Jordan Kassalow Finding Impact Podcast

FIP 020: Systems Entrepreneurship with Jordan Kassalow

Why do so many problems in the world persist? Could it be that our individual actions don’t make up to the sum of the potential whole? Do we need to focus our attention on the system level and take coordinated collective action to really move the needle on these problems? This is the topic we discuss with Jordan Kassalow today.

Jordan is the founder of Vision Spring and Co-Founder of Eyelliance – a multi-sector coalition of actors pursuing the same goal: to unlock human potential, one pair of eyeglasses at a time.

Jordan worked for 15 years in the eyeglasses sector before taking the initiative to found VisionSpring. To date, they have over 20,000 vision entrepreneurs selling eyeglasses around the world. Collectively they are reaching about 1 million people per year through a range of different channels. Vision Spring realised that they needed to move to the ecosystem level to get eyeglasses to the people who need them. That’s when Eyelliance was formed.

Some of the things you’ll learn on this podcast include:

  • Examples of ecosystem barriers to demand include things like cultural challenges, regulatory challenges like who can prescribe them, supply chain challenges, and customs and duties challenges.
  • Trust is one of the central ingredients of working in an alliance, which was a key reason why they decided to create a separate organisation.
  • There isn’t one roadmap for setting up a collective impact alliance, but some pointers include:
    • (a) take the pulse of the community you’re trying to coalesces before you start, to see if there’s an appetite for this collective work;
    • (b) you need very senior people within these organisations, so try to find well-respected, international organisations and individuals to convene the key players;
    • (c) ensure the alliance isn’t duplicative of the organisations’ work,
    • (d) convene a steering group of strategically selected organization and individuals,
    • (e) map out the ecosystem to ensure it wasn’t duplicating things and came up with three strategic initiatives of the alliance.
  • We unpack the differences between the labels of social entrepreneur and systems entrepreneur.
  • Some tips on how to confront an instance when a member of the alliance is reluctant to hand over a part of their strategy to the alliance, or when they’re not structured as an organization to support the alliance.
  • Some of the differences in metrics that an alliance would include, compared to a social enterprise
  • We talk about different funding strategies for alliances, from top down when donors come together to create a pooled fund, as opposed to bottom, when organizations form the alliance and go out to coral funders.
  • Too much money too early can pickle the brain. Be careful with what you ask for! Follow the developing country taxi approach, whereby you get in the taxi and then you head to the gas station to get some fuel for the immediate journey.
  • We discuss the pros and cons of creating separate entities versus creating a more adhoc initiative by organizations.
  • It’s all about the idea, the people and the money. Idea: get the strategy right before making a big strategy. People: get the right like-minded people, with low ego and mission focused; money: they’re critical but need to be timed right. Get potential funders engaged early and often.


Connect with Jordan

What other examples are there of collective impact alliances? Please share below.

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