From Survival Mode to Sustainable Business
“Playing it safe is the riskiest thing we can do!”
This is the educational mindset (and perhaps the battle cry!) of Marcelle Lashley-Kaboré, a GEMBA 2019 classmate and a celebrated star in the global social enterprise space. From the US to Africa to the Caribbean, Marcelle continues to open the eyes and broaden the minds of students and potential entrepreneurs, inspiring them to be bold, seize the initiative and turn their ideas into workable businesses, today.
We sat down with the three-time-Emmy-winning social entrepreneur, to ask about her philosophy of education, upcoming projects and her hopes for the future of sustainable business.
Customer Experience first – Forging the ‘Wow Factor’
Marcelle’s early professional background is in marketing consumer-facing technology products. As an increasingly senior consultant and then director, she was responsible for creating and then delivering attention-grabbing introductory experiences for the latest products of the world’s biggest consumer tech brands. At a relentless pace, Marcelle brought all manner of mobile devices and home electronics to life before the crowds of the biggest US trade shows and expos. Ever focused on the experiential side of marketing, Marcelle always strove to make the inherent ‘wow factor’ of each product as immediately accessible to her audience. They had to be able tangibly feel and absorb the significance of what the product could do, and how it would fit seamlessly into their lives.
Despite working on the most significant events in the industry – such as the annual Consumer Electronics Showcase in Las Vegas – eventually Marcelle began to feel her own attention being pulled in another direction.
Education and Inspiration, for a New Entrepreneurial Generation
Marcelle, herself an immigrant to the US from Trinidad, had already experienced the life-changing power of seizing educational opportunities. Equally, she was painfully aware that even in New York, one of the richest and well-resourced US states, these opportunities were spread extremely unevenly.
This recurring thought eventually led Marcelle towards the Xposure Foundation – a social enterprise dedicated to exposing children and people of all ages to the worlds of science, technology, finance and more. Enamoured with the socially progressive and innovative ideas of its founder, Raymond L. Thomas, Jr, Marcelle threw herself at the chance to push the frontiers of education while helping students from traditionally disadvantaged backgrounds.
From a gradual start in voluntary mentoring, Marcelle became more deeply embedded in the Foundation, where she has served as its Chief Experience Officer since 2010. For the past 12 years, she has used the same approach from her marketing days to bring the most inspiring and engaging tech-based educational experiences into the classroom.
Emmy-winning content – from the classroom to the nation’s TV screens
The impact of Marcelle’s work reaches far beyond the classrooms where she delivers her brand of experiential learning. To every student and budding entrepreneur, she emphasises the importance of real-world practicality when it comes to education.
Perhaps one of the most noticeable results of this educational philosophy is the attention that Marcelle, her students and the foundation have received from the New York chapter of the National Academy of Television, Arts and Science in recent years. The organisation has repeatedly seen their work as worthy of New York Emmy nominations, and Marcelle herself has been personally received 12 nominations, winning three awards in the process.
The Emmys recognise excellence in national prime-time programming, rewarding the best of the best. For her most recent Emmy win, Marcelle was the producer for a series of documentaries, songs and films where her students explored the cultural phenomenon of Black Wall Street, its tragic destruction and its lasting legacy on the psyche of both Black and White America. Students expressed their understanding of this defining moment in US race relations with a creative outpouring of songs, videos, documentaries and art pieces. After reviewing this treasure trove, Marcelle felt that it needed a bigger stage on which to shine.
An undeniable endorsement of the experiential education approach, this latest Emmy coup has also given Marcelle’s students highly impressive accolades of their own. Over 100 of them can now rightfully say that they themselves are Emmy Award winners or Emmy nominated content creators. Marcelle says that this is one of her proudest achievements to date, as it is another tangible example of how students of young age and disadvantaged backgrounds can create the most exciting opportunities for themselves.
Girls With Knowledge – Empowering Voices of the Future
Allowing young people to create their own opportunities is the central pillar of Marcelle’s current efforts. Seven years into her work with the Xposure Foundation, Marcelle felt the time was right to birth GWK – Girls With Knowledge. As a not-for-profit organisation, its mission is to prepare and empower the next generation of female social entrepreneurs and global business leaders. It does this not only by creating the kind of experiential learning opportunities outlined above, but also by addressing social, racial, cultural and economic disparities, and then helping to eradicate them.
Starting in 2017 in the US, GWK has branched out to Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Guyana and Trinidad, all countries that Marcelle has ties to. By giving female students of all ages dedicated mentorship, access to educational resources and a vital layer of financial literacy, GWK allows female entrepreneurs to elevate their business from survival level to that of sustainable wealth generation, and beyond.
Today, GWK Global is responsible for helping hundreds of young people develop their own business ideas, while their mentors help them see the idea through to fruition. There is also a heavy emphasis on collaboration, as GWK is designed to be a platform for connecting young entrepreneurial minds across its active territories and further afield. Marcelle and her GWK colleagues will be taking this idea even further this year, as January will see the unveiling of a new project that’s very close to her heart. [Nb: Interview took place December 2022]
Serving as the pilot project, the Manhattan site for House of GWK will set a template for what Marcelle hopes will be exported to each of the GWK Global countries. Like the businesses of her students, scaling up in this manner means improving the impact, reach and sustainability of the GWK enterprise as a whole.
Yearning to Return to China – Completing the GEMBA Journey
Marcelle is still a member of GEMBA 2019, and despite the near constant covid-related disruptions of the past three years, she has remained with the programme. She continues to wait for travel restrictions to lift so that she can fully resume her studies in person, learning on CEIBS campuses and in global modules once they become deliverable once again.
When we spoke to Marcelle in December, she was itching to get back to China and finish what she had started.
For Marcelle, always the committed experiential learner, it’s the cut and thrust of practical, real-world learning opportunities that excite her most. Whether its during global modules or exploring the different approaches of Chinese and international businesses in a China Deep Dive, Marcelle longs to be exposed to new examples of real-world business challenges and solutions. Similarly, she’s looking forward to being back among a highly diverse set of classmates who can share their unique perspectives with her.
We fervently hope that Marcelle does in fact get her wish, as CEIBS is just as ready to have her back too!