Building Global Prosperity Through Community: That’s What The Legatum Center at MIT is About
By: Dina H. Sherif
I am often asked why I am so passionate about building fellowships or spaces for like-minded people to come together to learn and reflect, not just about their past and present, but about their future. The answer is simple. Humans are built for the connection that comes from community. It gives us strength and more often than not, comfort. For entrepreneurs who are solving complex societal challenges in countries that are unpredictable and rapidly evolving – being a part of a community is often a matter of survival. I know that it was for me. While I never had the privilege of being a fellow affiliated with the Legatum Center at MIT, I am an Eisenhower Fellow. I did my fellowship in 2015 and that community, or tribe if you will, continues to feed my soul on a daily basis. A gift that just keeps on giving.
Last weekend, during a retreat for the Legatum Center’s newest cohort of student fellows, I was reminded of the incredible beauty and power of fellowship. As I listened to this new generation of entrepreneurs from some of the world’s most dynamic, yet difficult, markets tell their personal stories, I was both humbled and deeply inspired. Laughter and tears were shed. Dreams and aspirations were shared. Bonds were created. A community was being built. The thing is, for true community to be built, we have to create a space where people can show up as they are and still be accepted – guards down and with hearts wide open. The moment I realized that we had succeeded in creating that space was when a fellow came to me and said, “Dina, something magical happened this weekend. I felt like I could be myself and be accepted.” Earlier, that same week, when a Foundry Fellow was asked how his fellowship impacted him, he said, “the fellowship saved my life.” Building community really matters, but building community for entrepreneurs from what are often referred to as ‘emerging markets’, can matter even more.
For many, the words ‘emerging markets’ are often juxtaposed by images of poverty, conflict, corruption, chaos and unpredictability. As somebody who sees herself as an Egyptian, an Arab and an African, these images always troubled me because it just wasn’t representative of my narrative or the narrative of many other entrepreneurs like me. The markets that I, and many of our fellows, come from are markets of opportunity, dynamism, growth and deep resilience. We innovate out of a sense of urgency, driven by a desire to make our countries more prosperous and globally competitive. This is not to say that ‘emerging markets’ aren’t home to poverty, broken systems and corruption. They are. Yet, that is the beauty of life. Two things can exist at once. Joy and sorrow. Difficult challenges and enormous opportunity. Instability and growth. Poverty and wealth.
Entrepreneurship and innovation provide critical pathways to achieving sustainable and inclusive growth and Legatum Center Fellows are doing the difficult work of developing market-based solutions that are growing and expanding across their countries and regions. As an entrepreneur and investor myself, and as somebody who is leading the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT, I can say with confidence that there is much to be excited about when it comes to entrepreneurship and innovation across Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. My history and my position also allow me to say with confidence that choosing to be an entrepreneur in any of the above mentioned regions is not an easy path, but we are doing our best to help make sure that those in our community don’t have to walk that path alone. That is why we at the Legatum Center, created both our Student Fellowship and the Foundry Fellowship.
As we embark on a new academic year with a new cohort of student fellows and a soon to be announced new cohort of Foundry Fellows, my team and I are filled with excitement and humility. Every cohort of fellows come with their own stories and magic. What I know for certain, is that the entire team at the Legatum Center will work tirelessly and with passion to continue to create the spaces required for these amazing communities of entrepreneurs to thrive and continue to be the movers and shakers that our world needs right now. We are all living during difficult times, but innovation and entrepreneurship holds within it the promise of hope for a new offering or a new way of doing things. I, for one, believe that together we will get to a better and more prosperous future, one community of fellows at a time.
Please join us on our mission by donating here. Please contact us here if you are an ecosystem player who wants to provide greater networking opportunities for our fellows.