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.
Howard E. Woodin ES Colloquium with Mike Morrice, Executive Director of Sustainability CoLab
A Conversation About Sustainability Action: How and Why We’re All Needed to Create the World We Want
May 8, 2014
Post by Otto Nagengast ‘17
In his last year at university, Mike Morrice was preparing to begin a successful career in the tech world. He had spent the last four years working toward a duel degree in Computer Science and Business Administration at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. But Mike came across a series of books, including Deep Economy by Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, Bill McKibben, that changed everything. Mike had what author David Foster Wallace described as an “awakening from dullness.” He began to deeply question the world around him and his place in it. As part of an independent study, Mike created a business plan for a project called Sustainable Waterloo Region, which aimed to promote sustainability across the Waterloo region through collaboration.
In 2008, Sustainable Waterloo Region launched the Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI) with $200,000 in initial funding and three member firms. The aim of the initiative was to reduce the carbon footprint of firms in the Waterloo area. In exchange for annual membership fees ranging from $500 to $5,000, Sustainable Waterloo would provide services like software, consulting, and literature that would enable firms to reduce their carbon emissions. At the end of 2013, 68 firms were members of RCI, and together these firms employed 14 percent of the workforce of Waterloo. RCI has reduced Waterloo’s CO2 emissions by 53,300 tons, the equivalent of taking 12,000 cars off the road.The program’s retention rate is 84 percent, and, due to the membership fees, the RCI is breaking even, making it a self-sustaining program. Sustainable Waterloo has been such a success that it was expanded into Sustainability CoLab. The aim of CoLab is to replicate Sustainable Waterloo’s success throughout Ontario. Five organizations were chosen to be part of the new project.
Mike is one of Canada’s most successful and promising social entrepreneurs. His success has brought him numerous accolades including the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. But Mike began his talk by bluntly saying, “I won’t be sharing any answers with you.” Mike believes that the solution to climate change is a fundamentally personal question. Quoting Rainer Maria Rilke, Mike encouraged us to “live the question,” and he presented his own work as one example of someone living the question. Mike believes that there are two necessary components in the transformation that will enable us to overcome climate change. The first is a paradigm shift, or reawakening. For Mike, his reawakening came from a series of books that he read in his last year at college. The second component is a reconnection back to nature. Mike is a firm believer in the three-nested dependencies model. The economy rests inside society and society rests inside the environment. Both our society and economy depend on nature.
Mike fully understands that addressing climate change is a daunting task, but he believes that “relentless incrementalism” will prevail. By including individuals in the decision-making process, we can enable people to experience the necessary personal paradigm shift and enable them to take ownership of the decisions. Through CoLab, Mike aims to localize for each community. By giving each individual and each community the space to innovate and then the means to share ideas, CoLab can create stronger networks and make initiatives more successful.
Mike concluded by reminding us that his work is just his attempt at finding answers. To overcome climate change, we all need to live the questions and try to find our own answers.
CSE Friday Speaker Series: Jack Byrne, Director of Sustainability Integration at Middlebury College
May 2, 2014
By Otto Nagengast ’17
Advances in biotechnology are blurring the line between reality and science fiction, particularly in the field of genomic technology. We now have the ability to manipulate DNA like Legos. We can excise DNA from one species of organism and paste into the DNA of another. College students compete in competitions to combine sequences of DNA or “bio bricks” in creative ways, such as bacteria cells that light up in the presence of toxins. But DNA technology should not be mistaken as a novel fringe science. Synthetic insulin is produced by E. coli bacteria whose DNA has been spliced with the human gene that codes to make insulin. Genetically modified food is simply food that has manipulated DNA.
Scientists, and increasingly business people, around the world are realizing the potential of biotechnology and are beginning to create innovative products. This push into unchartered territory has raised difficult questions about biotechnology in our society. On Friday May 5, the Director of Sustainability Integration at Middlebury College, Jack Byrne, gave what he described as a “journalistic” overview of the current state of the biotech field.
Dr. Rob Carlson has calculated that the global biotech industry is worth $110 billion, and is growing at 15 to 20 percent annually. In other words, the industry is doubling in size every four to five years. Byrne added that the US has a long history of innovation from small firms. Small companies developed everything from strobe lights to the personal computer to artificial skin. Biotech’s rapid growth has been fueled by innovation from companies like Amyris, which Jack described as a sort of Ben and Jerry’s of biotech. They are engaged in a multitude of projects that use their industrial synthetic biology technology. Amyris just partnered with Etihad Airlines to use biofuels on some flights to Brazil to help make the 2014 World Cup carbon neutral. Amyris has also recently partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to produce artemisinin, an anti-malarial drug, using industrial genomic technology.
The ever-falling costs of DNA synthesis have enabled the practice to move from professional labs and into people’s homes. Jack showed that one could buy a quality DNA synthesizer on Ebay for $1,200. Mail order synthesizing has been popular for several years, but there is an open-source movement growing around DNA synthesis, fuelled by increasing access. Scientists around the world like Ellen Jorgensen are opening up community biolabs to give people the opportunity to be part of the exciting new field. Some biotech ventures are pushing the very frontier of science. The Long Now Foundation’s Revive & Restore project is attempting to bring the passenger pigeon back from extinction.
In Jack’s view, is not a question of if we have to deal with biotech, but how. In the very near future, our society will have to answer a host of questions raised by biotech. Do we have property rights for our own DNA? How will genetically modified organisms affect the delicate balance of nature? How will we regulate DNA research? There have been steps made to address some of the questions. For example, the White House released guidelines for biotech research to prevent “bio error” and “bio terror.” The Wildlife Conservation Society organized a conference last year to address the question: how will synthetic biology and conservation shape the future of nature?
While we are working to answer these essential questions, biotech continues to create innovations at a blistering pace. It was a pleasure hearing from Jack and getting up to speed on biotech, a field that will greatly shape our lives.
Listening to Community Health Workers
CSE Friday Speaker Series: Professor Svea Closser
April 25, 2014
By Otto Nagengast ’17
Public health in the developing world has been revolutionized by technological innovation. Vaccines for some of the most deadly diseases, like polio and tuberculosis, can be produced for mere cents. A yearly course of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) used to treat the symptoms of AIDS used to cost tens of thousands of dollars. Now, a yearly course of ARVs cost less than 500 dollars. The result of this rapid biomedical progress has been giant leaps in health outcomes in the developing world. The AIDS epidemic that swept through Africa in the late 1990s and early 2000s is now under control. After vaccination campaigns around the world, it seems that polio could finally be eradicated.
The success of the recent push to improve public health in the developing world is due in large part to the resurgence of community health workers (CHWs). These health professionals are individuals who work on the ground within their communities to administer healthcare. CHWs are equipped with innovative treatments, vaccines, and tests that do not require the infrastructure of a hospital.
Although essential in this grassroots approach to delivering healthcare in developing countries, CHWs are often over-looked by those planning the projects. On Friday, April 25, Middlebury College Professor Svea Closser gave a talk entitled “Listening to Community Health Workers.” Professor Closser drew upon her own research on polio eradication campaigns in Pakistan and research from two fellow scholars who worked in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Chimoio, Mozambique.
Individuals are drawn to become CHWs for many reasons. Some are survivors of conflicts who want to help their country heal. Some wanted to become doctors but could not afford it. Many women become CHWs because it is one of the few professions available to them. One woman in Karachi said that her daughter’s death led her to become a CHW.
CHWs report that they feel under-appreciated. They lack opportunities for advancement. They are often not paid well. In Pakistan in 2012, CHWs went on strike. They were protesting the lack of pension and the lack of maternity leave. Their salaries had been in arrears for months. There had also been a recent string of murders against polio vaccinators, but vaccinators were told that they had to continue to work or they would be fired.
Listening to CHWs and knowing their stories enables planners to utilize their potential. CHWs can also provide a valuable perspective on healthcare projects that can help planners make interventions more effective. In surveys, CHWs report that human relationships are more important than the technology they are using. Professor Closser believes that “big ideas should start with listening to the people we’re meant to serve, not exciting technological innovations.” Those working closest with the ones we are meant serve are CHWs. We not only have an ethnical obligation to listen to CHWs but also a practical one. To demonstrate this belief, Professor Closser teamed up with Professors Carpenter and Gong of Middlebury’s Economics department to apply for research funds from the World Health Organization (WHO) to examine health outcomes when CHWs were better compensated.
Professor Closser’s work is an example of using academic research to make policy more effective. She has translated her skills into positive social change, which is the core of social entrepreneurship. We’re honored to have Professor Closser here at Middlebury, and we wish her all the best with her valuable work.
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.