Innovation Excellence: Enrichment Services Program embraced change to help end poverty
Meet the Innovator:
Belva Dorsey, CEO, Enrichment Services Program
Belva Dorsey is CEO of Enrichment Services Program (ESP), a community action agency based in Columbus, Georgia. She’s been with ESP for about 20 years; she started as a center manager in the organization’s head start program and then advanced through the organization.
How did you end up in nonprofit?
My mom’s side of the family – my mom, grandmother, grandfather, great aunt – were all teachers. My grandfather was a school principal. I wanted to be in a helping profession, but I needed to know that whatever I accomplished was based on my own talents and skills and abilities; that I “earned my own stripes.” I wanted to make my own path, not follow theirs.
I started as a biology major, but the elective classes in social sciences really stuck with me. I became very interested in people and understanding behavior; why people do what they do. I changed my major to focus on social sciences and that led me to the nonprofit sector.
Interestingly, part of what I do now – and what I enjoy most – is sharing information with others and teaching.
Why is innovation important to nonprofits?
Change is constant. To be relevant and impactful, nonprofits have to be innovative. We have to find opportunities to meet changing needs in changing environments. Customers are different today and they want to receive services and support in new ways. They want to communicate with staff differently.
It’s really important to me that people don’t limit “innovation” to technology. You can be innovative without technology being the main focus or the end product you create. You can be innovative in other ways, too.
How do you find inspiration?
I’m inspired by the families we serve. I think about the challenges they face – at no fault of their own. They didn’t decide to live in poverty.
My life mission has been to help people. People are facing barriers and need opportunities – and I can do something to help.
What’s one of the biggest challenges you faced in your project?
Change is difficult and some staff members resisted; they said the “old way” was better. It was challenging to sift through the issues to determine whether they were true “glitches” versus natural human resistance.
It was really important to communicate the purpose and the ‘why’ behind what we were doing. Resistance is a natural part of the process. When you come up against it, remembering your ‘why’ and your purpose gives you the fuel to move forward.
What’s the best part of your job?
One of the best parts of my job is talking with leaders of other organizations who have a desire to get where we are. I enjoy being able to share what we’ve learned and some of the joys and pains we went through. I love being able to support other peers and organizations.