Chicago. Chronic disinvestment on the South Side of Chicago has caused a number of challenges for members of the Greater Grand Crossing community in particular, creating a cycle of poverty and resulting in a 20% unemployment rate compared to 8% in the greater Chicago area. Arthur embraces and uses technology to expose injustice and safety in areas that have suffered from underinvestment. Beyond his direct business, he helps his community on 1:1 instances - he helped a fellow community member get a driver's license and insurance after a small fender bender. He visited a victim of a gunshot wound that was captured on a video surveillance system that he installed - she could not attend work while recovering, so he helped cover her rent until she was able to fully heal and return to work. Arthur taught us that we cannot passively wait and hope for better solutions - we need to actively take part to teach and help others out of hard times whenever we can.
When facing some of society's toughest challenges, the best way to learn is from people like Ibu, the Cordero family, and Arthur. These changemakers would wish to leave us with the inspiration that anyone can be a change agent to shift the trajectory of their local community. It is not too late and no act is too small.