China Fellowship - Ventures Frequently Asked Questions

The spirit of the Aspen Global Leadership Network (AGLN) is to move an emerging generation of leaders “from success to significance” and “from thought to action”. We hope to activate a global cadre of highly entrepreneurial, creative leaders to step “out of their box” and to act to address the foremost challenges of our times – wherever these challenges may lie and however big they may be. The Leadership Venture component of each Fellowship program is core to its success. Over the years, we have heard many questions about the ventures. Here are a few – with our answers. Of course, if you have more, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Does my venture idea have to be original?

Not necessarily. In fact, we encourage you to learn about successful models, if and where they exist, including models already launched within the Aspen Global Leadership Network and not necessarily in your community or country. That said, we believe that Fellows are uniquely gifted, creative individuals who have the potential to come up with breakthrough ideas by virtue of their entrepreneurial and innovation-driven natures.

Must I create my venture myself or can I leverage other successful venture?

Leveraging others is fine. The key is that you add a new dimension to what is already happening. Two South African Fellows are busy replicating Teach for America in South Africa. Others have replicated the Henry Crown Fellowship program itself…which is why we can now speak of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. In fact, we encourage you to look at the venture summaries listed in the AGLN Fellow Exchange for ideas as you develop your initial venture concepts and plans.

Can my venture be for-profit?

Yes. It can be for-profit or nonprofit. We don’t have a preference as to legal status. The key is that it have an explicit and positive social impact.

What kind of impact meets the criteria of the program? How far should the reach be?

Your nominator and our backers believe, as do we, that you have the capacity to bring significant new ideas and energy to societal challenges that often seem to be hopelessly deadlocked. We have no specific target level of impact in mind but we do hope for a real and significant “return” to the world for this investment. We chose you because we believe in your ability to do great things.

What do you mean when you say the venture should be "a stretch"?

The challenges we face in our organizations, communities and countries are real and growing. They cannot be addressed by a “business as usual” approach. Stretching means tackling a new problem, exposing yourself to a community you wouldn’t ordinarily engage with or taking on additional responsibilities that, but for the Fellowship, you wouldn’t otherwise. We know you are busy, and we know you are already engaged. We want you to stretch for two reasons: the world needs you to; and we believe you will surprise yourself by how much more you can actually do if you think about how best to leverage your time and talents.

What if my job is already a social/community program/venture?

Many Fellows are already “social entrepreneurs”, NGO leaders, government leaders. We know that. In these cases, we want to challenge you to think about how you might step back and see with a fresh perspective how you might augment your leadership in the area you are concerned about. Are there other approaches you have wanted to try? An experiment you’d like to test? Use this as an opportunity to creatively engage in a different approach to the challenge you are addressing, or as an opportunity to do something that you would not have started or done, but for the fact you are in this Fellowship. Jacqueline Novogratz of Acumen Fund created an “Acumen Fellows” program loosely modeled on the Henry Crown Fellowship Program. Bill Bynum of the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta created the HOPE Credit Union. Deema Bibi in Jordan added a new component of mentorship and values based dialogue to her work with Injaz.

Given the number of venture already created within the Aspen Global Leadership Network, are there any common traits among those that have proven successful?

Yes, a few. First and foremost is the correlation between the Fellows’ passion for the venture and its success. If you aren’t thrilled about what you are doing, odds are it will not succeed.

Other common traits of successful ventures:

  • They were able to overcome uncertainty.In other words, they got started. Fellows were able to commit to a specific initiative and overcome their fears. They moved from a cautious “someone should” to an “I will” even in spite of their uncertainty.
  • They were grounded in reality.They did their homework. They developed a deep understanding of the challenge they were facing and a genuine empathy for those they were trying to help.
  • They were thoughtful in their design.They invested time and energy in understanding how to design their work in a way that would be more likely to succeed where others have failed.
  • The stakes were personally meaningful for them.They felt a deep level of personal commitment to their project- so deep that walking away was simply not an option. We saw this in three primary areas: 1.) Relationships. Fellows who had close personal relationships with people affected by illness, disease or special needs of some sort. 2.)Capital. Fellows who felt so strongly that they committed significant capital to launch their project. 3)Reputation. Fellows who put their reputations on the line by launching projects with a high degree of visibility.
  • They aligned their passion, purpose and resources.They identified a clear personal passion and a deeper sense of purpose about why their undertaking mattered. And equally important, they were able to align the resources they had or had access to (skills, relationships, capital, company resources) to focus on the challenge or opportunity they saw.
  • They created leverage for themselves.They realized they could not do it alone. They found a partner, built a team or leveraged a business or professional platform to give scale to their limited time and resources.
  • They were resilient.They adjusted their plans, rethought their strategy, were persistent in looking for the needed resources, and were patient as the pieces came together.

Can we do a class venture?

If in addition to a personal leadership venture, yes; instead of, no. We encourage class-wide collaboration and have seen many attempts over the years to launch class ventures. None have panned out though, usually because of the difficulty of finding one that everyone can be equally passionate about.

Can we bring together several Fellows from the same class interested in similar topics to work on a joint venture?

No. We have experimented with this over the years and around the globe and found that this just does not work. Finding two or three fellows with equal passion and commitment to a cause has proven difficult. The result has been ventures where one Fellow ended up bearing the brunt of the work while the other(s) exercised little if any real leadership.

I can't figure out what I want to do. Can I team up with someone else already running a venture?

Yes. As long as they are not in the same class as you and you can find a discrete piece of meaningful work that will be a stretch for you and one for which you can be accountable. If you can find a way to leverage your unique skills or assets to help another venture achieve greater impact or scale, we will be very supportive.

Can joining a new board count as my venture?

No. As leaders, we assume you are already involved in boards and assorted charitable works. Simply joining a new board is not a stretch.

What if I am the chairman of the board?

If you were already Chairman when selected as a Fellow, no. If you step up as result of the Fellowship experience, maybe. We will consider this on a case-by-case basis. The key is whether you are playing a key leadership role and truly applying your entrepreneurial energies to significantly remake or significantly energize an organization.

What if my company has a corporate social responsibility program? Can I build on that program?

It depends. Building off a pre-existing platform is fine. The key is that you are directly involved in a leadership role in the activity in question and that you and the program are doing something different as a direct result of the Fellowship. Remember, your venture should be something you would be proud of as your legacy. If you are just doing more of what is already taking place or would have taken place whether or not you became a Fellow, it would not qualify as your leadership venture.

What will the Program define as a successful venture?

A successful venture will engage your leadership skills, energies and vision to address a challenge or opportunity that you believe will have a meaningful impact and help to advance your vision of “the good society” by putting your values into action. A successful venture will challenge and stretch you as a leader: it may challenge you be creative or to engage in communities where you might have feared to engage before or it may force you to acquire new skills or resources to address the challenges you face. There are not objective measures for success in these ventures, but your venture should be something you are proud of and something you believe will have a lasting impact.

What does the Program define as a failed venture?

One that never even started. One where you are simply writing checks. One that was not additive to what you were already doing or planned to do. One where your leadership talents were not engaged. One where your leadership impact is simply not evident.

Does the venture have to be completed/running/fully functional by the time we graduate the Program?

You need to be able to demonstrate significant progress towards your goal by graduation, as well as a clear plan for the future.

Can the Fellowship Program or the Aspen Institute help me to raise money for my venture?

Unfortunately not. However, once your venture has been running for two years we encourage you to apply for the John P. McNulty Prize, each year the winner receives $100,000 and the finalists receive $10,000 each to put towards their venture.

Can I publicize my venture as an initiative of the Aspen Global Leadership Network, my Fellowship Program, or the Aspen Institute?

No, however you are welcome to characterize your venture as “inspired by” the Fellowship program or Aspen Global Leadership Network in any communications or marketing materials.

How are ventures vetted and approved, and by who?

Venture concepts are initially vetted by your senior mentor or by the Executive or Managing Director of the Fellowship Program. They are then presented to your classmates in small group and plenary sessions during the Aspen Seminar – for their comments and advice, and then again at the third seminar, Leading in an Era of Globalization, to a broader contingent of Aspen Global Leadership Fellows. You will also be asked for regular written reports on your progress (templates will be provided) and to meet regularly phone or in person meetings with your Executive Director on the venture