The anticipation of knowing your life is about to change is incomparable.
I am a rising third-year business major concentrating in Leading and Managing Human Capital while also getting a certificate in social psychology. I hope to go into the field of transformative education which is why I wanted to participate in the Leadership for Social Good Study Abroad Program because I believe social entrepreneurship is the key to re-imagining our education system.
It’s been one week since the program began and I’ve already had my expectations surpassed beyond what I could have imagined. And we haven’t even gone abroad yet!
We’ve spent this week on the Georgia Tech campus as sort of a prolonged orientation and introduction to social entrepreneurship, and I’m actually really grateful that we’ve had this time pre-traveling to Eastern Europe. This past week we have gotten a chance to discover more about what social entrepreneurship really means and have some heavy discussions around the social sector, nonprofits vs for profits, and what to expect while living in Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary for 8 weeks to study and then intern with a nonprofit in Budapest. This past week has also been a great opportunity for us to meet our cohort and start getting to know each other and work together some before dealing with all the craziness of actually being in a different country.
At this point in the program, we have already had multiple guest speakers, been on a site visit (with another coming up on our last day in Atlanta), watched numerous TED Talks (by Dan Pallotta, Melinda French Gates, Hans Rosling, Ernesto Sirolli, Michael Porter, Robert Redford, Jessica Jackley, and others), had numerous stimulating conversations and debates, completed a few group activities, and explored a dozen or so articles and websites to further enrich our learning about the social sector. Honestly, as a student and someone passionate about transformative education, I could not have asked for a more engaging week. I’ve been extremely satisfied with how the three classes we are taking have been facilitated thus far and I’ve especially loved how all of the classes tie into each other seamlessly to create an overarching experience tying together business fundamentals of social enterprises, innovation and leadership, and nonprofit internship work. And the lessons we’ve been learning I truly believe should be fundamental to everyone’s education experience.
Some of the key principles we’ve talked about include:
- humility is key: never assume you are the smartest in the room or you will always be wrong
- be curious: seek out new information and explore connections to make new discoveries
- ask questions and then more questions: really get to know the community you’re working with so that you can work together to maximize assets and change the status quo of deficits
These aren’t just business principles, these are life principles that everyone should be exposed to during their education experience. I was fortunate to have been exposed to these ideas in high school and now get the joy of diving deeper into them, but as I witness all of the ah-ha moments happening daily for my peers, I have realized how few other learners can say the same thing. I can only imagine how many students have and will graduate college without ever thinking about the importance of humility, curiosity, and questioning – the work that happens before brainstorming “the next big thing” – and this seems unacceptable. Every project needs team members to embrace these principles and it should be necessary for the education system to teach this lesson to all learners, not just those (primarily business majors) who self-select to take time to study social impact once in college.
First off, a big misconception is that nonprofit workers don’t make money, which is not accurate. The nonprofit sector brings in over 2 trillion dollars in revenue annually, and employees can still live very comfortable lives even in the nonprofit industry. Several of our guest speakers have made it very clear that even though they could probably make more money working in a for-profit business, they are by no means struggling and actually higher up employees are making within the upper 5% of all Americans.
Furthermore, you don’t have to go into the nonprofit industry to create social impact. There are for-profits with corporate social responsibility platforms, and socially responsible corporations, and social enterprises. It’s become more and more popular for businesses to take an interest in supporting societal issues and in some ways having a for-profit model can sometimes be more helpful in creating sustainable change, as we discussed with the case study of Toms shoes because for-profits typically have more consistent income.
So far I think what has been most striking to me is just acknowledging that even nonprofits are a business. They still need to market, manage, and create an income just like for-profit businesses in order to be sustainable as an organization. The big difference is just that no one person owns a nonprofit, the community does, and income gets circulated back into the business in order to continue to support the social impact mission. However, despite the fact that nonprofits are also businesses, the public tends to think differently about how a nonprofit should function.
We’ve in-depth discussed how donators will often place restrictions on how their money can be used, and this restricted money hardly ever goes towards paying the staff members or managing overhead cost like marketing. There is this idea that these kind of expenses are not “worthy” and for some reason “aren’t contributing to the cause.” On our site visit to Global Growers, the co-founder told us that as a nonprofit, getting told funds are restricted is one of the most challenging things. Even if you had millions of dollars to support a new project, you still need money to support the manpower required to actually make the project happen or else the money won’t help anyone.
Perhaps the biggest misconception though is how we envision “in need communities.” So often we focus on problems and what needs to be “fixed.” Jessica Jackley, the founder of Kiva, mentioned in her TED talk how we are taught as children through school and religion to help the poor, and that there will always be poor people, and we should feel guilty for not helping. So Jessica created Kiva as a way to focus not on the fact that people are poor, but the fact that there are great stories of people with great ideas who just need a little money to help support their families and make their dreams a reality. It’s a shift in perspective that requires respect and acknowledging that everyone should have the right to feel dignified in their place in life. We should be working with communities, not for communities. We have to learn about their traditions, values, and customs. Hear their stories. Embrace their assets not dwell on the deficits.
We have to be humble, curious, and ask questions.
I hope to do all of these things as I experience a myriad of new communities and cultures in the following weeks to come. I’m excited for the new discoveries, nervous for what I can’t expect, and encouraged by the week spent in Atlanta that I’m in a community of passionate and open-minded learners who will help me through it all. Moreover, I’m convinced that our lives are about to change and I can’t wait to see how.
If you’d like to read more about our cohort’s journey, this is the link to our program blog where you can read from other learners on the Leadership for Social Good Study Abroad program. I’m also very thankful to have received the Munchak/Cowan-Turner Scholarship, the Mary E. and William T. Naramore International Study Abroad Scholarship, and Stamps Enrichment Funds which have allowed me to participate in this incredible program and would like to thank these families for their support in my learning journey!