The Elephant's in the Details

Author: Katelin Cortney, Guest Writer

An age-old parable tells the tale of six blind men (or mice as adapted for children’s books) who set out to uncover an unknown “something” that arrived in their village. The men return from their own individual encounters with the mystery to report their findings to the group. Each details a wildly different experience: one describes a rope—another, a tree. But when they bring their collective observations together, a clear picture emerges of an elephant­—but not just simply an elephant—a creature of majesty and power, with legs as sturdy as tree trunks and a tail that swings like a rope. Philosophers have provided different takes over the years about what we should take from this story. To me, it illustrates not only that we need each other to make sense of the big picture, but also that we need each other to fully encounter the details.


While LEO and their partner organizations work to solve poverty, each partner brings specialized and necessary knowledge to the collective table. They know that what we can see individually is just as important as what we cannot. Partners are able to honor and provide color from their unique experiences, oftentimes in ways that would have been missed entirely even if the Elephant, if you will, was right in front of them. 

In this piece, we’re taking a look at what you get when you pull together a myriad of talented perspectives across industries, all of whom have a part to play in solving poverty.

Shana’s energy is contagious. The kind where even if the cameras are off, you can feel the power and a spirited persona by voice. Shana Berkeley is the Executive Director of Corner to Corner (C2C), a 11-year-old Nashville-based nonprofit whose portfolio of services include The Academy, a ten-week entrepreneurial training program that teaches Black entrepreneurs how to plan, start, and grow their own small business. C2C is now one of LEO’s newest partners, joining in just April of this year.

Here in the United States, only 0.5% of Black women own a small business, compared to 13% of White men. As Shana points out, this is “not a talent gap, it’s an opportunity gap. ”Of the participants at C2C, 84% of the graduates are Black women.  

Here in the United States, only 0.5% of Black women own a small business, compared to 13% of White men. As Shana points out, this is “not a talent gap, it’s an opportunity gap. ”Of the participants at C2C, 84% of the graduates are Black women.

A cornerstone of The Academy is that it isn’t necessarily a high-volume or grow-quick program. While it can help those who want to do so, The Academy equips graduates to launch businesses on their own terms. “Our desire is to help our neighbors to flourish, whether they want to substantially scale a business, or find a more modest market niche,” she says. 

Corner To Corner Academy Graduation
Corner to Corner Academy Graduation

Her success stories include restaurant owners, service providers, niche experiences, and a businesswoman who will clear $1M in only her fourth year. 

How amazing, right?

But Fran Gallagher, Project Development Manager at LEO, tells me something that I wasn’t expecting. LEO said “no” when C2C first applied to be a partner. This wasn’t because they didn’t believe in the work, but because of the rigorous research LEO does, they needed to achieve a sample size threshold to ensure the integrity of the results. For C2C, that meant 3,000 participants over three years’ time. To reach those numbers, C2C needed to double the number of applications for The Academy—a daunting task.

“The number one reason LEO projects fail is because we cannot get enough people in the study,” says Fran. “Therefore, one of the biggest reasons for denials of partnership are from lack of confidence in recruitment, and the domino effect thereafter.”

But on the sidelines, ideas were brewing, and C2C wasn’t taking no for an answer.

When C2C reapplied to be a partner the following year, the momentum was more than flowing in their favor. Goldman Sachs was running a partner grant through their One Million Black Women initiative, and with LEO’s connections, C2C was able to hire a full-time recruitment specialist. Then, LEO and C2C sat down with JoyBrand Creative and Franchise for Good. JoyBrand, a marketing consultancy whose mission is to help online businesses double their revenue, capacity, and impact, found their way to LEO through another one of LEO’s partners named Dave Keil. He oversees Franchise for Good, which transforms the lives of scaling nonprofit businesses via best practices from a franchise system model. While the numbers weren’t there *yet*, Fran says LEO “knew it was a risk worth taking to pursue the project.” 

It was the first time LEO had engaged an outside marketing firm for one of their partners. And it was the first time in a long time that JoyBrand had agreed to work with a nonprofit. 

Laura Meyer, Growth Strategist at JoyBrand Creative, tells me how she was blown away by how sophisticated LEO and their approach to enrollment are. “I was expecting to have to sell them on strategies that are highly effective for for-profits, what I call ninja strategies.” 

But to her surprise, she found the executive team at LEO to not only get it, but want it. She agreed to meet the team at C2C to get a better feel for the clients. And that she did. “These women have star power, we can market this,” Laura says of Shana and her team.

For four months, JoyBrand, LEO, and C2C met in a creative-grind fashion to pull together their respective expertise and solve for the proverbial elephant. The needs for each organization were working in concert. For LEO, it was ensuring a partner could achieve the sample size needed in order to say something statistically significant about their impact. For JoyBrand, it was developing a sustainable and repeatable marketing strategy to achieve those recruitment numbers. For C2C, it was launching a successful study, the results of which will allow them to drive forward their mission and maximize the launch of Black-owned businesses.

To start, the team looked at the numbers. In C2C’s history, they had topped out at recruiting 230 individuals per enrollment period. These individuals had been hard-won by the teams’ interpersonal skills. There wasn’t a church, cookout, or community event they hadn’t visited to onboard new budding entrepreneurs. Perhaps more impressive, they had a solitary staff member, who’d only been with C2C for six months, responsible for this uptake. 

But this strategy didn’t play well into “scarcity, urgency, and providing value up front”—three things Laura knew were needed to augment enrollment numbers. They needed a strategic model that was laser-focused, repeatable, and consistent; in this manner they could actually predict future recruitment success better. 

Then, JoyBrand helped develop a one-hour free masterclass that shared the first three things to know about starting a small business. Shana tells me in this way, “we garnered hundreds of people who were interested, but didn’t want to join in until they knew if we were going to be good.” In addition to the masterclass enrollment funnel, JoyBrand assisted in the creation of a free e-book and organizing an in-person mixer that reflected the creativity and passion C2C infused into their own programs so that people could get a feel for the excitement and possibility of their culture. 

 “Working with JoyBrand challenged us to be more creative, and gave us the tools and vocabulary to “plan better and ensure the most important thing—a true depth of relationship with those we were recruiting,” says Shana.

JoyBrand’s strategies worked. C2C managed to pull in 444 applications in 10 weeks this summer, nearly doubling what they were capable of beforehand. And just in time as their research study launched in August of 2022.

“I get so excited about the whole thing,” says Fran. “They have such an incredible mission, and we really wanted to work with them. I thought, how are they possibly going to get these numbers? And they did!”  

 “Coupled with what they brought to the table, we worked together to move at the speed of relationships and build trust rather than the speed of efficiency,” says Shana.

I asked Shana what’s next for C2C. “Our goal is to launch 10,000 Black-owned businesses in Nashville,” she says with fervor.  With the newest strategies in place, it looks like they will. They don’t seem to take no for an answer, and mercifully, neither does LEO.

Because of the success in partnering with JoyBrand and Franchise for Good to augment recruitment numbers for C2C, LEO sees an even bigger picture ahead. While JoyBrand may have once served as a triage unit, LEO is testing the model of onboarding marketing help at the onset of a project with a couple of other partners as we speak. LEO is also launching a project to gain a deeper understanding about the reasons for low take-up in non-profit programs and Marci Ybarra, LEO faculty affiliate, is leading the effort. Read more about this project here.

Whereas the term research can have a stigma for being off site—sterile even—LEO’s model proves otherwise. When you bring the perspectives of the partners to the table and engage in a participatory and hands-on way, you see the detail in the ropes and tree trunks AND you see the Elephant. LEO’s dedication to listening and learning, collaborating alongside partners, and elevating each partners’ perspective with integrity and confidence are what bring about the bigger picture. With the elephant as the sum of its unique parts in view, the even bigger work of solving poverty is now clearer.