Drew Foxman was close to launching his organization Giant Steps when he decided to participate in the Middlebury Institute’s award-winning Frontier Market Scouts (FMS) impact investing and social enterprise management training program in 2016. “I didn’t know much about impact investment, and felt that this would help build out my knowledge of the social sector.” During his training he connected with one of the instructors, Morgan Simon. She is the founder of multiple organizations such as the Responsible Endowments Coalition, Toniic, and Transform Finance. Foxman went on to secure a placement with Morgan’s firm, PI Investments, and was actually able to use some of the financing from this work to launch Giant Steps.
“I grew up in a jazz family,” says Foxman whose father is a scientist and a passionate jazz enthusiast. But it wasn’t until studying abroad in Paris that Foxman really started to appreciate jazz music himself. A friend introduced him to John Coltrane’s album “Giant Steps” and he started to listen to as much jazz music as he could. “I even met John Coltrane’s son and had the chance to work with him.”
After finishing his undergraduate degree and traveling the world, he returned to California and started working with the San Francisco Jazz Festival (SFJazz). “They set up an education department, and I was hired as the third employee. I had a rare opportunity to build out the community development through a variety of outreach and education programs, working with everyone from privileged, talented, and high-performing young musicians, and also with at-risk youth in the violent neighborhoods of San Francisco.”
“I decided to launch Giant Steps with the concept that is closest to my heart,” Foxman explains. The flagship program of his organization is called Music Action Lab, an international platform bringing together musical innovators for creative collaboration with the goal of producing original music and art addressing and advancing global social issues. “For me, I was really interested in creating and expanding movements with music.”
Foxman says there is an undeniable connection between music and impact. “Historically, slavery, oppression, forced migration, all played a prominent role in music’s evolution and in fact led to many of the western world’s music genres, especially jazz and reggae. Music has also been a huge catalyst in all the human rights movements—whether it’s the civil rights movement in the US, apartheid, the fall of the Eastern Bloc, or the Arab Spring.”
This spring will see the release of their first album “Foundation.” The plan is to build a catalog of social action recordings, and for every album to have a specially designed curriculum to go with it. “Giant Steps has the vision of creating a new global music genre dedicated to advancing social justice and a whole generation of musical social entrepreneurs and activists.”
Foxman says he really benefitted from participating in the Frontier Market Scouts program and learned a lot from the instructors. “The cohort was outstanding. It was representative of multiple backgrounds and experiences. One person had been running USAID projects for 20 years, there were graduate students with experience on every continent, I could go on and on. Additionally, everyone helped build a really supportive community. I liked how open people were, and how willing they were to learn from each other. I felt like the FMS was a microcosm of what development and impact work should be like.”