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Social Capitalists

Dr. Cheryl Dorsey


Dr. Cheryl Dorsey is an accomplished social entrepreneur with expertise in health care, labor issues, and public policy. She has been president of Echoing Green since May 2002.

Dorsey says she entered the nonprofit sector because she "has a long-standing interest and concern about equity issues in society. Having grown up as an African American in our society, you become very sensitive to political, social, and economic inequities."

Although trained as a pediatrician, Dorsey sees social entrepreneurship as an "opportunity to work at a broader, more holistic, community level" rather than helping one person at a time. Dorsey is the first Echoing Green Fellow to head the social venture fund, which has awarded more than $20 million dollars in startup capital since 1987.

She received her Echoing Green Fellowship studying medicine at Harvard University. With it, she launched the Family Van, a community-based mobile health unit that provided basic medical and outreach services to at-risk residents of inner city Boston neighborhoods.

Dorsey considers the Family Van one of her most significant accomplishments and says, "I am proud of that time in my life because I was able to work at a community level with some extraordinary community members and organizations who were working to improve the health of people in inner city Boston." As a public-policy innovator, Dorsey was selected as a White House fellow in 1997 serving for a year as a special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Labor, advising the Clinton administration on health care and other issues.

She was later named special assistant to the director of the Women's Bureau of the U.S Labor Department, where she helped develop family-friendly workplace policies and a pay-equity initiative. Dorsey remembers her year at the White House as "a once in a life time experience and an opportunity to serve my country." She believes the time she spent working inside of the government gives her a broader perspective on her responsibilities at Echoing Green. Dorsey also served as the first director of public-health initiatives at Danya International Inc., a health communications firm, where she developed products and services aimed at substance-abuse treatment and prevention, child and family services, minority health and community outreach.

Dorsey has received numerous awards for commitment to public service, including the Pfizer Roerig History of Medicine Award, the Robert Kennedy Distinguished Public Service Award, and the Manual C. Carballo Memorial Prize. She speaks widely on minority affairs, maternal and child health issues, social justice, and social entrepreneurship.

Dorsey says financial stability is one of the biggest challenges facing nonprofits today and that they "have to be more efficient and think more creatively about how to fund the work they do." She also emphasizes the need for social entrepreneurs to work together. "In a globalized world, collaboration and partnership become more important," she says. "We no longer work in isolation."

One of the hardest lessons she's had to learn is patience. She says "anyone involved in social change work knows you measure change in terms of years and generations."

Public education is one area that Dorsey believes has been changed for the better by social entrepreneurs. "We've seen a tremendous amount of passion, creativity, and commitment to bettering the public education system" in the past 10 to 15 years.

Dorsey's interest in education and social change is inspired by such leaders as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, along with her parents who both taught in inner-city schools in Baltimore. She describes them as "compassionate, kind and committed educators who helped generations of kids grow and learn and become questioning, thoughtful adults."

She is currently a board member of LISTEN Inc., an urban youth development and leadership organization, and a member of the Association of Black Foundation Executives.

With this many commitments, Dorsey says "work-life balance is always a struggle and an issue for all entrepreneurs, especially social entreprenuers. It's often hard to put up barriers and protect your personal space."

That said, she is an avid movie fan whose interests range from Quentin Tarantino to The Sound of Music. She holds a BA in history and science from Harvard-Radcliffe Colleges, an MD from the Harvard Medical School, and an MPP from the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Dorsey is also the proud owner of Josie, a beagle-basset hound mix that she adopted two and half years ago, and who is "the sweetest dog with the biggest heart."

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