Jessy Tolkan, CEO & President, Drive Agency, is propelled to ideate, support, and put out into the world programs that, at their core, create a better and more sustainable world. By putting people at the center of her work, she roots all aspects of Drive Agency in equity and justice. Jessy is a positive disrupter- pushing everyone from foundations, donors, and large corporations to embed women’s rights, human rights, and improved sustainable mechanisms into their central processes. She seeks to elevate idea creators’ and movement organizers’ voices so that those doing the hard can receive recognition and further spread awareness and knowledge about their vital work. Jessy is also an ardent supporter and amplifier of youth voices. Garnering her start as a youth climate activist, she understands and seeks to find avenues to include youth movement voices in global change-making.
Armed with such a unique ideology, the pioneering leader has founded Drive Agency as a vehicle for unlocking transformative social impact in the world. “We believe in a world where everyone can leverage their personal agency to manifest the change they want to see. We are a diverse team of inspired and committed strategists, campaigners, and creatives who champion the power of dynamic and disruptive approaches that manifest an equitable and just future,” she says.
Driven by impact, fueled by a fierce commitment to justice, and grounded in an unshakable belief that the power of everyday people can transform the world around them, Drive Agency is up for the journey it takes to make BIG things happen. They work hard in the service of making change and also work hard to give themselves and their partners the space to live healthy and balanced lives. This is why Drive Agency works Monday through Thursday and takes off one month each summer. Drive’s work, like so many social impact companies, leads on projects that aim to improve the everyday lives of people globally, which is what grounds Drive Agency to lead by example by providing all employees the space and time to be engaged citizens and people first.
“Creating an openly communicative network of female leaders who bring one another into the exciting and boundary pushing work we lead on is important, “ Jessy explains. A key facet of how Drive Agency operates is, rather than expecting a small group of in-house staff to be knowledgeable of a global expanse of issue areas and technical specialties, and they bring in issue and role area experts to complete segments of each project. When determining who can be a valuable partner on each piece of work, looking first at strong female led organizations is a proud tenant of Drive. “Providing the space for women led companies to demonstrate their vast array of skills is usually all they need. These female leaders then can demonstrate the work that speaks for itself and can further evolve their connections.”
Jessy not only leads Drive Agency but also sits on a number of Boards, on which she leads and mentors many women. As the Founder of Drive Agency, Jessy looks to partner with clients and contractors who value women’s voices, including women’s empowerment in their vision for a better future, and understand the diversity amongst women’s voices. Over Jessy’s 20 years as a movement builder and change maker, she has often partnered with youth organizations, connecting them to large global corporations that value young peoples’ views and recommendations. In these engagements, Jessy has built numerous mentoring structures for young women to be mentored by some of the leading figures in business and therefore gain access to areas that were previously all-male.
Culminating as a Successful Leader
Success has been a journey for the pioneering leader and not a destination. “I feel so fortunate that I’ve been able to feel and experience success in so many different forms over the course of my 20-year career,” she elucidates. “From the early days of measuring success by the number of voters I registered on the UW-Madison Campus to more recent victories of unlocking millions of dollars of philanthropic resources to address issues ranging from the climate crisis to human rights – I find success to be something that can be appreciated in so many different ways.”
Throughout her journey, the biggest leadership lesson she has learned is that one should not assume that someone, particularly the male bosses, is looking out for anyone’s best interests. Advancement in one’s career cannot rely on waiting for opportunities to be offered – ONE HAS TO BE THEIR OWN BEST ADVOCATE! “It can be uncomfortable to ask for a raise, to ask for equity or partnership – but you must believe in yourself and have the confidence to make a case for what you deserve.”
Building a Brand
The achievement Jessy and her team are currently most proud of are bridging the gap between the fierce and passionate world of youth activism and the corporate sector. “These two groups of people might appear, on the surface, to have polar opposite interests, but our model of convening and bridge building has demonstrated the power of bringing together strange bedfellows,” she explains. “The scale of the problems our world currently faces requires that we have an openness to reaching beyond those who are like us – to build the power and entirely new types of partnerships in the world.”
Drive Agency is working for a more just and equitable world. This is the work of many lifetimes, and Jessy and her team are humbled by chance to leave their small footprint on this work. They are laser-focused on doing everything humanly possible to address the climate crisis in a way that builds just and equitable outcomes for all the world’s inhabitants. “This will require engagement from every country, every individual, every government, and likely most institutions on the planet – and when we win and defeat this horrific plague – we will prove to ourselves that cooperation, innovation, and coming together can achieve absolutely anything!”
Drive Agency proudly has clients that are some of the world’s largest corporate leaders. When working with large corporations with global influence and reach, it is also important to underline their global responsibility. While many large corporations have top-level research, data, and marketing, Drive Agency works to contextualize the numbers by illuminating the communities they represent, the areas of need they pertain to, and the possibilities for change. Partnering with local and regional organizations with a wealth of experience in an area and community is also a key aspect of how Drive Agency approaches its work. Rather than co-opting the knowledge of others and incorporating it into projects, Drive seeks to directly bring in local and regional actors to give voice to their work and area of expertise
“Drive Agency is going to continue to wake up every day, as a woman-owned, woman powered firm – dedicated to pushing the limits of the possible, and not being afraid to fail in pursuit of BIG BOLD TRANSFORMATIVE change. It remains to be seen exactly where that will take us, but we sure are up for the ride!” adds Jessy.