Hungry for Knowledge. Will Work. (@BIF)

Last spring, I was approaching my graduation from Brown University. Having spent the past four years as an International Development student, I had thoroughly explored the countries and cultures of the world through books and scholarly articles. I’d had a great time. Still, I couldn’t wait to graduate. I was desperately impatient to get my degree and head out into the world. After all, I was about to finish college and begin my education. My real education.

I believe that books provide information, while experience provides knowledge. Granted, I had acquired substantial information about the world through my studies, yet still I hungered for true knowledge of it; of its peoples, its vistas, its smells and textures and the feel of its rivers. I hungered to experience the world. Yet there were no opportunities, I felt, that would allow me to satiate my voraciousness. I wanted to sail the waters of the warm Caribbean, to sit alongside gurus by the Ganges and listen to the misting mountaintops tucked away in the Chinese heartland. This was the story of the dream journey, the ideal learning experience that existed in the farthest corners of my imagination.

So, like any enterprising millennial, I decided to bring my idea into reality by, how else, sharing it. I created a crowdfunding campaign, shared the story in my mind and, bit by bit, received support from others who connected to it in some way. Then, days after graduating, I was loosening the mooring on a sailboat in the Virgin Islands and throughout that summer I walked through each chapter of my dream journey as I sojourned fully around the world. From the Virgin Islands through India and Japan via China and Thailand, I sat in crowded buses and floated on lonely boats, listened to spiritual leaders and wandered with fellow travelers, creating meaning from the connections made and writing down stories of the relationships built. I shared these stories with the community of people that sponsored my journey that, somehow, seemed to grow and grow the more I shared. As summer turned to fall, I completed my travels and returned home, grateful for the stillness.

Since then I’ve begun the process of writing a book about the journey and through reflection I’ve come to realize just what I learned from it. Experience provides knowledge. More so than my knowledge of Delhi’s mad bazaars or Tokyo’s flashing lights, I walked away from traveling the world with an unshakable understanding that stories can change the world. My hunger for knowledge, true knowledge, was the impetus behind my desire to travel on my own terms. The stories I created and shared resonated with others, drawing them to me as I built an audience of several thousand supporters. And, most importantly, the relationships built with these supporters were the only reason why I was able to live a dream journey to begin with.

As the new Citizen Experience Lab Associate at the Business Innovation Factory, I will be drawing directly from these experiences as I continue the task of building a community of civic leaders and social innovators committed to transformational change. I’ll be learning, storytelling and building relationships for a company that is placing the focus of social system leaders onto its users, the communities, the citizens they profess to serve.

At the moment, the Civic Experience Lab is still in its nascent stages, with very little activity, structure or precedent. This means that there is not a clear blue-print of exactly what I am supposed to be doing, who I am supposed to be speaking with or even how I am supposed to be thinking of citizenship or civic innovation. Fortunately, BIF is a place where we experiment all the time, and as my colleagues experiment with creating new business models for education and health care, I will be focusing my efforts on experimenting with what citizenship means and how to communicate that understanding.

Throughout this process I will be spending my days tucked away in the BIF office scouring the web for examples of civic leaders creating value for their communities by experimenting with new models. As we’re encouraged to work out loud here, I’ll be sharing my process as it unfolds. Drop in every now and then to see how my learning takes shape by following on Twitter or Medium. And if you have or know anyone with experience in creating transformational change, please send me an email and I’d love to learn from those experiences and broadcast them to the BIF community.

After all, experience leads to understanding. And I’m hungry to learn.

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