Shawn Martin had built a successful career in higher education by the time he became a MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellow, serving as a department head in research management and publishing at Dartmouth College. He shared, “I started my career with a desire to use my skills in research and teaching to make the world a better place. Yet, many institutions work to protect ingrained power structures – and observing the increasing social and economic inequality in recent years, I found myself reconsidering how I could drive change from within.”
This ultimately led him to apply to the MovingWorlds Institute, as a way to “figure out how I could use the administrative, teaching, and research skills that I have to help bring people together, and make the world a more equitable place.”
Continue reading below to find out how Shawn made progress towards that goal by stretching outside his comfort zone, and key lessons learned along the way.
Finding a Mission-Aligned Project Match
A key component of each Global Fellow’s experience is experteering: taking on a real-world social impact project as a pro bono consultant to build on your existing skills while challenging you to grow.
Through the MovingWorlds guided matching process, Shawn found an ideal match in Nous Foundation, a cultural institute for French and Creole language preservation based in Louisiana. Nous Foundation achieves its mission through a portfolio of initiatives – including films and documentaries, networking events, an exchange program with Fulbright France, and an incubator for bilingual businesses.
The next phase of Nous Foundation’s growth is the opening of a physical cultural center in the French Quarter of New Orleans in January 2023, which is what brought Nous’ Co-Founder Scott Tilton to the MovingWorlds platform. Scott shared, “We wanted to develop a capital campaign strategy to help us turn our nonprofit into a sustainable endeavor [aka social enterprise] for years to come, and were eager to connect with someone who could help us take a big picture approach to what our options are, and where to focus our efforts.”
During the initial scoping call between Shawn and Scott, it was immediately clear that it was a great fit on both sides. Fundraising is an area that Shawn wanted to stretch further into, and as someone with an interest in French culture himself, he immediately resonated with the mission. The Nous Foundation team was also excited about the opportunity to work with someone from an Ivy League university with a different perspective on the funding landscape beyond Louisiana.
Taking a Human-Centered Approach to Collaboration
In order to help Nous Foundation achieve its goals, Shawn knew that he first needed to understand its business model and key stakeholders. He shared, “In our first meeting, I led Scott and his Co-Founder Rudy through the business model generation exercise – one of the social impact frameworks we were introduced to as part of the Fellowship. At first, I thought the exercise would be mostly for the benefit of my own understanding, but as we worked through it, I was surprised and excited by how much benefit it was having for them, too.”
While this wasn’t the original direction of the project, Shawn’s years of teaching had taught him to be flexible and adapt, leaning into the areas that spark excitement. He remembers, “The teacher in me came out here – whenever you see students get really excited by something you’re doing, you tend to let the students take control and simply facilitate their work, rather than trying to direct it. We ended up spending a lot of time working through the various customer segments, and I was really impressed with the level of detail and thoughtfulness that both Scott and Rudy brought to the exercise.”
Scott explained, “We worked through the process of mapping the different donor groups that we have, and really thinking about how to segment them out. We ended up with about 10 different groups, and from there developed materials, messaging, and tailored value propositions to best engage each.”
Throughout the process, Shawn shared, “I leaned on my existing teaching and facilitation skills to really listen actively, ask questions, and help draw out the things that Scott and Rudy already knew to help them realize it themselves. Just being prompted to say things out loud can help connect new dots and generate new insights.”
What may have initially seemed like a diversion ended up serving the goals of the project better than either could have expected. As a result of working through these exercises, Shawn explained, “Scott and Rudy realized that instead of doing a grand capital campaign as originally planned, it actually made more sense for them to narrow the scope to a much smaller, focused campaign to raise endowment funds that Nous Foundation can build on over the longer term.”
Developing a New Perspective
As a final deliverable, Shawn put together a report reflecting back the insights and strategies Scott and Rudy had uncovered throughout the process about how Nous Foundation can engage different stakeholder groups, and find new donors to bring onboard. According to Scott, “it’s been really useful to take into account the segments and strategies as we do donor outreach ahead of the cultural center’s opening. For example, one strategy Shawn helped us think through was how to engage universities. That’s an avenue we had not explored before, and now we’re thinking about how we can work with local universities as a source of capacity support and potential funding.”
Shawn remembers that at the beginning of the project, he had some trepidation about whether he could succeed in this new arena. It’s easy to take the skills we use every day for granted, but in a different context, those same skills can have an outsized impact. This experience really drove that point home for Shawn, who reflected, “I hadn’t really considered my teaching skills to be valuable in the context of consulting or fundraising. But working with Scott and Rudy helped me see just how transferable those skills are – the ability to prompt insights through questions, actively listen, and help others (whether students, or clients) approach things from a different angle to unlock new insights.”
From Scott’s point of view, Shawn’s outside perspective was actually one of the most valuable things about their collaboration. He went on to explain, “when you are committed to working in a deep southern state, there are deep southern challenges that you have to surmount – particularly if you’re trying to think outside of the box or drive progressive change. We knew we didn’t want to be hamstrung by the limited scope of fundraising and development in Louisiana. We wanted to think about it from a larger perspective; our ambitions are national, and even international. The opportunity to work with someone like Shawn — with his depth of experience, on a national level, at a major institution — to overcome those obstacles was really powerful for us.”
We’re grateful to Shawn and Scott for sharing their inspiring story with us about what’s possible in the spirit of true co-creation. To stay updated on Nous Foundation’s new cultural center, you can subscribe for updates on their website. And, if you’re interested in working with Shawn as a consultant for your next project, be sure to connect with him on LinkedIn!
Whether you’re a professional looking to give your time and expertise, or a social change organization looking for nonfinancial support, we hope you’ll join us on the TRANSFORM Support Hub. Working together, across sectors and geographies, we’re making progress towards a more equitable and sustainable world.