Building off the work of Durham community leader Henry McKoy, in 2008 a group of community leaders convened in Durham to discuss how to make Durham one of the best places in the world for people who wanted to change the world. The conversation grew to involve over 400 people who contributed to the vision of what ultimately became the creation of Bull City Forward in 2009. To try and realize this vision, Bull City Forward’s operating founders, Christopher Gergen and Alison Dorsey, set out to build a team and develop a set of strategies to support Durham’s burgeoning social entrepreneurship community, looking for specific ways to connect these social entrepreneurs with the resources and relationships they need to deepen their impact in the community. This included: opening a dynamic work and convening space in downtown Durham, launching a website and offering a set of events to bring social entrepreneurs together with each other as well as potential partners, convening social entrepreneurs around specific areas of acute need in the community (such as homelessness and disconnected youth), partnering with Durham Public Schools and local universities such as Duke, NCCU, and Durham Tech to help develop next generation change-making leaders, and growing Durham’s visibility as bastion for social entrepreneurship nationally. As a result, BCF sparked a movement in Durham and facilitated a market for co- and shared-working, innovation, and social entrepreneurship. Check out our original video.

Since then, the Bull City has seen the rise of American Underground, Mercury Studio, Bull City Co-working, and others responding to the needs of the growing ecosystem. In response to this success, members of the BCF board created Forward Communities and expanded the BCF model in Charlotte (Queen City Forward) and Pinehurst (Moore Forward), a vision that continues to build in those communities today.

In the wake of this growth, Bull City Forward has strategically recalibrated its function to address the unmet needs of entrepreneurs in Durham. As the surrounding universities began prioritizing entrepreneurship, and as shared working spaces continued to pop up in Durham and across the region, it was clear that entrepreneurs with access to resources, relationships, and knowledge were finding a community, and thereby success. The challenge (and opportunity), as Bull City Forward perceives it today, is in engaging the individuals in the broader community who have fewer resources and less access to key stakeholder relationships, yet have excellent ideas.

Today, under the leadership of Keeva Kase and with a diverse staff of experts, Bull City Forward, now a program of Forward Communities, continues to aim to make Durham and the Triangle region the best place in the world for people improving the world through the creation and scale of social enterprises. Three chief programs lead the way:

1) Forward Fellowship ($5K stipend, key relationships, training): now recruiting its third class, has invested $30K+ in eight social entrepreneurs, facilitated key introductions (including a feature in Oprah Magazine), and provided expert training and feedback.

2) Innovation Challenge (foster breakthrough ideas to address seeming intractable social problems): BCF’s third Innovation Challenge in partnership with United Way of the Greater Triangle yielded 60 applicants aiming to address childhood hunger through innovation. On September 11th, one innovation will receive $50K, bringing the total funds marshaled for innovative solutions to social problems (e.g., obesity, oral health, childhood hunger) to $170K.

3) Community Impact (re-purpose empty community spaces, conduct outreach, and host public events): The Community Impact initiative aims to drive more of these resources, opportunities, training and technical assistance, and relationships into our community – especially for those not served by the entrepreneurial ecosystem Downtown.

Each program unleashes the potential of next generation change-makers by providing the resources, relationships, and knowledge for promising social entrepreneurs. We believe breakthroughs in seemingly immutable societal, environmental, and economic issues are possible.

Christopher Gergen and Alison Dorsey now sit on the Board of Forward Communities.


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