Claire has a deep sense of justice and fairness which has led her towards a career in building systems that support social entrepreneurs and young changemakers driving positive impact in the world.
Claire’s trajectory was highly influenced by supportive parents: A mathematician mother who challenged inflexible gender norms until she chose to pivot all her acumen into community leadership in public education and a business executive father whose work trips abroad taught Claire a sincere respect for a diversity of cultures not her own. They purposefully instilled in her a deep sense of fairness and a sense that she could do anything.
Claire’s changemaking journey started in high school where she became a leader in her school’s social change organization, overseeing a dozen student-led initiatives from housing to health to social justice. This work and early experiences volunteering with a community organization in Honduras exposed Claire first-hand to how well-intentioned people from outside a community could unintentionally do more harm than good.
In college Claire led a number of social justice initiatives. For instance, after witnessing labor violations so close to home as an intern with a leading garment worker’s union in New York, she launched the Students Against Sweatshops campaign at Yale, resulting in the administration approving a Code of Conduct to ensure the university’s ethical sourcing of its licensed goods. While studying in Chile, Claire was inspired by an Ashoka Fellow who demonstrated the kind of systems change impact only possible for someone who lives with the social problem and can skillfully put others into powerful roles. She graduated college and joined Ashoka’s team.
At Ashoka, Claire worked at every level of Venture, starting in D.C. and quickly moving to Brazil where she led the Venture/Fellowship program. She co-designed with a Fellow and launched Ashoka Brazil’s first youth changemaking program. Led by her passion for connecting the impact of social entrepreneurs and public policy change, she left Ashoka in 2004 to pursue a degree in Public Affairs at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs where she eventually worked with UNICEF to develop the first inter-agency guidelines for supporting adolescent girls across 7 UN agencies.
After Princeton Claire joined the Oikos-Cooperation and Development, a social entrepreneur-led Portuguese organization in Mozambique, as a country leader in 2006. Her work catalyzed innovative approaches to support farmer and fishing cooperatives in their mitigation of the impacts of climate change and the HIV epidemic. Unsettled by the lack of support to Mozambican social entrepreneurs and changemakers, Claire returned to Ashoka to lead the Global Venture Program.
In the last decade, Claire has entreprenerd Ashoka’s LeadYoung initiative to help young people and now everyone to tell their Everyone a Changemaker story. She works across our global team of colleagues to develop tools and systems to align our global youth strategy and bring resources to support our core strategy. For example, she intrapreneured the four super key EACH dashboards.
In Claire’s free time, she loves to hike, make Halloween costumes and windchimes. She is grateful for the support of her husband and two young sons.
Felipe Vergara: redefining access to education through a multi-million dollar financing innovation
For many young people around the world, paying for college tuition locks them into decades of debt. It forces them to forego purpose-oriented jobs like teaching because those salaries will not cover their loan payments. For those who can’t find employment or lose their jobs, their fixed loan payments can drag them into even greater debt that is hard to recover from. Colombian social entrepreneur, Felipe Vergara, created Lumni to give students new options for funding their college tuition. Their loan repayments are set as a fixed percentage of future income for a limited amount of time.
Investors in Lumni’s funds receive a financial return as well as a significant social return. Promising students, the majority from low income backgrounds and typically first generation college students are receiving an affordable higher education. Over 8,000 students across five countries (Chile, Peru, Mexico, Colombia and the U.S.) have received $35 million in financing to date.
Felipe’s story of entrepreneurship began in a Bogotá. As a boy Felipe was bothered by the polluted air and disappearing forest area along the surrounding mountains. He was an early environmentalist even before the environment was a relevant issue for young people in Colombia.
When Felipe was 16-years old, he started a recycling program in his neighborhood. Men and often women would come pick through the trash at night to find scrap metal and other things they could sell. Felipe thought that if he could get neighbors to separate out the “recyclable” items, there would be less waste overall and the garbage collectors could make money easier and faster. “I remember drawing out the plan on a piece of paper and going around talking to everyone. I got these large green bags for people to use and started handing them out. And they used them!”
It was a simple idea and seeing it work gave him confidence. “I wasn’t thinking of changing the whole city, just the way my neighbors dealt with garbage.” But later, in college he would take his idea even further. Empowered with new found knowledge from his industrial engineering studies, he launched an even larger recycling program, this time for companies.
When Felipe launched Lumni in 2004 together with Miguel Palacios, he had a vision to remove the obstacles keeping young people from higher education. But he also had the experience of launching new projects and he used that know-how to turn an idea into a multi-million dollar education financing innovation.
When Felipe launched his recycling program at 16, the reaction from his family had been mixed. “My father thought I was crazy and wanted me to spend my time more wisely. But my mother loved it,” Felipe recalls. Now with two children of his own, Felipe wants to give them the space to try things for themselves. “You can’t force young people to take action. The ideas have to be theirs but you can help create an environment where it is ok to fail and try again where they feel empowered and inspired to create change around them.”