The founding of Mighty Ally.
It’s past midnight in Kampala and the power is out. Again. Life for many is interrupted. But my MacBook stays connected via battery backup, so my video conference with colleagues in the States continues on. Uninterrupted.
In the total darkness of this crowded urban slum, the only light around is the blue glow from my screen. I feel the weight of my privilege. And something is wrong with this picture.
Sarah and I had seen the orphan crisis first hand in both Asia and Africa, then moved to Uganda and worked locally with NGOs. Kathleen's parents ran halfway houses when she was a kid, and she later lived with migrant workers in Florida and taught in rural Thailand. So the issues of social justice and the realities of poverty were not new to any of us. Nor was going hours – sometimes days – without electricity.
But that night felt different. I was both overwhelmed by the disparity and emboldened by the opportunity to do something about it.
Here I am, working remotely from East Africa. In the pitch black, on a call with a room full of talented marketing professionals in America. And we’re using big budgets, bright minds, and sophisticated technology to solve complex business problems at scale for large brands. Companies that are often completely disconnected from the hardship just outside my window – millions of people enduring the effects of absolute poverty.
In the same world at the same time, some humans fighting to maximize profits, others struggling to meet their most basic needs. Being simultaneously on both ends of privilege and poverty was a profound lightbulb moment.
WHY CAN’T WE AS A SOCIETY DO BOTH?
Social changemakers around the globe are already in the field doing some of the world’s best and most important work. But they can’t do it alone.
Marketing agencies see up to 40% of their manpower unused by clients at any given time. Their employees – especially millennials – crave meaning and purpose in their work. Agencies have the time and talent to make an impact. But they can’t do it alone.
Responsible companies are working toward creating more purposeful brands. Consumers are demanding it. Businesses often have the money, products, audience, and expertise to make a significant contribution to addressing global social problems. But they can’t do it alone.
In America, charitable giving from households and foundations has remained steady at just 2% of GDP since 1975. And while social change can’t happen without these critical funds, money and donors can’t do it alone either. Changemakers need critical post-investment support.
Truth be told, none of us can go it alone. Many of the world’s most significant social problems remain unsolved. 1/4 of all humans live without electricity. 750 million people lack access to clean drinking water. 1.3 billion live on less than $1.25 a day. Preventable diseases like diarrhea take the lives of 2 million children each year. And there are still 140 million orphans.
THE RESOURCES ARE THERE. SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE.
So the three of us asked ourselves: what if we could find a way to align these collective resources to meet the collective needs? What if we created a social impact agency that armed underserved nonprofits and social enterprises with the strategy and marketing reinforcements they need to maximize their impact? And drive real business value at the same time?
As a hybrid nonprofit-social enterprise ourselves, we could raise money, recruit agency allies, activate brands, and provide much-needed services to changemakers fighting to meet basic human needs. In America and abroad.
We had led strategy and marketing agencies that provided these same services to for-profit clients. At a hefty premium. But we wanted to do something pretty radical: give the most underserved (and with the greatest potential) social impact organizations a long-term agency partner, just like the big brands. At a highly-subsidized cost. The goal would be to help them generate more revenue and become self-sustaining, teach them all we know, build their internal capacity over time, then work ourselves out of a job. But we knew our ambitious vision hinged on reinforcements.
In the process of exploring this new agency model, Sarah stumbled upon a quote that perfectly summed up our approach and stoked the fire.
Together – with changemakers, agencies, brands, and funders – we would meet at the intersection of social needs, our own resources, and ethical business opportunities. We’d maybe even break down some traditional barriers in this process of creating shared value. And we could find that elusive thing the Japanese call Ikigai: the overlap between what we love to do, what we’re good at, what we can get paid for, and what the world needs.
Within 10 days of Kathleen and me leaving our for-profit agency, the three of us had sketched our business model, conducted dozens of discovery interviews, established a theory of change, completed our own brand strategy, chosen a name, and officially filed as a two-sided corporation. We had even kicked off our first client engagement – a Nashville-based NGO building community health capacity in rural Kenya.
Something felt right with this picture. And with that, Mighty Ally was born.
Co-founder & CEO