Isabelle, you are a global leader who earned a BA in Economics at Sciences Po in Paris, a Master in Finance at ESSEC, then got your MBA at Harvard and launched your professional life. What is your personal story and how did you become a global leader?
First, Carol, please let me start by thanking you for all the inspirations at GlobalMindED and for your friendship over many years.
A sentence in the last chapter of Becoming, Michelle Obama’s autobiography struck a chord: “I am an ordinary person on an extraordinary journey”. In so many ways, I feel I am an ordinary person on an extraordinary journey. I recall setting foot on the American soil 20+ years ago as an immigrant with a thick accent and big dreams about America. And here I am many years later....still with a thick accent and even bigger dreams for America and the world at large.
I was born in France and happily raised in the public school system starting at 3-year old. While in college, I had the opportunity to pursue an apprenticeship in finance. The program paid for college, and more importantly provided an experiential jumpstart into a world that I would have never been exposed to otherwise. It led to the first 12 years of my career in finance and to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School.
Ten years ago, I decided to dedicate more time to what I was most passionate about: impact. I left traditional finance, and stumbled onto the nascent field of ‘impact investing’. Investing was my past, and impact became my (aspirational) future, thus a perfect match. I first worked for ImpactAssets, a non-profit organization democratizing access to impact investing. I then joined Omidyar Network after ‘cold-emailing’ the CEO. Omidyar Network’s mission of empowering individuals through flexible tools, including for-profit impact investing and non-profit grants was the perfect balance. There, I worked closely with my mentor Amy Klement.
Over the course of my career, I have tried to live the values of “generous leadership”: cultivating authentic relationships, dreaming big, remaining a lifelong learner, being relentlessly optimistic and celebrating success as ‘they’ or ‘we’ vs. ‘me’. The recent pandemic has been a profound reminder about how precious each life is. The world needs each one of us to be our best selves and be there for each other.
You were a partner at Imaginable Futures, a venture of Omidyar Group where you were Head of US Education. What was your mission in this role?
I founded and led the U.S. education practice at Omidyar Network (that spun off into Imaginable Futures in early 2020) starting from a blank sheet of paper. For my creative mind, this was a dream come true: shaping a new path forward toward impact at scale with the generous guidance and support of Pam and Pierre Omidyar.
Imaginable Futures’ mission is inspiring: unlocking human potential. In collaboration with my team and countless internal and external partners, we primarily focused on early childhood education with a two-generation lens. The early years are the age group where inequities are the starkest, where the possibilities are the greatest, and where funding is the scarcest.
I invested and partnered with some of the most innovative education organizations, and met hundreds of inspiring entrepreneurs, researchers, policy makers, funders, and innovators in this journey. This work has already reached over 40 millions of children, students, educators and families, with many inter-generational ripples of change underway. Behind those numbers are countless human stories of positive change, upward mobility, empowerment and hope.
You are a Board Member of Sonen Capital and a judge for the MacArthur Foundation $100 Million Dollar Challenge. How do you see your impact as one of a very few women in these Boards and high level leadership positions?
It has been my privilege to serve on over a dozen boards of directors, and as a judge for inspiring competitions, such as the $100 million MacArthur challenge. I currently serve on boards of two impactful organizations: Sonen, an investment management firm focused exclusively on impact and sustainable investing and advice, and EDC, a global nonprofit that advances lasting solutions to improve education, health and economic opportunity.
Too often, I am one of the few women in the room. There are too few women and people of color in leadership positions and governance roles. The ‘double whammy’ is the intersection of gender and race. Women of color are the unicorns. We need more. And the good news is: diverse talent is already out there. It simply needs to be intentionally brought into the room.
But, it is important for diversity not to become a checkbox exercise. Too many times, I have seen one woman or one person of color in leadership or boards. Seeking diverse representation has to be anchored in the core belief that a broad range of ideas, experiences, backgrounds, genders/ethnicities are critical to the success of the organization.
A year ago, you stepped into a whole new role and purpose. Tell us about that and what you most want to accomplish through this work in your ongoing mission to improve the world?
COVID upended our education system, which led me to re-evaluate how I could be most impactful going forward. The question that I kept coming back to was: How could I reach many more hearts and minds to combat spiraling inequities in education?
A book seems to carry that potential as an immediate next step. As such, I will be spending the next few months authoring a book on my learnings from the past 20 years working at the intersection of education and philanthropy/impact investing, and aspirations for the future of learning, seeking to unlock human potential across generations.
“The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach for the hearts is wise.”
-- Maya Angelou.