Three Middlebury alumni stood out to me during this fall’s speaker series at the Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship,: Chris Lloyd ’83 (Executive Director, Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility at Verizon Communications), Lindsey Franklin ’07 (Program Manager, New Media Ventures), and John McKinley ’04 (Global Fellows Manager, Acumen Fund).
They were standouts because I found a common thread of wisdom that stitched together their separate commentaries about the entrepreneurial spirit. This unifying strand is a useful guide for the Middlebury student looking to lead a life of meaning.
Chris Lloyd is a self-defined intrapreneur at Verizon. He discussed a shift in the corporate culture and how they (Verizon) were using their technology to create what he termed Shared Value. His guiding question: “How do we leverage the transformational power of our networks, technology, and people to create long-term share-holder value and address the critical unmet needs of the communities we serve?” But the question, the fundamental question, he actually tries to address at Verizon is: What is the formula for creating the entrepreneurial spirit? Because the entrepreneurial spirit – what some call the “go-getter attitude” – is the key to bringing about change he seeks.
The following week, Lindsey Franklin stepped into Axinn 219 with an answer to Chris’s fundamental question. She discussed the career that led her to her current work with New Media Ventures and how failure was a fundamental driver on that path. Her argument? It’s all about failure, reassessment, and repeated iteration. The key to fostering the entrepreneurial spirit is buying into the possibility of failure, embracing that possibility, and forging ahead despite it.
As inspiring as both Lindsey and John were, there was still something missing for me, though I didn’t know it until John McKinley came to speak at the final event of the fall speaker series. He argued that it’s not just the entrepreneurial spirit that is the goal, but rather the social entrepreneurial spirit. The Acumen Fund – where John works – believes that social change emerges at the intersection of moral imagination, financial skills, and operational skills. Of the three components, moral imagination is the most important. Moral imagination is a combination of audacity and humility; it is having the audacity to empathize with those who are oppressed by poverty and involve oneself in the solution-making process. Once there, it is having the humility to listen to the oppressed in the search for solutions.
We at Middlebury are given tremendous opportunity. But to whom much is given, much is expected. It is our duty to use this opportunity as a powerful platform from which to leverage positive social change. Chris, Lindsey, and John – three committed Middlebury alumni – have set the bar high. But they’ve also laid out a clear path towards making positive social change and ultimately, to leading a meaningful life. It’s all about having the entrepreneurial spirit, a certain fearlessness in the face of prospective failure, and an active moral imagination.
This post was written by guest blogger, Will Henriques ’16.