By Evan Deutsch
The Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) hosted its seventh annual meeting from March 21-23, 2014 at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. Directed by President Bill Clinton, Secretary Hillary Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton, the conference brought together more than 1,100 student leaders who collectively made nearly 700 Commitments to Action in CGI U’s focus areas of education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, and public health.
This year, six promising Middlebury College students had the opportunity to attend the CGI U meeting with the support of Community Engagement and the Center for Social Entrepreneurship. The Midd attendees included Daniela Barajas ’14.5, Priscilla Makundi ’16, Roksana Gabidullina ’16, Rabeya Jawaid ’16, Martin Naunov ’17, and James Sun ’17. Armel Nibasumba ’16, recipient of Middlebury’s Davis Project for Peace prize, also attended the conference for a second time.
Throughout the action-packed three days, students attended plenary sessions, working sessions, and other events covering topics across CGI U’s five focus areas. A number of youth organizations, topic experts, and even celebrities joined students at CGI U. Beyond scheduled events, all attendees were able to network with peers, build skills, and identify potential partnerships.
Martin Naunov, a freshman from Macedonia involved in the Middlebury Stop Traffick organization, expressed enthusiasm about the connections he made at CGI U. “The conference allowed me to meet people who are interested in the politics of the Balkan, establishing networks needed for a career I hope to pursue, straddling the highest levels of international relations and politics of Macedonia,” he explained.
Daniela Barajas ’14.5 and Priscilla Makundi ’16 echoed Martin’s reflections. “The connections that we made with undergraduate and graduate students as well as professionals will definitely be very valuable as we seek advice in the development and implementation of our project,” the young women explained. The conference provided them with “a firm foundation to take off and excel” with their women’s entrepreneurship training project in Arusha, Tanzania.
Students at CGI U also appreciated the perspectives that lent a healthy alternative to overused leadership rhetoric. For example, CSE Fellow Rabeya Jawaid ’16 shared her favorite lesson from the weekend from Reeya Roy, CEO of the Mastercard Foundation: “Leadership begins in quietness. Leadership happens when you are alone in your room at college editing a video when everyone else is at a party, when you organize a meeting and drag people to it. It is not about being on stage, it is not about being under a bright light. It is about shining light on critical issues that the world is facing.”
CSE Platforms for Hope 2013 summer grant recipient Roksana Gabidullina ’16 benefitted from the thought-provoking questions posed at the conference. “What should I do? How should I tackle the problem I wanted to solve? Does Platforms for Hope want to use a new model or continue a model that was proven to work?” she asked herself. Gabidullina noted that, ultimately, CGI U instilled in her confidence and determination. “The energy of the participants and the support from them electrified me.”
James Sun ’17 approached the CGI U conference from a slightly different angle. While he attended inspiring addresses and workshops, he focused primarily on the CGI U Social Ventures Challenge, a pitching competition to win a spot as a Resolution Fellow. Sun was selected to present his project, Empower with Code, and ultimately earned a spot as a Fellow. The process also informed Sun on potential improvements to his project. “As I discussed Empower with Code with [the] judges, I realized that at $200-$250 per student, my costs were in fact not as scalable as I had previously imagined,” he explained. “This prompted me to find new ways to provide technology to low-income youth without reducing the quality of the technology that’s going to empower them post-program.”
The final day of the conference engaged attendees in a Day of Action in the local community. The closing plenary featured inspirational words from President Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Phoenix, AZ Mayor Greg Stanton, former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and former astronaut Mark Kelly. President Clinton challenged the audience, reminding everyone that “Good things always happen to those of us who work relentlessly at something.” Indeed, CGI U attendees are working relentlessly at a lot of things. We look forward to seeing the good things that come of it.
“Marketing the Planet”
Howard E. Woodin ES Colloquium – Terry Kellogg ’94
By Otto Nagengast ‘17
In 2002, two successful businessmen and devoted environmentalists, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, and Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies, founded 1% for the Planet. The rationale for the initiative was simple: use business as an engine of positive environmental change. Companies who join the organization commit to giving one percent of their sales directly to environmental non-profits.
From 21 partner companies in 2002 to 1200 today, 1% Percent for the Planet has become a leader in the environmental movement. In the 12 years since its inception, 1% has raised over $100 million for environmental non-profits, and the organization predicts that it will raise $24 million in this year alone. Terry Kellogg joined 1% in 2005 and is now Chief Impact Officer. On Thursday, April 3, Terry came to Middlebury to share the behind-the-scenes story of the success of 1% for the Planet.
Terry began by giving the brutal truth about the environmental movement in the US. The total amount of money that goes towards environmental causes in this country is only 0.02 percent of the economy. Along with limited funding, the environmental movement faces a host of other challenges such as: low awareness of environmental problems, few solutions to those problems, and lack of clear leadership. However, according to Terry, these challenges are not insurmountable.
Terry cited numerous reasons for hope including: increasing collaboration, the empowerment of many individuals to take action, and, most of all, innovation. Terry has been so successful because he is always willing to adapt.
He gave an example. Several years ago, Coca-Cola partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to launch a new project called Coke Arctic Home. The aim of the project was to preserve the polar bear’s dwindling artic habitat. Terry was skeptical. He felt that that the impact of the initiative would fall short of its ambitious aims. Part of the project was a special line of Coke cans that advertised Coke Arctic Home in order to raise awareness. The organization monitored public opinion about the arctic using 70 metrics, and they found that the initiative ultimately moved public perception about the arctic seven percent. In other words, around 23 million more Americans became concerned about the arctic because of the Coke Arctic Home initiative.
Terry was stunned. He realized that 1% for the Planet had to adopt a new approach. Instead of harnessing merely businesses’ revenues to help the environment, 1% could harness a business’ name. Now, companies can make product-level commitments to fulfill their promise of ‘one percent’ for the environment by incorporating environmental causes into their products.
1% has been successful because they have come to learn their audience, and, thus, how to engage their audience. 1% has moved from a rational to an emotional tone of message, appealing to people’s hearts instead of their minds. Also, instead of scaring their audience into caring about the environment using daunting images of environmental degradation, 1% now reaches out to people using positive messages of hope, humor, and love.
Many believe that the preservation of the environment is the single greatest challenge for us today. Terry fully understands this, and he works passionately and humbly to find the best way to harness the power of business to create positive environmental change. But he is also aware of the enormity and complexity of the issue, as well as his limited role in addressing it. Terry concluded his talk with a quote from Rabbi Tarfon that reveals a great deal about Terry’s perspective on his role in preserving the environment: “You are not expected to complete the task, neither are you allowed to put it down.”
Advancing and Assessing Social Entrepreneurship at Middlebury College
Association of American Colleges & Universities, April 2014
Middlebury College has a long-standing commitment to encouraging students to apply their learning beyond the classroom and develop a sense of social responsibility. Since 2007, the college has made a particular effort to provide more opportunities for students to pursue social entrepreneurship—to identify real-world problems and, with guidance from faculty, mentors, and community partners, develop their own ventures to address these problems. As a result, the 2012-13 academic year saw more than 1,400 Middlebury students participating in some form of community-based learning—over half the undergraduate student population.
Just as notable as these high participation rates, though, are the assessments the college is developing to ensure students are achieving the important—and famously hard to measure—learning outcomes related to social entrepreneurship and community engagement. “It’s not assessment for assessment’s sake,” says Susan Baldridge, vice president for planning and assessment at Middlebury. Faculty and staff are constantly feeding the data back into the program to improve student learning. Their driving concern is, “How is it we can do better what we care deeply about?”
Liberating Students from Constraining Frameworks
Middlebury faculty have long incorporated community-based learning across the curriculum, but when Ron Liebowitz became president of the college he pushed faculty and staff to redouble their efforts and to provide more opportunities for students to engage in community-based work outside of the curriculum. One initiative was the Project on Creativity and Innovation in the Liberal Arts, which serves as a central hub to support “structured, systematic initiatives at the college level that encourage the development of creative, innovative skills.”
PCI supported the creation of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship (CSE), which sponsors workshops, speaker series, mentoring opportunities, and competitive grants and fellowships to help students develop their own projects and initiatives to promote social change. Students can also get a foundation in social entrepreneurship through a series of courses taught by Jon Isham, an economics professor and the faculty director for the CSE. Isham teaches a January term course focused on entrepreneurship in the liberal arts and , a first-year seminar on social entrepreneurship and social justice. Starting next year, another economics professor will teach a new course on the history of entrepreneurship.
MiddCORE also emerged out of the PCI initiatives. MiddCORE is a month-long immersion course—during a January term or a summer session—in which students from various institutions work individually and in teams to complete a series of challenges that test their ability to identify social problems and develop potential solutions. The program now offers one-day workshops as well. Representatives from partnering community organizations are heavily involved, posing real-world challenges and serving as mentors to the students.
There’s an organic flow of students between the various programs sponsored by PCI, CSE, and MiddCORE. Students participating in one program are often inspired to join another, or to create their own social projects with the mentorship of faculty and community partners. The Old Stone Mill, a newly renovated building just off campus, provides work space for students launching ventures or pursuing creative projects, often with mentorship from faculty or community partners. These programs grew out of “a sense that our students were handcuffed by the curriculum and were unable to try stuff out, bear risk, and be creative,” Isham says. “Credits still matter, but a lot of this is about liberating students to try things they never would have otherwise.”
|Because social entrepreneurship entails working multiple stakeholders in unconstrained circumstances, the learning outcomes must also be unconstrained, and a variety of assessment measures are needed to capture student learning.
Assessing Learning Outcomes
Because students’ participation often occurs outside of their more traditional curricular involvement, “it can be hard to disentangle what they get from those kinds of experiences—through their civic engagement—from the effects of their classes, their major, who they were when they walked in the door,” says Susan Baldridge, vice president for planning and assessment at Middlebury. It’s an issue faculty and staff face when conducting any kind of assessment, she says, but it’s not impossible to overcome. First and foremost, faculty and staff in any program need to clearly articulate their learning goals—“because our assessments are only as good as our understanding of the purpose of the program,” she says. “That process of defining the goals often turns out to be the most meaningful work of assessment.”
MiddCORE faculty and staff discovered this as they refined a new survey to assess students’ progress on the program’s CORE Strength learning outcomes. Working with Adela Langrock, a senior assessment specialist at Middlebury, they developed a survey that asks students to rate their confidence in certain skills and abilities, both before and after they’ve completed the MiddCORE program. “When we began developing the survey, we had very global statements—communication, leadership, these high-order skills,” Langrock says. “But what does, say, leadership mean? Different people will have different interpretations. We need to be more concrete as to what it is you are actually interested in measuring. That’s when we started breaking them down into different skills and components—speaking, listening, reconciling disagreement, all these different pieces.”
The refined survey administered at the end of January term 2013 asked students to rate their confidence on thirty-six different competencies. It’s still an indirect measure of learning, Langrock stresses, but it provides better baseline data to help faculty think about where students are growing as a result of the program. As they continue to administer the survey and amass a larger pool of data, long-term trends may emerge that could shed light on how MiddCORE serves students at different stages in their college career or from different majors (the program is open to all majors and can be completed at any stage from freshman year to up to four years after graduation).
Catherine Collins, associate director of MiddCORE, also stresses that because students are working on unconstrained problems, the learning outcomes will also be unconstrained. “There are so many different pieces with this work in social innovation,” she says. “If students are working with a community organization on a challenge, there are several different stakeholders and several different outcomes. The project can take on many forms and it’s ambiguous at times; they may converge on an idea and then realize it’s inaccurate and they need a new approach. As a result, we may intend for a student to learn how to communicate and negotiate, and surely they do, but there are also other variables and outcomes that actually emerge.” She continued, “because of that complexity, we have to constantly curate new assessment methods. We collect personal narratives, hold focus groups, and we have to circle back five years out—because some of what our students learn they’ll realize after they leave the classroom.”
Liz Robinson, director of PCI, also found this to be the case while conducting focus groups with alumni to discuss how their work after college has been informed by their participation in these programs. Alumni mentioned specific skills they developed—public speaking, organization, leadership, the ability to connect and network—but the big thing they emphasized “across all our programs—CSE, MiddCORE, PCI—is that mentorship is key.” Alumni also reported that after working on community-based projects, their ability to process and take action on what they learned in the classroom improved, “and that continued after they graduated—they became better learners.”
Isham is involved in a project to assess the effectiveness of independent student ventures both qualitatively and quantitatively. Middlebury is a participating college in the Davis Projects for Peace, which offers grants to college students from around the country to work over the summer on projects addressing the root causes of conflict around the world. “We converted self-evaluations by a hundred students from the 2008 cohort, with sixty variables we’re analyzing statistically. We’re also qualitatively assessing projects to see what works well. We determined it really helps if students know very well the area where they will work, and that it helps sustainability-wise to have a partner organization.” Middlebury offers a number of competitive grants for students who wish to pursue independent social ventures over the summer, and Isham says the lessons from the David Projects assessment can help inform the way faculty and staff design those other experiences.
Using Assessment to Improve Learning
Middlebury frames assessment as “instructive about the curriculum, not a judgment of people,” Baldridge says. “We see it as an internal process. I think that’s a more constructive way to do it.” Assessment experts like Langrock help faculty and staff running various programs identify patterns that can help them understand what students are learning.
“After every iteration, we’re looking at the data,” Collins says. “We’re constantly seeking how to design [MiddCORE] differently.” After seeing steady improvement in students’ self-assessments, MiddCORE staff are working with Langrock to develop modified versions of AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics to conduct direct assessment of student learning artifacts and compare those results with students’ self-assessments. Collins also asks the students themselves about how to improve the program. “At the end of the four-week course, we give students the curriculum and say, ‘you’re an expert in your own experience—redesign your MiddCORE experience for how you think we should do it next time.’”
That student involvement is the one of most important aspects of assessment, Robinson says. When she brings alumni to campus for focus groups, she makes a point of having them talk with students about new directions in their current field and how their work has been influenced by their experiences at Middlebury. “That’s the most valuable thing—that the students hear that,” she says. “The best thing we can do with our assessment is showcase it to our students so they understand … that these experiences they are having in college are important.”
A Key Pioneer in the Rise of Google
By Otto Nagengast ‘17
The Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Friday Speaker Series: March 14, 2014
In the late 1990s, Google started as no more than a useful search engine to navigate the nascent World Wide Web. A decade later, it has cemented itself as one of the giants of the Internet. Google’s transformation from a small business built on a single program to a multifaceted and innovative tech giant has captivated the world and inspired new generations of tech developers. Our Friday speaker, Kristen Morrissey Thiede, has been an instrumental part in the rise of Google.
After graduating from The College of the South, Kristen worked in political advertising. Her primary job was to buy radio and television time for political campaigns. With her experience in marketing, Kristen joined Google and worked to expand the company’s online advertising service. She quickly became one of the largest media buyers on the Internet, and her staff expanded to 40 people. Although already very successful, Kristen felt uncomfortable running an office in which many of the staff were older and more educated than her. Despite “hiring a boss to train [her],” she did not feel that her talents lied with managing people. She decided that she wanted to return to doing “the fringe stuff that no one had ever done before.” For the next year, she split her time between Google headquarters in San Francisco and countries with emerging economies, chiefly India and Brazil. She formed partnership with large media companies to advertise in their online content. She was so successful in establishing Google’s presence in these countries that Google eventually opened permanent offices in both places.
Kristen then brought her talents to the New Business Development Team, where she and her team were tasked with finding innovative ideas that would take Google into new areas. After the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2011, Eric Schmidt sent Kristen and a team to Haiti to improve communications in the massive relief effort. One of the team’s contributions was providing the most up-to-date maps of Haiti for free. With these maps, relief workers could tell what places needed help and how to get there, making their work more effective.
Kristen’s most recent post is leader of the Business Development Team of Google Fiber, which is one of Google’s newest and most ambitious projects. Google Fiber provides Internet and TV services at speeds 100 times faster than conventional high-speed Internet. The service currently exists in three cities, but there are plans to expand into dozens more in the near future, and Kristen is leading this expansion.
One of Kristen’s mottos is: “Be the first one to do it because you can’t do it wrong.” Yet, as she admits, she seems unlikely to have been such a pioneer in a giant tech company like Google. She studied Political Science in college, not Computer Science. She learned mathematics from Dummies’ Guides, not world-class mathematicians like many of her colleagues. What were the qualities that enabled Kristen to thrive at Google?
- No fear of failure
- Honesty—Kristen has been able to experiment with new ideas, evaluate the success of the ideas, reform or scrap the ideas, and honestly communicate the results of her work to others.
- Knows enough to be dangerous—She may not be as knowledgeable as her specialist colleagues in their respective fields, but she knows enough to be effective.
- Fast learner—Even if she does not know something, she can quickly pick it up.
- Can build a team—In a company filled with some of the sharpest minds on the planet, Kristen’s ability to inspire and enable others to do their best work has been an indispensible skill.
In addition to being a key member of Google, Kristen is a proud mother of three. Kristen has been a pioneer in a company known for pioneering, and it was truly a pleasure to learn from such a world-class entrepreneur.
Friday Speaker Series: Conor Shapiro ’03, President and CEO of the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation
Blog post by Otto Nagengast ’17
March 7, 2014
When Conor Shapiro landed in Haiti in 2003, he had just graduated from Middlebury College. He was in Haiti to teach English at a school run by a non-governmental organization, the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation (SBHF), in Fond des Blancs. He planned to stay in Haiti for only one year. As Conor described, chuckling, “It was typical liberal arts. I didn’t know where I was going.” Soon enough, Haiti gave him a direction that he has followed ever since.
He first visited Haiti in January 2002, missing two weeks of J-Term to go with his neighborhood church parish on a service trip. After returning to campus, he went to a talk from the now world-renowned Dr. Paul Farmer. This talk convinced Conor to go to Haiti. During his year teaching English in Fond des Blancs, AIDS was tearing through the country. Due to the lack of health systems, AIDS became a “death sentence.” Seeing the devastation and lack of unified response inspired Conor to enter the burgeoning field of global health.
After earning a Master’s in Public Health at Boston University, Conor returned to work with SBHF. Conor was named Director General of SBHF’s hospital in Fond des Blancs in 2009, just weeks before the 2010 earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, Conor helped to establish the SBHF’s spinal cord injury treatment center. In July 2011, Conor was appointed President and CEO of the organization.
Haiti has been called “The Republic of NGOs.” It is inundated with organizations there to make a difference, but often NGO work in Haiti is uncoordinated and redundant. In this environment, Conor and his colleagues are taking a new approach. Conor tries to provide the Haitian people with empowerment, not impose solutions. With this integrated approach, the people can have a large say in how the issues that affect their lives are addressed. Conor believes that the very core of sustainable development is empowering those being helped.
Here’s an example of Conor’s vision at work. Although the 2011 earthquake lasted only 55 seconds, it killed an estimated 250,000 people. When one looks at Port-au-Prince after the quake, it becomes clear why. Buildings collapsed into stacks of concrete pancakes, trapping people inside. Conor realized that after the earthquake workers still used the same unreliable construction techniques. Using resources close at hand, Conor reached out to one of the board members of SBHF who owns a construction company in Boston. Contractors from Boston now travel to Haiti to train contractors there.
Conor assesses the efficacy of development work on a straightforward notion: how has it helped the most vulnerable? By these standards, the SBHF is incredibly successful. In addition to founding what has become known as Haiti’s preeminent spinal cord injury treatment center, SBHF offers the only emergency obstetrics care (which includes the only three incubators) on Haiti’s southern peninsula, which is a catchment area of two million people.
Conor concluded with some advice to his fellow Midd kids who want to make a change in the world.
- “There is room for everyone at the table,” Conor said, “If everyone played the same role, that’d be scary…whatever you’re most passionate about can be brought to the most vulnerable.”
- Persistence is crucial, because development is not only hard and requires it, but “being there for the long haul builds up trust” with those you’re working with.
- Listen, learn, and adapt.
- Don’t get bogged down in traditional ways of looking at sustainability and cost-effectiveness. He cited the fight against AIDS as an example. Once people looked beyond the paradigm of treatment versus prevention, they saw that treatment was inherently preventative. The most important result of this was that ultimately “more lives were saved.”
Conor is the embodiment of what many Middlebury students aim to become. He is a broad-minded critical thinker who changes peoples’ lives day in and day out. It was a great pleasure to have Conor on campus, and we here at Middlebury wish him all the best in his work.
Written by CSE guest blogger Will Henriques ’16
The Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship kicked off the Spring Speaker Series last Friday with a talk by Ashoka Fellow Alisa Del Tufo.
Del Tufo spoke about her life-long work with communities, families, and individuals affected by domestic violence and her experiences in pursuing change around domestic violence policies and perception in communities. She has founded three different nonprofits that focus on the issues surrounding domestic violence: Sanctuary for Families, CONNECT, and most recently, the Threshold Collaborative.
Del Tufo picked up the thread of her story – “a long, winding road, not at all a straight road,” she warned – with the creation of her first non-profit, Sanctuary for Families. It was an organization founded “to help women [in New York City] regardless of their income and provide non-residential services…[Sanctuary for Families offered] victims legal aid, services for their children, and a transitional housing program with job training.”
Looking to understand domestic violence and find new ways of having conversations about domestic violence, Del Tufo embarked on a project in the late 1980’s to collect oral histories from 45 battered mothers answering the question: What is it like to be a mother in an abusive relationship?
The collection of powerful stories that emerged from Del Tufo’s oral history project led to the creation of a policy task force in New York City. The task force produced a report, Behind Closed Doors, and the city later adopted every single recommendation put forth in the report.
Alisa stepped away from this experience with a strong sense that meaningful change around domestic violence could only be made if the change was embedded within the suffering communities, and not in services delivered to or for the community by an external party; the community must own the issue.
With these lessons in mind, Alisa left Sanctuary for Families and founded her second non-profit, CONNECT, in 1993. CONNECT was created as “a training institute with a mission to expand the number of professionals and community members who have a deep understanding of the dynamics and consequences of violence in the family.”
Alisa eventually moved away from CONNECT to found the Threshold Collaborative, which “takes her work at the intersection of domestic violence, child welfare, and community well-being to the national level.” The Threshold Collaborative “focuses on the root causes of these problems (poverty and trauma, sexism, and racism) by working with communities to develop local strategies to support safety for individuals/families and to build community assets.”1 According to the project’s website, the “Threshold Collaborative uses stories to promote personal, organizational and community change.”
Alisa concluded her talk with some valuable advice for the assembled students poised and eager to foster social change:
“Once of the best skills I ever learned was how to write a grant proposal. I knew what my vision was, and I learned how to communicate it. So first, learn to communicate your vision. And second, do! Produce something, move forward with your project. Understand that you have a lot to give.”
ALA: Theories of Social Entrepreneurship in Practice by Debanjan & Prestige
The African Leadership Academy (ALA) is a two-year university preparatory institution that has been around since 2008, but was originally founded in 2004. It is situated in Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. ALA brings in students from across the African continent for a two year entrepreneurial curriculum experience. Students also have to take subjects in the Cambridge A-levels curriculum during their two-year stay, including African studies. The institution has a clear goal: to generate a minimum of 6,000 leaders in Africa over the next 50 years.
On the 22nd of January, two days shy of the Middlebury CSE’s Social Entrepreneurship and the Future of Education Symposium, we had the opportunity to interview Faith Abiodun from ALA via Google+ HangoutOnAir (HOA). Faith works as ALA’s Communications Associate. During the hour long discussion we had, Faith shared with us his passion for seeing Africa’s future generations write a different story about a continent that has so often been portrayed as a place of perpetual misery, famine, disease and war. Introducing students to both the successes and failures of some of Africa’s 54 sovereign states is just part of the ALA. The institution’s educational philosophy is to introduce young people to the entrepreneurial leadership mindset. ALA believes that it is possible for people to be entrepreneurial in every aspect of their lives. The engine for this mindset is teaching students how to identify challenges and engage with those challenges to come up with solutions using the BUILD model.
The Believe-Understand-Invent-Listen-Deliver (BUILD) model is the heart of ALA’s Entrepreneurship curriculum, and this is how it works: 1) Believe you have the capacity to affect change; 2) Understand the field you are trying to affect change in and the stakeholders, and really tap into the nuances of the problem; 3) Invent (come up with) a proposed solution; 4) Listen for for feedback on your model of change from the community you are working with; and 5) After continuous iteration and dialogue, Deliver by implementing your project. Many ALA (as well as non-ALA) students have used this model as a blueprint for building their own entrepreneurial ventures. Jihad Hajjouji, Middlebury College ‘14 and ALA ‘10, co-founded and currently is a Director of the National Entrepreneurial Camp in Morocco.
During Faith’s Google+ HOA, he emphasized the importance of ALA in relation to how the world envisions the African continent. Faith believes that Africa will not develop in a vacuum. Instead, the world needs to see the continent in all of its diversity, beauty, successes as well as shortcomings. Allowing current and emerging world leaders to interact with some who will surely be the continent’s next leaders allows the world to meet and see the Motherland in her own terms. This made us think back to Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie’s famous TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.”
Indeed, even as we gave our presentation on the Friday of the Symposium, we found ourselves drawn in a conversation about the notorious sad-story states such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s, instead of focusing on the improvements in social, economic and political leadership in these parts of the continent since the late 2000s. We needed to understand as students of the class Social Entrepreneurship in the Liberal Arts that it was imperative to have an understanding of what the organizations we were presenting believed in. Indeed the work of writing and sharing a different, objective story about the continent will be a long and laborious one, but ALA is truly at the cutting edge of that movement as it shows the world the entrepreneurial and innovative side of the Motherland. It is a lesson that the ALA is not just employing from a standpoint of education, but also in the continent’s future of business, politics, health and leadership at large. The BUILD education model is exactly the type of theory of social entrepreneurship we saw throughout the entire symposium this past weekend.
High school graduation rates are abysmally low in low-income areas around the country, with crippling effects on the national economy. For those who do graduate from high school, college matriculation rates are also low and, for those who do enter college, retention past the first year is difficult. iMentor, which was founded in 1999, seeks to address this problem and, for low-income areas, increase high school graduation and college enrollment and matriculation. They do this through a unique mentorship model that incorporates both personal contact and technology by pairing students with adults in their community who have graduated from college.
While the mentorship model is not new, iMentor has implemented changes to make their program adaptable to the needs of both mentor and mentee. By changing the primary meeting venue from in-person to online (pairs email once per week, in addition to less frequent face-to-face meetings), they hope to appeal to busy working professionals who might otherwise avoid a mentorship program. This online platform also provides structure to these relationships, which in comparable programs are up to the mentors to dictate, in order to create a more uniform and replicable program. iMentor’s proprietary curriculum software facilitates the program meetings by having pairs participate in skill-building and college-prep exercises.
In addition, relationships facilitated by iMentor last longer — three to four years, depending on the program — than those of similar programs. Longer relationships allow for both more extensive programming and a deeper level of personal connection between mentor and mentee. The impact of this is clear: 85% of mentees in the entire program say that they can trust their mentor. Mentors are also able to provide their mentees with career advice, helping them envision their lives more holistically and incentivizing college.
iMentor’s curriculum software also forms the core of a secondary venture: a program called iMentor Interactive. In this program, iMentor partners with organizations around the country who wish to implement programs similar to iMentor’s NYC root organization. In addition to providing access to the curriculum software, iMentor consults with the partner organization to adapt the program to the specific needs of a new city. This platform proves that iMentor’s model is replicable and scalable across the country.
iMentor Interactive allows iMentor to scale up its mission and, ultimately, its impact. By spreading the program around the country (to 13 cities in 10 states, at this point), they hope to initiate a nationwide change in the way that students in underserved neighborhoods are prepped for college and beyond.
It is clear that this model works. Currently, in New York City there are 3,000 mentor-mentee pairs through the iMentor program. In 2012, 86% of high school seniors involved in iMentor graduated from high school and 69% enrolled in college. In addition to the iMentor program in New York City, iMentor helps match mentor-mentee pairs throughout the country, through their iMentor Interactive software and consulting services. Through this extension of their program, there are 2,700 mentor-mentee pairs.
We were fascinated to learn about iMentor’s work, and are confident that their brand of social change is both effective and replicable. iMentor’s real strength is in utilizing the latest technology to bring a dated mentoring model into the 21st century, and this core of technology should help them continue to drive change going forward.
James Whelton isn’t your typical 21 year-old. Hailing from Cork Ireland, James grew up tinkering incessantly with machines, deconstructing and reconstructing everything from toasters to laptops. As a young adolescent, he became a self-taught computer programmer with the aid of the occasional covertly-attended University class. At age 17, after winning a 6th Generation iPod Nano in a contest, he gained international notoriety by becoming the first person in the world to hack it, a feat he accomplished on the plane ride home “out of boredom.”
In the midst of the renaissance-like explosion Silicon Valley, it seems logical that Whelton would have jetted off to join some trendy startup and perhaps made a few million dollars. What he chose to do instead stands as a shining example of social entrepreneurship and has elevated him into the upper echelon of innovators in education.
Whelton first identified two problems in his home country: the dearth of tech education options for young people and the mounting youth employment crisis. His solution was a humble one: to form a coding club at his high school with the aim of providing support for kids who wanted to express their technical abilities while at the same time promoting an environment of creativity and collaboration. He set to work building the club and in the true spirit of the Internet designed it to be both free and entirely open source. No set curriculum, all volunteer taught; a democratic and empowering space tailor-made for innovation and effective problem solving.
The club, as you can imagine, was a rousing success, and before long Whelton attracted the eye of veteran entrepreneur Bill Laio. Leveraging Laio’s experience and resources, the two developed a model for scaling the club far beyond Cork, beyond Ireland, and even beyond Europe. Maintaining Whelton’s free and open source mentality, the pair added another feature to the club’s structure: a martial arts-inspired model of belts and achievements that would help kids feel a sense of accomplishment while ensuring that the clubs stayed true to their founder’s values and goals. In 2011, under the new name of CoderDojo, the dream finally became reality.
In only a few short years, CoderDojo has exploded to over 220 locations in 27 countries. All clubs are entirely volunteer-taught, and due to their open source approach to learning methods have been able to multiply while remaining blissfully free of the infrastructural issues of hiring and translation of new materials. Clubs grow organically out of communities and take on the characteristics of their cultures. Only the martial arts belt system remains consistent, with kids reaching new ranks by performing tasks such as teaching a peer a new coding language or developing an application inspired by one of their personal interests. The organization’s phenomenal successes have landed Whelton on the Forbes 30 under 30 and resulted in his naming as the youngest Ashoka Fellow in history.
Clearly James Whelton has much to be proud of. But when we (Maya Najarian and Nick Rehmus) had the opportunity to interview him via a live-broadcasted Google Hangout. we found him to be humble, unassuming,effortlessly charming. With affectless wit and enthusiasm, he espoused the successes of the CoderDojo students worldwide, the games they have created and skills they have developed, as well as their increased agency and happiness.
Though he admitted to being extremely busy, he hasn’t allowed the demands of the organization to dampen his optimism or resolve to push CoderDojo to new heights of possibility. His eyes gleamed as he relayed stories of the effectiveness of using coding as a tool for teaching kids with autism, of the latent power of the Internet to disrupt institutions that perpetuate systemic inequality. His pride was evident as he named his most pressing goals to be expanding CoderDojo into more and more developing regions around the world and aiming for gender equality in the coding arena.
Evidently, James Whelton is just getting started. His recently established Hello World Foundation will sustain CoderDojo’s financial future, and he’s just beginning an entrepreneurial residency in Boston. While the world waits for his next innovation, CoderDojo will continue to deliver upon its promise. If you are interested in starting a club in your area, you can check out the CoderDojo website here.
Reflections on a Conversation with Dr. Urvashi Sahni, Founder of the Study Hall Educational Foundation and Education Advocate
By Sarah James and Stephanie Soussloff
Dr. Urvashi Sahni, founder of the Study Hall Educational Foundation, is a powerful leader in the fight for equal access to education in India. Dr. Sahni leads with grace, empathy and energy. Raised by a conservative family, Dr. Sahni was taught from an early age that women should not pursue an education, but even so, Dr. Sahni sought out opportunities to educate herself. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and master’s degree in Philosophy. Later on, Dr. Sahni pursued a Ph.D. in Education at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Sahni asserts that this academic work shaped her understanding of power and the “meaning of life.”
Horace Mann, a prominent American educational reformer, once stated, “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” Dr. Sahni similarly believes in the power of education as the greatest tool for social change. She states, “We must educated others so that they might understand their oppression and have the ability to change their reality.”
Dr. Sahni has been a steadfast advocate for equal education, girls’ education and empowering others to create change. While at Berkeley, Dr. Sahni met Randolph Wang, a professor at Princeton at the time, who was also interested in looking at education as a tool to transform lives in India. Together they founded Digital StudyHall, an organization that uses digital media and DVDs to provide more accessible, higher quality education to rural and slum schools.
Soon after, in 1994, Dr. Sahni established the Study Hall Educational Foundation whose broadly defined mission is to provide high quality education to all children in India.
Dr. Sahni believes that any effective social change strategy must be comprehensive and innovative. Dr. Sahni always looks for creative ways to repair the broken education system. She says that she asks herself and her colleagues, “How do you take good innovation and use it in a bad system?” She continues, “The numbers in India are too large, but my taxes go to support this system, so it only makes sense to work to make that system better.”
These days, Dr. Sahni finds herself working on reaching out to the government to advocate for policy changes. She states, “I am not an agitator. [Agitating] doesn’t get you far. I believe in working with the government and working on a larger scale.” However, Dr. Sahni sees power in her work at the individual level as well. She reflects, “I help to show people that there is another way to think, another way to be, another way to let others be.”
With eloquence and wisdom, Dr. Sahni stated in closing, “India is a land of opposites, which makes it all more complicated, but I am patient. It is going to take a long time for [the education system] to be fixed. Maybe it won’t get fixed in my lifetime, but [my work] is about creating a path to a better future for [the children].”
On Friday morning of the symposium, Dr. Sahni participated in a Google Hangout with several other leaders in education who are also working to improve access to and the quality of education globally. Lawrence Chickering and Anjula Tyagi, representatives from Educate Girls Globally, another organization dedicated to girls’ education and empowerment in India, were also present. Dr. Sahni stated she hopes to work with Educate Girls Globally to combine their efforts and resources on future projects.
From our conversation with Dr. Sahni, we were inspired by her compassion, optimism and vision. Dr. Sahni acknowledges that social change may take many years or many decades, but with leaders like Dr. Sahni at the helm, we are confident the world is in good hands.