Jennifer Brandel


Photo Credit: Adrian Hallauer


Jennifer Brandel is a systems entrepreneur. She is the Co-founder & CEO of Hearken, which supports organizations with training and technology for participatory processes. Hearken took home the prize for "Best Bootstrap Company" at SXSW and won the News Media Alliance Accelerator. Brandel received the Media Changemaker Prize by the Center for Collaborative Journalism, was named one of 30 World-Changing Women in Conscious Business, is a Columbia Sulzberger Fellow, an RSA Fellow, a member of the Guild of Future Architects and the National Civic Collaboratory. She is a sought-after keynote speaker both in the US and internationally.

Brandel led the creation, fundraising and execution of Election SOS, a $2m collaborative initiative to support journalist’s critical information needs around the 2020 US elections. In 2022, she created Democracy SOS to support newsrooms making long-term culture shifts in political coverage. Brandel founded and led the ground-breaking audience-first journalism series Curious City at WBEZ Chicago — the newsroom's most successful local program to date. Her writing on journalism and innovation has been featured in The Columbia Journalism Review, Niemanlab and Harvard Business Review.

Brandel is also a co-founder of Zebra’s Unite, a global movement and network of entrepreneurs, funders, investors and allies creating a more ethical, inclusive and collaborative ecosystem for mission-based startups. She co-founded Civic Exchange Chicago which unites civic startups in a collaborative learning community, and Dance Dance Party Party, a women-only, body-positive, free-form dance gathering that has spread to 20 countries.

She splits time between Chicago and Los Angeles with her husband, daughter and pooch. When she's not working or sleeping she is likely to be found at documentary film festivals, cooking, or taking long strolls and attempting to absorb the beauty of this world.

Candidacy Statement

“Why do you believe you would be a great Board Member for this phase of Zebras Unite Co-op"

There are three quotes that capture the energy and spirit I want to bring to the Zebras Unite LCA Board. I'll use them to illustrate what compels me to serve on the board.

"When something can't be fixed, then the question is: What can we build instead?" - Mariame Kaba

In 2015, not long after starting my own tech-enabled company, Hearken, I began to get a sneaking suspicion that the investment ecosystem I was entering was fundamentally broken. It rewarded the wrong incentives, and incentives that if left unchecked, had the power to destroy lives, society and the world itself.

The patterns and signals I started to pick up on, were no doubt being picked up on by others. Gratefully I was already in a friendship with Mara Zepeda (MD of Zebras Unite) and in beginning to compare notes, realized something: I was not alone, and that there are people out there with the energy and vision to build something instead.

Which brings me to quote 2:

"When you see people call themselves revolutionary, always talking about destroying, destroying, destroying but never talking about building or creating, they're not revolutionary. They do not understand the first thing about revolution. It's creating." - Kwame Ture

While it was easy as a first step to just point out all of the flaws in the current system, we knew that critique and tearing down would not lead to change. We needed to be brave and bold enough to articulate a different vision and to roll our sleeves up and start creating. 10,000 hours, Google docs, pitches and late night dreaming sessions, here we are.

Which brings me to the final quote:

"The ultimate, hidden truth of the world, is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently." - David Graeber

I think about this every day. And I see this quote realized and demonstrated in so many facets of Zebras Unite - from how we concocted a multi-org structure to create the possibility for a circular economy, to how we govern and relate to one another, to how we push ourselves to not accept the status quo on any level, despite the pain and effort it takes to consider and enact alternatives.

As a "dazzle doula" - one of the four founders of Zebras Unite, I'll bring these core qualities that were needed in our birthing phase to the LCA board as we move into the next phase of maturity. I will be focused on making sure we can still identify what's broken (not only in the broader systems we're trying to change, but in any processes or approaches we're taking), being generative in how to create and execute alternatives and to always reminding ourselves that even as a young organization, we can always make this movement differently as the needs emerge and form take shape.

Another skill I'll bring to the board is my journalistic sensibility, and my extreme note-taking :) to capture the goings on of our thinking, decisions and share it with the zebra community so they may be part of shaping this effort collectively.

Thank you for your support and I look forward to meeting more LCA members!