In a surprising public-private partnership, the United Nations, a governing body often associated with bureaucracy, has teamed up with a group of young entrepreneurs to move ideas forward with greater agility. The goal, says Elizabeth Gore, is to get the world's best ideas working for the people who need them most. Earlier this year, Gore (no relation to former Vice President Al Gore) was named resident entrepreneur of the U.N. Foundation, the public charity that raises funds to support the global organization's causes. She previously served as vice president of global partnerships for the group and launched grassroots efforts such as Nothing But Nets, a campaign to fight malaria, and the Shot@Life global vaccines campaign. Gore also manages partnerships with corporations and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At the Dell Women's Entrepreneurship Network event in Istanbul last week, we sat down with her to discuss how a group of talented entrepreneurs from around the globe is helping to bring the U.N. into a 2.0 world. What follows is an edited version of the interview.
Entrepreneur: We're hearing more conversation about the intersection of entrepreneurship and economic development, especially in emerging markets. What has changed to cause the U.N. to focus on this connection?
Elizabeth Gore: We're at a very unique time, both globally and at the U.N., where there is a renewed sense of optimism about partnering with the private sector to bring a lot of humanitarian issues to bear, and some of them to a close. About five years ago, we saw this amazing interest from entrepreneurs in our humanitarian work. There were two reasons: One was that entrepreneurs, particularly those under 45, don't see their global footprint or their so-called corporate social responsibility strategy as an afterthought. To them, it's truly doing business, baked into their DNA.
The other significant shift is that these young entrepreneurs really want to give their wealth away while they're alive and young, versus waiting until they are older and becoming a philanthropist.
Entrepreneur: How was the resident entrepreneur role born?
Gore: The U.N. has increasingly put up mechanisms to partner, whether with civil society, other non-governmental organizations or the private sector, so we decided three years ago to create the Global Entrepreneurs Council. Ten unique individuals from all over the world committed two years of their lives to seeing how they could impact the U.N. What happened, for one, was that they brought the U.N. communications platform to a 2.0 world -- built our first U.N. app, made sure we were on Twitter and Facebook -- everything that I think a modern company would need. Then, on a trip to a refugee camp in South Sudan, they got worried that malaria was the largest killer and raised enough funds and awareness to save lives immediately in that camp.
You can see the difference in the type of impact -- very upstream and very downstream. But what I saw, looking back, was not so much what they were doing but their mindset. To me, the value that entrepreneurs bring to the U.N. is their way of doing things. We get stuck in our own bureaucracy, but they don't see barriers. They go around them or over them, solving problems and pushing through big ideas. At the end of the first term, they told us two things: We need to establish an entrepreneur-in-residence program to formalize a rotating, fresh set of ideas, and we need to understand how to bring a better pipeline of innovation into the U.N.
Entrepreneur: How did you get the job?
Gore: Right out of college I got very passionate about the idea that there could be a need in the community that you didn't necessarily need the government to fix. I built a career around the marketing of good deeds, working with a lot of great organizations, from Points of Light to Share our Strength, led by Billy Shore, who I think is probably one of the originally nonprofit entrepreneurs. Then I bailed and went to the Peace Corps, to learn more on an international front.
When I came back, I was still focused on this idea of communications and partnering with corporations on big societal issues. So I cold-called [former president of the AOL Time Warner Foundation] Kathy Buskin (now Kathy Calvin) and networked with her. I was surprised that she was working with the U.N. Foundation. "The U.N. is changing," she said. "Can you come in and work with us?" As vice president of global partnerships, my whole job was to build public campaigns. The first project, Nothing But Nets, changed the way we do it. In just six weeks, we raised $1.2 million to fight malaria, and it's now our largest campaign to date, having raised $48 million with small donations and saved millions of lives.
Entrepreneur: What's next for you in the new role?
Gore: Our new class of the Global Entrepreneurs Council met for the first time on April 2. It's an extraordinary group, five men, five women, from all over the world. One of our new members, Ido Leffler, is the head of Yes To Inc., a company I respect a lot. Now the second-largest natural beauty brand in the U.S., it's also in 28 other countries. Though it's very profitable, everything Ido does he looks at through the lens of: How will this impact the world that his two little girls are growing up in?
While each individual on the council has his or her passion point, the new group has already made a commitment to create a digital platform that allows youth more access to the U.N. We're quite worried about youth globally. It's the largest youth generation we've ever had, so there is a large reward potentially, or a risk if we don't connect them.
The last piece, for me, is to take the advice of the former council and oversee a study to really understand how can we bring more innovation into our organization and replicate it. The U.N. is the only organization in the world that says, "If you bring in an innovation, we can literally scale it globally."
Sarah J. Robbins is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor and the co-author of Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman -- 90,000 Lives Changed (Grand Central, 2013).