How This #GlobalFellow Brought A Social Impact Lens to Policy Advocacy in D.C.

Alexandra Nemeth

Content Marketing Manager at MovingWorlds.org

With over two decades of experience as a policy advocate and strategist representing the interests of high-profile entities like the Australian Government, Bono/ONE Campaign, Humanity United, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Clarence Edwards is an expert at navigating the U.S. policy and political landscape. But over time, he’s noticed changes in the global development scene that sparked a curiosity which would ultimately transform his career.

He reflected, “During my career I’ve watched a growing number of philanthropists and social entrepreneurs entering the international development arena eager to direct financial and intellectual resources to take on complex global challenges. The way they were engaging presented such an interesting contrast to the bureaucratic U.S. Government approach I knew so well, and I became increasingly interested in the role that these new entrants played in the development landscape.” 

Following this spark of curiosity is what led Clarence to the MovingWorlds Institute in 2018. “The Global Fellowship was exactly the vehicle I was looking for to explore that interest further,” he shared, “and I’ve gained tools from the program that I can honestly say I’ll be using throughout the rest of my career.” 

A shift in perspective

For Clarence, learning the theory behind leading social impact frameworks like Human-centered Design and Design Thinking was eye-opening. “The brilliant compilation of recommended reading, assignments, and case studies demystified the world of social impact and also helped me see the arena of global development through a new lens. Among the thought-provoking concepts and resources we were introduced to, Getting Beyond Better by Sally Osberg & Roger Martin and A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger are two of my favorites that I continue to draw upon even now,” Clarence shared.

In addition to learning more about social impact, the program also gave Clarence new insights about himself. “The program helped me to really sharpen my focus and hone in on what I’m really interested in and really good at doing. For me, one of the most important aspects was getting that outside perspective, that learning, which helped me to really sit down and think through what it is that I really wanted to do with this next phase of my life, and how I could incorporate these learnings into my career going forward,” Clarence shared.

For his stretch social impact project, Clarence traveled to the West Coast to embed himself in the local social impact space and connect with a diverse range of stakeholders to learn more about their perspectives. He took part in Social Impact Lab PDX:Spring 2019 , a two-month design marathon in partnership with Portland Fire & Rescue focused on making a difference in the local community through social impact design. Clarence explained that the challenge, “focused on how to make Portland’s fire and rescue services more useful for this era, where most of the calls involve responding not to fires but rather to people in crisis. Going through all 5 stages of the design thinking process for a public policy problem was an invaluable opportunity to translate what I was learning to my own career development.” 

In addition to participating in the design marathon, Clarence also served as an outreach advisor to GlobalPDX, a Portland-based network of NGOs. “I really wanted to make the most of my time on the West Coast, and while I was there connected with philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, and nonprofit leaders from Los Angeles to Seattle to develop a new perspective on global development. The experience really helped me to gain a fuller understanding of the interplay between philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, and government.” 

Clarence enjoying some downtime between social impact projects on the West Coast

Putting it all together 

Reflecting on his Fellowship experience as a whole, Clarence shared that it “gave me greater clarity on my next career move, helping me re-discover my passion for externally engaging and talking to people while also helping me to figure out how to marry those worlds of policy and social impact. Particularly coming from the world of politics, I appreciated the very human element of the Fellowship, which invites us to explore how we can take care of and address each other as people. It was very grounding. I learned how to integrate mindfulness into my professional life, keeping me centered in my purpose. There hasn’t been a day over the course of the past two years that I haven’t referred back to what I learned through the Global Fellowship.” 

Helping people identify where their unique strengths and purpose have the potential to make the biggest difference is the key to unlocking human potential for creating a life-time of impact. For Clarence, that place is at the intersection of social impact and public policy. As he explained, “I realized that the best avenue for me to affect change right now is taking what I’ve learned from the program and out west and applying it back in D.C. One of the challenges I’ve seen within the social impact community has been figuring out how to effectively change policy in this country. I have a great perspective now both from the social impact community and what I know about government relations and lobbying, and combining those two things has helped me develop a different approach to social impact through a policy lens. I can tell you that from my perspective, whatever legislation I work on will be informed by a greater knowledge of how to design in a human-centered way.” 

Returning back to D.C. energized, Clarence decided to recommit to a career focused on policy advocacy and communications. Two weeks ago, he started a new role as the Legislative Director for Sustainable Energy and Environment for the Friends Committee for National Legislation, putting his strengths to work to affect policies designed with the collective good and environmental protection in mind. “Reflecting back now, I can say it’s been a truly transformational journey from D.C. to the West Coast and back. I gained the tools and perspective I was looking for to approach my work in a new way, allowing me to return to the policy arena with a clearer sense of how these different stakeholders can more effectively collaborate to achieve positive social change.”

If you’re an experienced professional considering a career transition of your own, Clarence had one final bit of advice to share: “If you’re thinking about applying to the MovingWorlds Institute, go for it. Disrupting your status quo to try something new is scary, particularly at the midpoint of your career, but it is absolutely worth it. The Global Fellowship fed my intellectual curiosity and provided the knowledge, insights, and different perspectives that will continue to positively inform my career for years. Sometimes a little disruption is a good thing – and it’s the only way to grow!”