Business 5 in 5 with David Erickson

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5 Questions in 5 Minutes

An interview with ECHO CEO David Erickson, www.echonet.org

Can you please explain your day to day as CEO of ECHO?

One of the many wonderful dimensions of the work that I get to do here at ECHO is that no two days are the same. We have the privilege of engaging with people all around the world and we have centers in three other regions of the world, the most hard-pressed regions of the world. So on a daily basis, I’m interacting with our leadership and teams in those centers in Southeast Asia, East Africa, and West Africa.

I have the privilege of interacting with some extraordinary volunteers that come here and serve ECHO Florida and, of course, with our staff here. And then part of my responsibility and privilege is to invite people to engage in making this work possible and helping it to grow. So I have the opportunity to share with people not only the nature of what ECHO is doing, but the impact that we’re seeing around the world. Most days are pretty well consumed with some combination of those activities.

Could you outline your career path and how you got to this position with ECHO?

I went to graduate school at Harvard University and, after I completed graduate school, I wanted to get some experience of seeing how the federal government worked, or you might argue, doesn’t work. I took that opportunity and worked for a few years with the Environmental Protection Agency. In the middle of that was exploring opportunities, entrepreneurial opportunities. And, in that process, my life took a turn that I had not anticipated. I saw the need to address homelessness and addictions in Washington DC.

Washington DC, at that time, had the highest incidents of homelessness and addictions of any major city in the United States. And I felt a calling – the only way I can describe it – to engage that. And I spent the next 20 years of my life developing responses that address those twin issues of homelessness and addictions in a way that would enable people to have new lives and new opportunities.

That was extremely hard work and really blessed work. And we had tremendous business partnerships and support from the community. We were privileged to see amazing things in the lives of thousands of men and women and babies. After 20 years (of this work) it was time for me to do something different and recharge my batteries and be challenged and grow in new directions.

I had the privilege of being invited to get involved in international development. And that’s what exposed me to the work of ECHO and led to coming down here to Southwest Florida and strategically developing ECHO’s global engagement. So establishing our regional centers to take us closer to the people that we exist to serve so that we could not only serve them more effectively, but we could learn from them. There’s so much that we can learn.

In the last year, we’ve directly trained over 5,000 small scale farmers in 22 countries around the world. And we’ve resourced development workers. Just last month from 202 countries, 25,000 people accessed ECHO resources. So the footprint, the impact of this relatively modest Southwest Florida organization, is absolutely extraordinary.

We were privileged by God’s grace to impact more than 4 million men, women and children around the world last year. And ECHO is growing and developing and we see tremendous need. And with that, extraordinary opportunities to make a difference. We’re animated by the privilege of working in this sphere and making a difference in people’s lives.

As CEO of ECHO, how do you define success?

There are so many dimensions of our work that need to happen, need to be effective, need to be excellent. And we measure and evaluate virtually every dimension of our work. But in terms of saying, “Have we been successful, have we hit the mark?” We’ve identified two measures, measures that will tell us if we’ve been effective. And they’re built on something called multiplication.

So for the people that we directly train, the more than 5,000 in 2018 alone, we determine whether we’ve been effective with them ultimately by saying, “Have they shared what they learned from ECHO?” And if so, with how many other people?

Obviously, that’s an indicator of a lot of other things. It’s an indicator that we’ve engaged them well, respectfully, humbly. It means that what we’ve shared with them is relevant to their lives and circumstances. It means that when they put into practice what we’ve equipped them with, it actually works. And, have we trained them in a way that’s ? What have they learned? Can they pass it on to other people?

So we set that out as a measure to decide if we’re doing our work effectively and we hired an outside firm independently to be in touch with the people we’ve trained and find out what they’re doing with what they learned. It was a huge risk. I mean, a lot of people counseled me, “Well, it’s great if you want to do that, but don’t promise to make that public. And the multiplier that is determined.” And you know, we thought long and hard about that. And I remember waking up one night in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, (wondering if I am) compromising the work of this mission that’s so vital and I care so much about by going out on a limb.

And as I thought, and prayed while I thought, you know what? No, we’re going to make that commitment because that’s the mark we’re aiming for. And if we’re missing it, we – more than anybody – need to know. And if we’re not hitting the mark, we’re going to need more help, because we’re not playing games. We’re committed to accomplishing these objectives to the best of our abilities. And so we made those commitments in our strategic plan to measure and publicly make known what’s happening in terms of multiplication rates.

Can you please give me an example of how ECHO has been successful?

So, in that first year – two years ago was the first year that measurement happened – we were on pins and needles waiting to find out what the results were. And we were completely blown away. The rate at which people were not only applying what they learned and then sharing it with other people was stunning. And we’ve done it now the first year and then a second year and the lowest of any region that we work in the world, the lowest multiplication rate was 39 and in many places of the world, the rate was substantially higher.

And so, when you realize that we keep stretching as much as we can to train as many people as effectively as we can, to realize that over 95% of those people pass on what they learned to an average of over 39 other people, you begin to see that this massive problem of over 800 million malnourished and hungry people around the world, that we can begin to chip away at that.

And it’s not with a one-time response that gives a person a meal for one night. It’s equipping them in ways that they can feed themselves, their families and their communities. And again, pass it on in ways that spread the impact. And benefit. So that’s success for us and we’ve committed to continue measuring it and continue looking for ways that we can be more effective in equipping people to take what they’ve learned and share it with others.

Please take a look in your crystal ball and share with us what you see on the horizon within the next five years for both the problem of world hunger and the mission of echo.

The problem of world hunger is obviously massive. And the danger in looking at 800 to 850 million men, women and children that went to bed hungry last night and, barring some significant development, we’ll go to bed hungry tonight. That can be totally overwhelming.

And the challenge for us is, well, what part of it can we engage and make a difference? And as I mentioned earlier, we’re privileged to see the impact of ECHO through this multiplication assessment and that we’re making a difference like God’s grace in millions of people’s lives. So obviously we want that to grow.

We want to grow the number of people we’re directly training. We want to continue to increase the remarkable people that are positioned around the world to also make a difference. We want them to have in their hands the knowledge and the resources, the information about the skills that they can transfer, to help other people be able to overcome hunger and malnutrition.

We are doing this work now in Southeast Asia and, of course, that’s a huge region in the world with actually the most people that are hungry and malnourished. We’re working in East Africa and West Africa, which is in development terms, the poorest region in the world. The area that we keep being invited to engage and now simply don’t have the capacity to South Asia. It’s India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka in 10 years, 15 years, that will be the most populous region in the world. And right now it is the area of growing and greatest need.

And so, in the next two years, it’s our hope and prayer that we will be able to mobilize the resources to further strengthen the support base of ECHO here in Southwest Florida and launch a dedicated team with cultural language expertise to be able to enable us to, to directly engage South Asia. And, and we hope and pray have the same kind of multiplying impact in that region as we’ve been privileged to see in, in every other region where we’ve engaged. So that’s a huge, huge goal. It will be a big challenge, but I think it’s, it’s doable and we certainly see the capacity as we build to take that on.

Thank you, David, for the outstanding interview and the fantastic work you guys are doing.

Well, thank you for the opportunity. Appreciate it.

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This has been a presentation of American Business Writers. Clear, concise communication for your business. www.americanbusinesswriters.com