Serita Cox, co-founder of the online platform iFoster, was named a 2012 Echoing Green Fellow last week, becoming one of only three fellows in the history of the program to work on a project dedicated to helping foster youth.
“It’s such an honor,” said Cox. “I’m just beyond thrilled. Echoing Green to me is a huge vote of confidence for a young organization.”
After a six-month evaluation process, Cox became one of 27 Echoing Green Fellows that the organization deems “visionaries with ideas so bold and convictions so strong they could shake the world.” Each fellow receives $80,000 of unrestricted funds for the two-year fellowship, free health care and an extensive professional network to help expand their business.
Echoing Green provides financial and professional resources to social entrepreneurs who they believe have ideas that are innovative, cutting edge, and have the power to leave an indelible mark on the world. Since 1987, it has provided more than 500 entrepreneurs working in over forty countries with $31 million in start-up funding, customized support services, and access to their global network.
Cox convinced Echoing Green that iFoster — an online community exclusively for the foster care community which gives youth and families access to over 100,000 retail discounts nationwide as well as other resources — has the potential to dramatically and positively impact the lives of America’s most vulnerable youth.
“We are thrilled to support Serita and iFoster. This bold new idea provides a fresh way to network the foster population across the United States, and Serita represents a bold new leader who will use her entrepreneurial spirit and personal experiences to drive for impact,” said Lara Galinsky, Senior Vice President of Echoing Green, in an email.
The only other two Echoing Green Fellows who have received fellowships with foster-care focused ventures are Amy Lemley of First Place For Youth, a transitional housing resource based in Oakland, Ca, and Justin Pasquariello of Adoption and Foster Care Mentoring, which matches adopted and foster care youth in the Boston area with a mentor. Lemly won in 1998 and Pasquariello in 2002, according to Galinsky.
This was the largest applicant pool on record, with 3,509 applicants, Echoing Green communicated to the 2012 fellows in an e-mail.
“When I got it, I got a lot of Facebook posts and e-mails with congratulations,” said Cox, who co-founded iFoster with her husband, Reid. “I think it brings a lot of credibility to what we’re doing and I think it brings a lot of networks and resources to help you grow.”
Cox was originally a finalist for Echoing Green’s Black Male Achievement (BMA) Fellowship, as iFoster’s work deals heavily with the overrepresented number of black youths in foster care. The BMA Fellowship provides a $70,000 stipend for 18 months. But Echoing Green decided to move them to the other fellowship at the eleventh hour.
Cox was also awarded a National Urban Fellowship (NUF) in September of last year, which she says was instrumental in helping her receive the Echoing Green Fellowship. Two NUF fellows put her in contact with former Echoing Green Fellowship finalists, who she says were able to make the intensive application process easier.
“I got to talk to them to see what the process was going to be like because [Echoing Green] puts you through the ringer with panel interviews and the whole process, so it was really helpful,” said Cox.
Cox said the application process included a one minute pitch, videotaped interviews, one on one grilling interviews about iFoster’s finances and sustainability, and two series of panel interviews with 3 panelists on each panel, many of whom were experts in child welfare.
Cox says she hopes the fellowship will allow iFoster to not only aggregate more resources within the child welfare system but educate business and organizations outside of child welfare about the foster care system and give them opportunities to become advocates.
“We hope that in two years we have engaged the entire child welfare community from government agencies to the youth and everyone in between and we are providing transparency to existing resources inside the system and bringing new voices outside of child welfare and individual resources to contribute,” said Cox.