CSE Friday Speaker Series
November 14, 2014
by Otto Nagengast ‘17
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Aifuwa Ehigiator lived in five different apartments with his two brothers and his parents before he was fifteen. Aifuwa says that he “grew up poor, but had a great upbringing.” In middle school, Aifuwa met an investment banker at a career day who revealed that he made between $150,000 and $400,000 a year. Aifuwa said that at that moment he decided he wanted to live that kind of life. In his senior year at the School of the Future in Manhattan, he received a prestigious Posse Scholarship to attend Middlebury. He knew that the trajectory of his life had changed. He jointed-majored in Women and Gender Studies and Economics and played on the rugby team. Twelve days after graduation, Aifuwa started at Bloomberg, the financial media company.
He spent six years at Bloomberg. During that time, he led an exciting life and learned many skills that later helped while launching Our Street. But Aifuwa felt that he had an obligation to use his talents to address the challenges that people faced, particularly back home in Brooklyn. While at Bloomberg, Aifuwa received a crucial piece of advice from someone at Morgan Stanley, the financial services firm. She said that when you’re debating changing paths, there’s a moment when you know that you have to do it. “I felt,” Aifuwa says, “that I was having that moment for weeks and weeks.”
On March 30, 2014, Aifuwa quit Bloomberg and launched Our Street, a real estate crowdfunding startup that invests exclusively in low to moderate-income communities. Drawing upon his own upbringing, Aifuwa knew that housing was becoming increasingly unaffordable for low and middle-income families. He also knew that part of the lack of economic prosperity among lower-income families in inner cities was a lack of opportunities for long-term investments. Combining these two issues with his background in finance and business, Aifuwa hopes to use Our Street to enable low to moderate-income families to invest in real estate in their communities. “Let’s come together to own our communities” reads one Our Street’s posters.
An individual can go onto Our Street’s platform and invest between $100 and a $10,000 to buy a share of a piece of property. Our Street uses 60 percent of their own capital and 40 percent crowdsourced capital to purchase and renovate the property. Our Street then rents the property out at reduced prices, and the revenue from the rents are distributed among investors according to their respective percent shares. Our Street already has $110,000 in commitments from 168 users.
They believe that they will succeed because similar crowdfunding real estate sites focus on luxury property. Our Street is the first to focus exclusively on low to moderate-income communities, where they believe they have a strong connection. Aifuwu and Our Street are still navigating the necessary legal channels before fully launching, but they are getting outside help, including from fellow Middlebury alumnus, Pier LaFarge ’10.5.
“Our social mission is just as important as the profits,” says Aifuwu. Launching Our Street has been “a scary experience but an exciting one.” Aifuwa has returned to the place he came from to address an issue that affected his own life using all that he learned while he was away. He has lived a truly remarkable life thanks, in part, to a weird confluence of events.
CSE Grant Recipients and Davis Project for Peace Presentations
October 24, 2014
by Otto Nagengast ‘17
Last spring, five Middlebury students received grants of up to $3,000 for projects relating to social entrepreneurship, and one student received a Davis Project for Peace grant. The projects were diverse in their locations and the issues that they addressed, but they all aimed to create positive social change. On Friday, the students shared their projects and experiences.
This summer, Jacob Eisenberg ’15, Maddie Li ’15, and Nathan Kowalski ’15 teamed up to launch Agora, a start-up application aspiring to connect local investors to local crowd-funded projects. Crowd-funding is when an individual or a project raises funds from a large number of people, typically via the internet. The crowd-funding industry has grown from $1.5 billion in 2011 to $5 billion last year, and it’s projected to grow to $10 billion this year. Crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been successful, but there have been cases when funds don’t reach the most deserving projects; someone raised over $60,000 dollars for a project to make a potato salad. Drawing upon their academic work in geography, Jacob, Maddie, and Nathan saw that crowd-funding may be more effective if people could invest in projects in their community. The project is called Agora, which aims to aggregate projects across several platforms into one platform on which someone could sort projects by geographic proximity and type. People could even browse projects on a map. This summer, the team explored the viability of Agora, refined its design, and created a mock website. During the course of this year, they will create the actual platform, and they hope to release Agora in spring 2015.
With her CSE grant, Naina Qayyum ’15 launched Involving Women for Social Change, which aimed to address the lack of opportunities given to young women in Pakistan. Naina is from Chitral, a small city in northern Pakistan. This summer, Naina returned to Chitral and brought together nineteen young women ages 19 to 24 for five days of workshops that sought to “empower [them] to solve problems that face their own communities.” Naina says that it was a big step in Chitral for nineteen girls to be allowed to meet in a hotel for a session like this. She taught them the precepts of human-centered design, the design philosophy of the famous design firm IDEO. The participants were placed into four groups, and they had to come up with solutions to issues facing their communities. The groups proposed projects ranging from an anti-sexual assault center to an initiative to promote recycling. Naina says that the experience “helped me to understand the power of creativity in a community.”
Patrick Tang ’17 led and expanded Empower with Code with his CSE grant. Founded in January, Empower with Code says that, “through coding, we hope to bridge educational disparity and teach teens basic problem solving skills, logic thinking abilities, and improve their academic performance.” Over the summer, Patrick and a handful of other Middlebury students hosted weekly sessions at the Hannaford Career Center. If the participants attended enough sessions during the two-month program, they were given a laptop that would enable them to program on their own. Last spring, Patrick and his fellow Empower with Code mentors had only three or four participants in each session. But they’ve had over twenty participants in the past two sessions, and they are even planning to bring in professional programmers this semester.
Armel Nibasumba ’16 received a Davis Project for Peace this summer to expand his project Twese for Peace in his home country of Burundi (‘twese’ means everyone in Kirundi, the lingua franca of Burundi). The project initially started with a CSE Summer Grant after his first-year at Middlebury. Burundi shares an ethnic divide between Hutus and Tutsis with neighboring Rwanda, which experienced a brutal genocide in 1994. Armel was born into these times of war, genocide, and intense ethnic strife. After attending an international boarding school in Swaziland, Armel began to wonder why kids from all over the world with different languages and cultures could get along at his school but there was so much ethnic conflict in Burundi. The first summer, Twese for Peace had twenty participants, and they all commuted to the camp. The aim was to teach them conflict resolution and entrepreneurship, because Armel believes that you can’t have peace without economic prosperity and you can’t have economic prosperity without peace. This summer, Armel used the Davis Project for Peace grant to scale up Twese for Peace. Out of 168 applicants from 15 of the 17 provinces in Burundi, Armel and his colleagues selected 35 students hailing from 10 provinces. The participants, most of whom were girls, stayed for 12 days at the camp. At the end of the program, participants presented their ideas for innovative initiatives to address issues in their communities. “They were amazing!” Armel says.
The CSE Summer Grant program enabled these students to carry out extraordinary projects that changed the lives of others. The CSE is looking for a new group of students to create their own amazing project for this upcoming summer. Applications for the CSE Summer Grants for this coming summer are open through March 31.
More information can be found at: http://mcse.middlebury.edu/engage/portolio/
CSE Homecoming Weekend Speaker: Rick Tetzeli ’83, Executive Editor of Fast Company
October 17, 2014 – by Otto Nagengast ‘17
As Executive Editor of Fast Company, the cutting-edge business magazine, Rick Tetzeli ’83 is responsible for showcasing entrepreneurs who are reinventing business. As Rick describes it, he gets to shine a spotlight on people who have found their mission and are living it out. And through this work, Rick is living out his own mission.
It took time, however, for Rick to find his mission. His father wanted him to be secure and follow a conventional path—entering a company at the bottom and spending his career working his way to the top. But after his third D in economics while at Middlebury, Rick decided to forge his own path. He aspired to be a fiction writer and went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa as an Independent Scholar. Ultimately, Rick entered journalism and was Deputy Managing Editor of Fortune as well as Managing Editor of Entertainment Weekly before joining Fast Company in June 2010.
In his talk on Friday night, Rick shared what he learned about finding one’s mission through his work of profiling business innovators. “Some people,” Rick said, “know their mission from the very beginning.” This was the case for the actor and musician Jared Leto; he always knew that he wanted to create. He founded the band Thirty Seconds to Mars and realized that in the tough music business the band had to innovate to be successful. He turned to technology to boost the band’s popularity. Thirty Seconds to Mars has over two million Twitter followers, and they are among the top ten touring bands in the world. Although Leto always knew his mission, he had to innovate to live it out.
“For most of us, [though], finding a mission won’t come easy,” says Rick. Like Rick did, one will often have to search for it. He told the story of Shauna Mei. When she was a young girl, Mei and her family moved from China to the middle of Wisconsin. She excelled and went off to Harvard for both her undergraduate degree and her MBA. She then joined Goldman Sachs. Her first client at the firm was Tampax. After asking for a larger client company, she was given Playtex. It was clear that her colleagues were not taking her seriously, so she left and founded Aha Life, a company that connects high fashion with ordinary customers. The lesson from Shauna Mei is that one may have to take a chance, give something up, and try something else in order to find their mission.
Rick also shared the story of Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Studios. Catmull once said: “Your mission may not be what you think it is, and it may not even be all that sexy.” Catmull was an early pioneer in digital animation, but he eventually realized that the people around him were more talented. He went into management, and Rick considers him the best manager in the world. “I discovered that managing was itself an art, one that I could study the way I had studied animation,” reflected Catmull. Sometimes finding one’s mission can require embracing the unexpected.
Rick and his longtime friend, Brent Schlender, have been writing a biography of Steve Jobs to be released next year entitled Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader. Rick and Schlender found that while Jobs always knew his mission, which was to put technology in the hands of everyone, he had to adapt many times to be able to live it. He had to learn to inspire his employees, not berate them, for example. He often had to enact radical change in Apple in order to be successful. Through much personal evolution, Jobs ultimately lived his mission.
Finding and living one’s mission can require persistence, sacrifice, change, and uncertainty. But as Rick showed, those who are committed to finding and living their mission accomplish remarkable things.
Howard E. Woodin Colloqium Weekly Lecture
Sarah Finnie Robinson, Founder WeSpire and Practically Green
by Otto Nagengast ‘17
In 2010, Sarah Finnie Robinson received her MA from the Breadloaf School of English. During the previous two summers at the Breadloaf campus near Middlebury, she wrote–a lot. But during her time in the Green Mountains, she also realized that climate change was a serious challenge, and she was galvanized to take action. She co-founded what later became WeSpire, a company that provides, “technology-based engagement programs to inspire employees for measurable impact.” At the time, says Sarah with a laugh, she thought that she would “do WeSpire for six months and then go back to writing her yet-to-be published bestselling novel.” Four years later, WeSpire is thriving, and Sarah continues to be a leader at the company.
At the core of WeSpire’s software is a platform that individuals can use to measure their sustainability impact. Initially, WeSpire offered their platform to consumers, but they quickly discovered that companies were interested in having their own systems to encourage their employees to adopt more sustainable practices. Now, WeSpire offers personalized versions of their persuasive technology platform to individual companies.
In essence, however, the platform works the same across the different versions. Individuals earn points for adopting different practices, or as WeSpire describes it, taking different steps. The points reflect the relative impact of each step. A person can earn five points, for example, by not rinsing their dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Or, they can get ten points for using public transportation instead of driving. Included with each step is a “Why this matters” section that describes the importance and impact of the step. Steps are organized into projects like Zero Waste Workplace or Healthy Lifestyle. Individuals’ progress can be shared with their friends and co-workers. As part of the personalization of the platform, WeSpire will also help companies create their own steps and projects.
WeSpire now has 38 client companies that all started on three-year contracts. Some of these clients include eBay, the front office of the Major League Baseball team the Seattle Mariners, and McDonald’s corporate headquarters, where WeSpire has a remarkable 14 percent engagement rate. Client companies have even tied incentives, like trips and bonuses, to the WeSpire platform to encourage participation. At eBay, they used data from their WeSpire platform, Little Bits of Good, to calculate their employees’ total impact on reducing eBay’s environmental footprint. WeSpire’s dream is to make the data from their platform so streamlined that it can conform seamlessly to accounting conventions. This would enable firms to not only calculate their employees’ impact, but to see how much this impact was worth in dollar terms to the company and to the greater world.
“I never could have imagined that checking-off boxes on my smartphone would be my contribution,” Sarah says. Though unexpected, the contribution of Sarah and WeSpire to the fight against climate change is significant, innovative, and inspiring.
CSE Friday Speaker Series, October 10, 2014
Spencer Williams ’95, President and Owner of West Paw Design
by Otto Nagengast ‘17
After graduating from Middlebury College in 1995 with a degree in German, Spencer Williams returned to his home state, Montana. He bought a small company, Pet Pals, based in Bozeman that made plush dog toys. “I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what I was getting into,” says Spencer with a chuckle. But thanks to his liberal arts degree, Spencer says, “I knew that I could solve the problems that came to me, and I didn’t need a traditional education.” When Spencer bought Pet Pals in 1996, it consisted of just a handful of employees hand-stitching dog toys. Now, eighteen years later, the company has over seventy employees. They rebranded themselves as West Paw Design, a name coined by Spencer’s wife, Kerry, whom he met at Middlebury. West Paw Design is renowned for its sustainability and management practices. Its products are sold in 2,800 stores in 25 countries, and they are almost all made in Bozeman.
Spencer says, though, “it’s not the products we make, but the people [in our company] that are important.” He sums up his approach to management with the acronym MAP (Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose). Spencer tries to give all of his employees these three things. He tries to hire as many employees as possible for career-track positions, because, he believes, “people need dependability in their lives.” West Paw uses open-book management, so that any employee can see exactly how the company is being run. Employees are encouraged to take initiative. The results of this approach are happier, more effective workers.
A great example of Spencer’s MAP approach is the story of Jane, a member of the production floor team. After working for twelve years on a dairy farm, Jane left and joined West Paw. A large source of waste at the factory was the heavy injection plastic molding machine. It wasted ten percent of the plastic used to make each item. Jane, who has a college degree like sixty percent of the members of the West Paw production floor, set out to figure how to use the discarded plastic to make other products. West Paw now recycles half of the discarded plastic thanks to Jane’s work, and in March they will begin recycling 100 percent of the plastic waste. “No one asked her to do it,” says Spencer, “she was driven.”
“When we started you couldn’t buy a head of organic lettuce in Bozeman” Spencer says. Now, West Paw ships top-quality, environmentally-friendly pet products around the world. West Paw’s success and vision has established them as one of the leaders in the B Corps movement. B Corps are a group of 1,100 companies that meet a set of “rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency,” according to the B Corp webpage. West Paw scored 95 on the B Impact Report. The average score is 80. At the Annual B Corps Champions Retreat hosted last month in Burlington, the US Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, gave a speech in which he praised B Corps for embodying what he sees as the future of labor. At the same conference, the B Corp community recognized West Paw Design as a Builder of the Movement.
Spencer sees his work and the work of his company as part of a much greater purpose: creating social and environmental change through business. As his wife Kerry pointed out during the talk, what is remarkable about West Paw Design is that this is not just Spencer’s belief. This is the belief of the entire company.
CSE Friday Speaker Series, October 3, 2014
Alexandra Peterson Cart, Co-founder and Director of Strategic Development at Madeira Global
by Otto Nagengast ‘17
When Alexandra graduated from Middlebury College in 2008, she wanted to go make the world a better place like, as she says, “any liberal arts student.” She found a job with a non-profit, but after several years she became disenchanted with the non-profit world. She felt like she spent her time navigating bureaucracies instead of making an impact. “The amount of red tape was slightly obnoxious,” she says.
Alexandra jumped into the financial world, where she thrived. She enjoyed the fast-paced and results-driven work. But after getting settled in her new career, she missed working to make the world a better place. Combining her desire to do good for the world and her talents in finance, she co-founded Madeira Global, an impact investing firm, in 2012.
What is impact investing? Explaining impact investing to potential clients and dispelling their many misconceptions is, in fact, one Alexandra’s biggest challenges. Impact investing is using an aggressive outlook to find investments “where impact is in the DNA of the company.” This means that “the success of the company depends on the impact,” says Alexandra. Sectors like alternative energy and biotechnology are some of the primary targets of impact investors.
Alexandra believes that impact investing is one the key ways that young generations will use to address the world’s problems. To solve problems, she explains, we need to move capital. Until recently, this almost always meant philanthropy. But Alexandra believes that “we need to deliver solutions through for-profit structures.” Whereas philanthropy depends on people’s generosity to move capital, impact investing depends on people’s profit motives. And profit motives can move a lot more capital than generosity can.
The field of impact investing is filled with firms who have superb marketing but little substance. Alexandra and Madeira Global are trying to make impact investing a reputable business in the world of finance. This has forced Madeira to make some sacrifices, like less publicity, until they feel that they have proven themselves. The firm even turned down a cover story opportunity from Fast Company because they believed that they had not yet accomplished enough to deserve it.
Madeira concentrates on investing in middle-market companies in the United States by offering loans to the firms. Madeira aims to offer investors a shorter time horizon for their investments than the seven to ten year lock-up periods, the amount of time that investors must wait for returns, that are common in impact investing now. In order to raise impact investing up to the same level as other sectors in finance, Alexandra believes that impact investors need to translate impact into data, the language of finance. Madeira has crafted their own system of metrics that enables them to compare the impact of their investments across sectors. With this system, Madeira can compare the impact of investing in a charter school in Texas to the impact of investing in a farm in Africa.
“I’m really excited to see what’s going to happen…in the next five, ten years. I think [impact investing] is going to legitimize.” Ultimately, she says, “I think impact investing is here to stay.”
CSE Friday Speaker Series, September 26, 2014
Jocelyn Wyatt, Executive Director of IDEO.org
by Otto Nagengast ‘17
Thirty-five years ago, a group of engineers from Stanford University teamed up with a group of designers from the United Kingdom to launch a design firm. Their aim was to design products that had both excellent form and function. The firm designed a string of successful products like the first Apple mouse, which revolutionized the personal computer. In 1991, they became IDEO, a name that has since become synonymous with brilliant design.
All of IDEO’s work stems from what they call design thinking. According to IDEO’s website “this approach…brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable.” After great success in product design for private companies, IDEO realized that their design philosophy had enormous potential if applied more broadly.
Three years ago, Jocelyn Wyatt co-founded IDEO.org. The goal of the initiative is to apply design thinking to helping the poor. As Executive Director, Jocelyn has been responsible for building IDEO.org from the ground up. She has hired 30 staff members, and she will hire another 20 people this year. IDEO.org is a diverse group that includes professional designers, business school graduates, researchers, and lawyers, which enables the group, as Jocelyn described, “to connect the dots.”
Before carrying out a project, a team from IDEO.org does extensive research. Designers engage in on-the-ground, in-context observation in order to seek inspiration. The team studies extreme users in order to create the best product. An extreme user like a chef, for example, who uses a knife for hours each day can reveal more about how to make a knife than a casual cook. The team does analogous research. Jocelyn gave the example of a surgical team who studied a NASCAR pit crew to learn how to work more efficiently as a team. Jocelyn says, “this inspiration helps designers take new leaps in their thinking.”
Since its inception three years ago, IDEO.org has carried out 45 projects. One of these projects, sponsored by the Hewlett Foundation, focused on reproductive health among young women in Zambia. Studies have shown that to reduce birth rates among women, it is more effective to delay a woman’s first birth than to focus only on reducing the number of children she has. The team wanted to connect with Zambian girls in order to better understand their sexual behavior. However, getting young women to open up about the topic can be difficult, so the team created pop-up nail salons and offered free manicures. This created a safe and comfortable space for team members to inquire about a young woman’s sexual behavior. The team also launched “Divine Divas,” a group of cartoon characters who each represent a contraceptive method. Ms. Ambition uses the implant. Ms. Perfection prefers the pill. The Girl on the Go goes with the injection. The aim of these initiatives was to remove the stigma surrounding sex and contraception in Zambia, which prevents young women from seeking out family planning services.
IDEO.org has also been contracted by the Gates Foundation to design a seed planter for teff, which is the grain used to make injera, one of the staples of Ethiopian cuisine. Farmers in Ethiopia typically plant teff seeds by throwing the seeds across tilled soil. But planting teff in rows can boost yields by up to 50 percent. The problem, however, is that there are no planters that most farmers can afford. This is where IDEO comes in. As part of the thorough IDEO design process, the team has tested many prototypes, including one that Jocelyn said, “got literally stuck in the mud.” The team, though, learned that farmers put burlap on other pieces of equipment to keep them out of the mud. The team took their prototype to local builders and had burlap installed on the wheels. IDEO.org is now testing 55 planters, and they hope that through similar innovations they can design a planter that is both affordable and effective.
Innovative ideas can be tremendously effective in the fight against poverty, but they require diligence, hard work, and creative minds. IDEO.org understands embodies this truth. Through innovative and quality design, they are helping those living in poverty to carve out a better life.
Otto Nagengast ‘17
What is social entrepreneurship? This is the question that I asked myself when I first saw signs around campus advertising the Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship. I understood social, and I understood entrepreneurship, but I couldn’t figure out what the two meant together. This is a question that I imagine many others ask themselves, too, when they see “social entrepreneurship.”
To answer this question, I turned to a few of the many Middlebury College students who are active in the field of social entrepreneurship. Although they have been involved in exciting and impactful projects, they were all reluctant to call themselves social entrepreneurs because in the words of one student, Winson, “There is a lot of arrogance in saying ‘I’m a social entrepreneur.’ There’s so much to learn.”
Social entrepreneurship is “the process of seeing and implementing a new solution to any problem,” says Center For Social Entrepreneurship (CSE) Fellow Jeannie Bartlett. As a CSE Fellow, Jeannie worked with local organizations for the past two summers. In her first summer, Jeannie was an intern at the Hannaford Career Center through Middlebury Food Works, an organization that partners Middlebury students with organizations and farms working on issues relating to food. One of her responsibilities in this internship was bringing kids to the Career Center to help raise chickens and sheep. Drawing upon this experience, in her second summer as a Fellow Jeannie created programming at the Middlebury Summer Lunch and Recreation Summer to get kids outdoors because she saw that little programming of the sort existed. During her time as a CSE Fellow Jeannie said that she learned, “There’s a lot of people with a list of dreams they never see realized…social entrepreneurship is a matter of grabbing onto one those dreams and making it happen.”
According to Naina Qayyum, social entrepreneurship is “when citizens see problems that affect them and turn them into challenges and produce something that is useful [that is] good for their society.” Naina comes from Chitral, a town in northern Pakistan. At home, she said, “I feel that not a lot of opportunities are offered to females, particularly young females.” Naina received a CSE Summer Grant for her project, Involving Women for Community Solutions, which aimed to address the lack of opportunities given to young women in Pakistan. Naina returned to Chitral and brought together 19 young women aged 19 to 24 for five days of workshops that sought to “empower [them] to solve problems that face their own communities.” The young women were placed into four groups, and they had to come up with solutions to four challenges, ranging from pollution to child abuse. Although the project was challenging, Naina said, “I was happy to give the mentality of creativity, innovation, and freedom to [the] girls.”
For Armel Nibasumba, social entrepreneurship is “utilizing your potential and your passion to serve. It’s also using creativity to solve a persistent issue.” Armel founded Twese For Peace in his home country of Burundi (‘twese’ means everyone in Kirundi, the lingua franca of Burundi). The project started with a CSE Summer Grant after his first-year at Middlebury. After attending an international boarding school in Swaziland, Armel began to wonder why kids from all over the world with different languages and cultures could get along at his school but there was so much ethnic conflict in Burundi. He founded a summer day camp for 20 participants that lasted six days to provide “safe spaces to talk about [sources] of conflict.” Last summer, Armel received a Davis Project for Peace worth $10,000. The grant was to “scale-up what we did [two summers ago] and extend it to the whole country.” Out of 168 applicants from 15 of the 17 provinces in Burundi, Armel and his colleagues selected 35 students hailing from 10 provinces. The participants, most of whom were girls, stayed for 12 days at the camp. They learned principles of entrepreneurship and conflict management. Armel conceded that it was hard, but he was proud of his accomplishment. “I’m so thankful for the [CSE] and the Davis Foundation…they’ve helped me change my country.”
Winson Law spent last summer interning with Thinking Beyond Borders (TBB) whose aim is to educate the future agents of social change. TBB offers gap year and gap semesters of travel and education. Winson worked with founder and CEO, Robin Pendoley, who is a friend of Professor Jon Isham, Director of the CSE. After his experiences in the field of social entrepreneurship Winson says, “Now, I think a lot more about the root of a problem…[about] what’s causing a problem or challenge…I learned to ask a lot of questions.”
Prestige Shongwe completed the first year of his CSE Fellowship this summer while working for the Child Right Governance program at Save the Children – Mozambique, not far from his home in Swaziland. Writing from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he is spending the fall semester, Prestige says he credits what he calls the “social entrepreneurship ecosystem” at Middlebury for “[inspiring] him to become a social entrepreneur.” He elaborated, “the CSE, through its various programs ranging from the Friday Speakers Series and the annual [January] term Social Entrepreneurship Symposium, has been a key Middlebury institution that has fostered an environment that consistently bring interesting and diverse individuals to campus who have engaged with social entrepreneurship via different access points.”
So, what is social entrepreneurship? Social entrepreneurship encompasses projects as diverse as outdoor education in Vermont to women empowerment in Pakistan. At its core, social entrepreneurship is the ability to find a problem that faces society, analyze it, and, ultimately, address it.
Middlebury offers a host of opportunities that enable students to learn about and practice social entrepreneurship. There are the Summer Grants, the Fellowship Program, and the Davis Projects for Peace. There will also be the Social Entrepreneurship Symposium in January. On a more frequent basis, the Friday Speaker Series offers a great opportunity to see how individuals are using the principle of social entrepreneurship to make an impact on the world.
Creative solutions are needed to address to complex problems. We hope that you’ll join us this year and explore how social entrepreneurship can make the world a better place.
Guest Post by Nick Rehmus, a Literary Studies major at Middlebury College and COO of Cottage International
June 20th, 2014
When I took my seat at the first major event of the 2014 CSE June Forum, a “Fireside Chat” with Marina Kim, Co-Founder and Executive Director of AshokaU, and Jonathan Lewis, Scholar-in-Residence at the NYU Reynolds Program, the late-evening sky was still glowing warmly over the lush Vermont hills. The talk’s picturesque setting and quaint name, however, belied the incredible earnestness of the discussion to follow, 60 breathless minutes of exacting critique of some of the most central and pressing questions of our time: What exactly is the status of social entrepreneurship? Where are things headed? What can and should we be doing to make the best future? Though the audience was mostly comprised of educators, as a 21-year-old current student, I found myself hanging on every word.
First, they agreed that the rise of social entrepreneurship coincides with a generational shift, its ideological and economic demand largely driven by the young and increasingly powerful Millennials. This raises the important question of what exactly the Millennials’ motivations are; as Jonathan put it, “Is this generation about ‘me,’ or about mission?” Marina’s response rang true with me: probably both. This generation is self-centered, by circumstance and training, and by the incredible ego-building forces of technology. But what they want is to live a “life of meaning,” and that often includes the very un-self-centered desire to create positive social impact. It’s an interesting paradox, and one whose successful navigation will mean the difference between changing the world and reinforcing the status quo. This is the reason, Marina explained, that Ashoka sees empathy as the critical and foundational skill of social entrepreneurship.
Both Marina and Jonathan were clear, however, to stress the importance of everything that comes after that initial, empathic impulse: leadership, teamwork, and an analytical eye. Jonathan in particular spoke to the necessity of being action oriented and holding work to high and measurable standards. The skills of the classic, non-socially-focused business world are incredibly powerful, a point made by many presenters throughout the June Forum. He suggested that Millennials treat their entire lifetimes as units of impact, over the course of which proficiencies would be built in every field and sector. In order to be truly effective, this generation will need to temper their urgency and vigor with patience and practicality.
As an aspiring change-maker myself, I’m both excited and apprehensive about the future. It’s unsettling to think, as both Marina and Jonathan mentioned, that entire industries are changing during the time it takes for students to pursue an academic degree. The conservative liberal arts student in me wants to hunker down and read the Great Works of literature and philosophy, grasping at the few things that still seem ageless and static. Of course, the truth is, the great wisdom in dusty books provides no stasis, in fact compels us to recognize and act on our basic human codependence. The Life of Meaning that so many of us seek—Millennial or otherwise—is one that hinges on social justice, our contribution to the creation of a world of, in Marina’s words, “abundance, not scarcity; possibility, not despair.” And luckily—it seems to me—, with students and educators turning their attention to these questions, with the for and non-profit sectors blending and learning from each other, and with the ever-increasing legitimacy of this social entrepreneurship field/philosophy, there is much reason to be optimistic.
A buoyancy filled Middlebury’s Bread Loaf campus last Monday as educators gathered for the Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s third annual June Forum, titled “Lessons and Opportunities: A Faculty and Staff Forum on Teaching Social Entrepreneurship.”
In total, over 120 educators from across the country gathered at the Forum. This year, schools in attendance included MIT, Bucknell, Cornell, Amherst, St. Michaels, Clark, Hamilton, Solebury, Hobart and William Smith, Pomona, Dartmouth, George Mason, Bennington, Earth University, Semester at Sea, Westminster, Westmont, San Diego, Latin School, Gould Academy, Gallaudet, Mt Holyoke, Bates, Champlain, Columbia, Georgetown, U Maine, Virginia, Ashoka, Middlebury, and Monterey.
Compared to previous years, “We had the highest percentage of faculty attendance and the most diverse group of participants,” explained Jon Isham, Faculty Director of the CSE. “ It was our best forum ever.”
Full photo album available here.
This year’s forum kicked off with an energetic dialogue between Marina Kim, Cofounder and Executive Director of AshokaU, and Jonathan Lewis, Scholar in Residence at the NYU Reynolds Program. The barn buzzed as Marina and Jonathan shared their insights on current trends in social entrepreneurship education, sparking conversations that lingered into the night. Some participants engaged attendees from the Orion Environmental Writer’s Conference, who cohabited Bread Loaf campus for the week.
On Tuesday morning, Middlebury President Ronald Liebowitz formally welcomed participants. Ron painted a picture of Middlebury’s culture of creativity, highlighting the importance of engaged learning for today’s liberal arts student and global citizen.
Anke Wessels, Executive Director of Cornell’s Center for Transformative Action, built upon Ron’s introduction, presenting on “Developing Rigorous Methods for Assessing Experiential Learning and Reflection.” Both university and high school educators appreciated reading Anke’s syllabi.
Jon Isham followed, presenting his findings on “Preparing Students for Field Work and Projects: Evidence from the Projects for Peace.” Sharing the stage with Phil Geier, Executive Director of the Davis United World College program at Middlebury, Isham shared the essential ingredients of a successful social entrepreneurship project: knowledge of the local language, beneficiary involvement, and collaboration with a local organization, to name just a few.
Forum participants then congregated in the barn classrooms for early afternoon workshops. Bob Bloch, Director of BYOBiz at Champlain College, shared his vision on “The Entrepreneurship Side of Social Entrepreneurship.” David Colander, Middlebury economics professor, added his pragmatic insights on “Equipping Social Entrepreneurs with the Tools They Need.” Meanwhile, Jon Isham led a roundtable on social entrepreneurship in secondary education. Topher and Jorian Wilkins, CEO and COO of the Opportunity Collaboration, rounded out the lineup with a discussion about their program.
Tuesday afternoon allowed time for participants to gather their thoughts, explore the area or hold group planning sessions. Sara Daly of the Vermont Wellness Professionals Network also led a much-appreciated wellness workshop.
Rested and revived, participants gathered to conclude the day with a talk by Dave Torres, Director of Business for Mothers2Mothers. Dave’s presentation, titled “Using Skills from the Corporate World to Scale a Social Enterprise,” hit home for the many educators in attendance who have drawn experience from the corporate world to impact social change.
Folks gathered on Wednesday morning for a social planning and feedback session. Using both a pinwheel rotation and a large circle format, participants networked individually and shared their reflections in a large group setting.
Though this marked the end of the CSE Forum programming, Middlebury Dean of the College, Shirley Collado, welcomed participants to the additional 2-day Echoing Green Work on Purpose training. Forum participants, joined by a new cadre of student educators and mentors, engaged in workshops that demonstrated the main principles of Work on Purpose: Right for You, Good for the World, and Be Bold. Folks from different institutions challenged themselves to think about how to identify opportunities, challenges and actions they can take to bring Work on Purpose to their current work with students.
Marina Kim shared her thoughts on the Forum at the end of the week: “From a field-building perspective, it holds a very unique and important space in advancing more sophisticated conversations, knowledge and relationships in a growing network, and developing the richness of a more intimate environment for learning and relating.”
The CSE team extends a hearty thank you to participants, workshop leaders, Echoing Green facilitators, and the Bread Loaf staff for making this a week to remember.