How This iSchool Alum Uses Digital Skills For Social Impact

If there’s anything you should know about Liz Ngonzi (’92), it’s that she’s bold, she’s courageous, and she’s devoted her life to strengthening the social impact ecosystem around the globe.

But her path to a career as a social entrepreneur, educator, and international speaker didn’t take the direction you might expect.

It’s true that Liz has always been a bit of an entrepreneur. By the time she was 14 years old, she had created a babysitting service and scaled to at least six different client families. It was a “baby empire,” as she describes it.

When she came to Syracuse University in 1988, however, she didn’t major in business. Instead, she started out in visual and performing arts. About mid-way through her freshman year, a mentor introduced her to the iSchool. She was hooked and decided to transfer in the following semester.

“I barely knew how to type!” Liz said, “[But] I loved the fact that you could solve problems with technology and information.”

In 1992, the year Liz graduated, the country was in the midst of a recession. While many of her peers took jobs waiting tables just to get by, she graduated with five job offers in hand. She started receiving some of them as early as the fall of her senior year and credits the real-world skills learned in her major with making her stand out in a struggling economy.

Liz ended up taking a job in marketing with Digital Equipment Corporation, the legendary computer company founded by Ken Olson and Harlan Anderson. They had recruited her as one of 16 people nationwide for their exclusive Marketing Development Program, a rotational program which exposed her to areas such as aerospace marketing, corporate communications and sales. Following that, she worked in B2B sales for MICROS Systems Inc., the leading provider of hospitality Point of Sales Systems in the world, where she learned about the hospitality industry through her clients, ranging from independent restaurants to amusement parks.

The Future Relationship between Business, Government and Non-profits

In conversation with Liz Ngonzi, an international speaker on digital innovation, philanthropy and leadership, talking about the future relationship between businesses, Government and non-profits, what the world can learn from people it traditionally labels as disadvantaged and how corporations are responding to the social justice movement in relation to African Americans.

Digital Storytelling to Inspire and Attract Funders in a Time of Crisis

The budget cuts resulting from the global economic downturn of 2009 forced nonprofits onto digital platforms to more efficiently and cost-effectively connect with their stakeholders, but that stakeholder engagement remained primarily on a personal—not a virtual—level. Fast forward to the the global pandemic of 2020, during which most of our professional interactions have become virtual, and we see that organizations have discovered how critical digital platforms are (and will be) to their success, both during and after the pandemic. Now their primary vehicles for inspiring, attracting, and activating donors are stories delivered through a digital storytelling ecosystem that includes their websites and those of their key partners; social media; virtual events; messenger services such as WhatsApp; email; live and recorded videos; and charity information sites such as GuideStar.

At the same time, during the last few months, foundations’ priorities have shifted toward two key issues that have risen to prominence: COVID-19 relief/response and social justice. Not only will funders be interested in supporting organizations that have been negatively affected by COVID-19, but they will be particularly drawn to those that have pivoted in response to it by developing new offerings, delivering services more efficiently, and serving new populations. Equally, funders are going to be looking for grantee alignment with issues of social justice—looking, that is, for organizations committed to the empowerment of under-resourced communities, to diversity of board and leadership composition, and to socially aware programming and engagement with issues of equity and inclusion. In crafting an organization’s message, therefore, it is increasingly necessary to incorporate content and highlight organizational elements that reflect such commitments.

Notes from the #ProjectEveryone Fundraising Everywhere Conference

Last Thursday, I was one of over 4,000 attendees at #ProjectEveryone. Put together in just over a week by the Fundraising Everywhere team, this virtual conference featured a range of great speakers focusing on fundraising in response to the coronavirus crisis. My Twitter thread from the six hours of talks is below. Click through to read my notes from those I attended. I’m at #ProjectEveryone – here’s my thread. How to pivot your strategy in a crisis @WayneTheMurray1. There is no business as usual. It’s all changed.2. Work out what has changed.3. Drop everything non essential(Wayne’s cat just popped in to say hello, which was cute.) pic.twitter.com/Gq4WylWjnS— Richard Sved (@richardsved) April 2, 2020 The first talk I attended once I’d managed to get into the ‘room’ (it was so busy!) was Wayne Murray’s on how to pivot your strategy in a crisis. I particularly appreciated his exhortation to focus on the short term, and keeping people connected. Nobody cares about your income deficit. They care about the impact on your beneficiaries. People really do want to help.Wayne Murray Next up, Jasmine Adams spoke well on adapting messages in response to Covid-19, which was a good companion piece to Wayne’s talk as she explained that you can change your strategy but maintain your vision. After this, Louise Morris spoke compellingly on engaging high net worth individuals in the fundraising response to the pandemic.

Program Empowers Aspiring Black Entrepreneurs

Startup founders who are black receive less than 1% of venture capital funding annually, according to research from Crunchbase, Kauffman Institute and CB Insights.

Cornell’s Black Entrepreneurs in Training (BET) – founded in the spring of 2018 as a student club to inspire and inform black student entrepreneurs – is aiming to change that through the establishment of workshops, guest speakers and entrepreneurial mentorship.

BET, which runs from October to April, aims to increase the participation of students of color in Cornell’s entrepreneurship ecosystem and generate an active and visible group of black alumni who’ve founded successful companies. Each fall, the program accepts students of color who are passionate about entrepreneurship, and offers networking events and workshops.

“Connecting our BET participants with successful alumni is an invaluable learning experience, and enables them to envision their future as startup leaders,” BET co-founder Jehron Petty ’20 said.

Petty – with co-founders Ansumana Bangura ’20 and Julia Reeves ’20 – reached out to Andrea Ippolito ’06, M.Eng. ’07, lecturer in Cornell’s Engineering Management Program and program director of W.E. Cornell to establish a partnership with the Center for Regional Economic Advancement, which would allow the program to grow after the founders graduate.

Digital Storytelling and Virtual Events to Revive Your Fundraising Presented During Project Everyone

Everything has changed… Except your Mission

In a matter of weeks, the world has changed in dramatic ways… and it will likely never return to pre-COVID-19 norms. For nonprofits, working remotely might be the easiest part of the adjustments they need to make.

The greater challenges revolve around:

  • Delivering programming that your community has come to rely on
  • Fundraising in the chaos—without the ability to host in-person events
  • Finding new sources of revenue to replace falling donations
  • Standing out in the sea of noise with everyone clamoring for attention and funding

Teaching Why Storytelling, “Tribes”​ and Diversification Are Critical to Entrepreneurs!

I had the honor of returning to my alma mater, Cornell University, to address and advise the first official cohort of Cornell Black Entrepreneurs in Training. This was one of several events planned by the organizers to “stimulate creative ideation and problem solving,” as part of a program whose ultimate vision includes preparing black entrepreneurs to found startups focused on some of “today’s most pertinent problems.”

I was there to teach the participants about self-awareness, finding purpose and founder-opportunity fit, defining and developing one’s story, finding one’s “tribe”, and navigating the business (nonprofit to for-profit) and funding (donations to equity investments) model spectrum and the plethora of programs (e.g. incubators, accelerators and fellowships) through which one might develop a new venture.

The members range from undergrads to professional and graduate students, and the majority are studying engineering, with a few in business and science majors.

What became evident to me after spending time with these extraordinary students — both while leading the workshop and while meeting with them one on one during office hours — is that we all need the occasional reminder of our own greatness and a framework for sharing our visions and stories in a manner that honors our unique gifts and identities.

They are working on some awesome venture ideas that address real gaps in the market.

I can’t wait to see what’s to come next semester when they begin working on their Minimum Viable Products (#MVP).

No matter which professions the cohort participants ultimately choose, having an entrepreneurial mindset and approach to problem solving is critical to achieving success in any area. And even if they do not choose to pursue their startup ventures on a full-time basis, the participants might reasonably continue working on those ventures as supplementary/alternative revenue sources. As I’ve learned repeatedly over the years from various contributors to Black Enterprise Magazine, it is wise to lay the groundwork for a diversity of revenue streams, including at least one “side-hustle” that can be developed into its own full-time business.

Learn more about Cornell Black Entrepreneurs in Training: https://crea.cornell.edu/project/black-entrepreneurs-in-training/

Expand Your International Organization’s Presence to Attract U.S. Funders

During my 10 years teaching and training nonprofits around the world, I have found that some of the biggest challenges they grapple with in seeking funding are related to differentiating themselves from the plethora of other great causes in the market; establishing their legitimacy in a field in which the few fraudulent ones have created fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of donors; and identifying which donors could potentially be interested in their cause, have the capacity to give and are accessible.

If you ask any group of U.S.-based foundations their primary source of information about a nonprofit with which they are unfamiliar most of them will likely say that they google to find out about them. In the case of international nonprofits looking to raise funds in the U.S., the strength of their digital presence is critical in that it helps to convey the credibility of the organization, in the absence of a physical location the U.S. for funders to easily visit.

Elizabeth Ngonzi Leads Discussion about “The African Female Executive”

As part of the Wharton Africa Student Association’s WASA Wednesdays series, Elizabeth Ngonzi, former CEO of Afrika Tikkun USA, led a discussion titled “The African Female Executive.” The event, a collaboration between WASA and WWIB, was organized to learn about the experience of a woman of color in business and discuss strategies for career advancement. The 90-minute interactive session delved into various themes including, expanding your network and building relationships, cultivating varied interests, and establishing your personal brand from the perspective of a woman in business, especially from a woman of color. At the start of the program, as students listened over their plates of jollof and plantain, Ms. Ngonzi quickly turned the event into an interactive discussion. After sharing an anecdote about an exchange with a boss at a prior job, she said to the room, I’d like to hear about your experiences. Students quickly raised their hands, keen to share their individual stories as women and men of color in business. Various questions were raised about maintaining your identity at work, assertiveness without being labeled “pushy”, and relating to coworkers in predominantly male industries.

7th Annual African Diaspora Awards

Applause Africa presented the seventh annual African Diaspora Awards ceremony at Florence Gould Hall in New York City. These awards recognize significant achievements in social justice, entrepreneurism, arts and humanities by Africans living in diaspora. The event both celebrates the diversity of this inherently multinational gathering, and also the unity that is possible among Africans, regardless of origin and background. As impressive as the individual honorees were—and they were truly impressive—it was equally powerful to see movers and shakers from Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, Kenya, Senegal, Zimbabwe and beyond celebrating one another in a spirit of unity and camaraderie. Indeed, the theme of the 2017 gathering was “Building Unity,” suggesting that for all the unity this unique process has nurtured, the work continues.

This was a glamorous affair, with a nearly packed house of beautifully turned-out attendees, a red carpet reception before hand, and a fast paced stage ceremony that featured introductory speakers for each award, a DJ, two hosts and four live music performances—not to mention the actual honorees, each of whom spoke briefly and movingly.

How To Find A Job In Africa

Names listed in order of appearance:

Liz Ngonzi, 7th Annual African Diaspora Awards ‘2017 Advocate of the Year’ Awardee

New York, USA

“I dream of the realization of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent.”~ Nelson Mandela

On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the passing of Nelson Mandela, Applause Africa Communications hosted its 7th Annual African Diaspora Awards (ADA) in New York City, during which 15 leaders were recognized for being engines of impact and change to inspire the African community within the U.S. and around the world. Among those recognized was Afrika Tikkun USA’s CEO Elizabeth Ngonzi, who was awarded “Advocate of the Year”.

The ADA Awards is a premier awards ceremony applauding outstanding African leaders who have been engines of impact and change to inspire the African community within the U.S. and around the world.

Emceed by Essence Now host, Makho Ndlovu and acclaimed comedian, NaMÓ, this year’s ADA theme was “building unity”. Building Unity is a larger-than-life theme that helps Africans in the Diaspora celebrate their uniqueness and strengthen ties to each other in the Diaspora.

CEO Backs ‘Future Leaders’ Initiative with LinkedIn, McCann Worldgroup

In collaboration with McCann Worldgroup, Afrika Tikkun USA recently announced its ‘Future Leaders’ initiative, a ground-breaking, social awareness and engagement campaign on LinkedIn.

“All young people have dreams for the future, but not all get the opportunities to make them come true,” said Lee Tan, Executive Creative Director at McCann Worldgroup Europe. “We hope that the ‘Future Leaders’ campaign can highlight this reality and help Afrika Tikkun do more great work with South African youths.”

Overcoming enormous obstacles, yet leveraging the standard LinkedIn profile and account services, 12 students from Afrika Tikkun communities in South Africa – aged 13 to 19 years – boldly state their claims of future career success. While highlighting current high-profile leaders as role models, the students career interests span a variety of industries and sectors, each student having made a compelling appeal on video.

“Steve Collis, I want your job,” Sinesipho Ndonga says speaking confidently and directly into the camera. The 13 year old Mfuleni, Cape Town resident, and “future CEO of AmerisourceBergen,” aims to become a leader in the pharmaceutical industry, “just like Steve Collis,” she says.

Tech Entrepreneur Hosts South Africans During Philly Tech Week

“Loads of gratitude to Steve and Toni for hosting a spectacular function, in their beautiful home, for our Afrika Tikkun future leaders,” Ngonzi said thanking the couple who coordinated the reception with Gosier and Peter Jacobson, Afrika Tikkun USA board of directors vice chairman and CEO of Orion Fleet Intelligence.

Gosier has worked with the world’s most famous recording artists, record labels, and entertainers as the founder of audience measurement and monetization company, AuDigent. He has spent the past decade building a career in data science, private equity, and international business. In that time he has lead an array of data projects as a consultant to Jefferson Health, Nielsen, EMC, Google, FEMA, InQTel, The World Bank, U.S. Department of State, Wounded Warriors, Department of Defense, and Lockheed Martin.

“Jon is a man of action and a data science genius,” said Ahmed Mohamed Maawy, a principal product management specialist at Al Jazeera Media Network. “He understands the technologies out there and how they impact the professional and personal lives of individuals and change the way organizations do business.”

Recognized with awards from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Harvard Initiative for Global Health, and the Information Technology Senior Management Forum, Gosier is an alum of Savannah College of Art & Design and the THNK School of Creative Leadership and Innovation.

Listed in Business Insider’s 2013 25 Most Influential African-Americans in Technology, the TED Fellow and Knight News Challenge winner “think its important for cross cultural exchange in the Philly tech community,” he said.

Does Bono Deserve the ‘Glamour’ Award for Global Activism?

Liz Ngonzi is an adjunct faculty at the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at New York University and CEO of Afrika Tikkun USA, the North American branch of a nonprofit organization that works with rural communities in South Africa. He is the first man to make the list. Bono is best known for his efforts around AIDS/HIV and poverty relief, particularly through his organization, ONE. Is his global activism worth being named Woman of the Year? Liz Ngonzi comments on the issue as well as many others plaguing women of the world, such as poverty and access to resources.