Tell us what we need to know about you.
I’ve always had that feeling that I wanted to do something — like a lot of kids, I wanted to change the world or save the world, but I always felt a little bit lost about how to do that.
When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to attend a semester program called the School for Ethics and Global Leadership. It was in Washington, D.C., and it gave you the normal Junior year curriculum of AP U.S. History, Spanish, and Pre-Calc, but it also gave us the opportunity to discuss ethics, political science, and global leadership through case studies.
Each week, we did a different issue — from the Arab-Israeli conflict to the American education system. We would meet with think tanks or nonprofits and try to hear as many sides of the issue as we had time for. Talking to experts like this when you’re 17 years old was a really eye-opening experience. We had the floor to ask questions and to try to figure out how these problems in the American education system came about. What were the policy solutions right now? And what are you doing about it?
The audacity we had was pretty surprising. But for the first time, I was addressing social issues in a really substantive way.
And yet, I still felt I needed to figure out what can I do about it. I’m looking at the issues from all these angles, but how am I solving the problem?
One of our capstone projects was to create our own social venture. This was scaffolded by the Ashoka Youth Venture program, so if we followed their application, we could get funding from the Ashoka organization and fund our social enterprises. Finally, it clicked and I go: this is it. This is what I’ve been looking for, it’s why I get so frustrated about looking at all these different case studies. We keep on looking at the problem, but we’re not talking about solutions.
I then went on to college at Claremont McKenna, and I had the pleasure of working with people who were like-minded with me. We all had the same interest in social good, and a few of them knew about social entrepreneurship.
At that time, we had an administrator who invited us to a dinner and roundtable discussion. It was in Southern California on a Taco Tuesday. We all gather around the table and the administrator says, ‘so what do you know about social innovation or social entrepreneurship?’ People kind of shrugged. She went into her background, she had been at Ashoka. She said, ‘I chose these people because it sounds like in one way or another you’ve touched social innovation. And I think that the students have a large potential here, and we could create something’.
And so a few months later, I kept on going back to her door. I became co-leader of the student group, Student impACT, who addressed social innovation and changemaking on the ground at Claremont McKenna. By that point, I was just so clearly bit by the social innovation, buzzword-of-the-day bug.
It was this idea that if I took a problem and I talked to an econ student, or an environmental science student, or a government student, they would all have a different perspective and a different way to be a social entrepreneur.
But none of those people identified as one. It’s just really interesting to get people to realize that this is not only something that they’ve been already doing, but they can make a career out of it. They don’t have to go into social entrepreneurship directly, at least at my school. People never really thought, Oh, wait, this is an option.
Everyone who goes to Claremont has to write a senior thesis. By the time I came around to that, I couldn’t think of writing a 100-page paper about anything other than social innovation. I wrote about the path of social innovation in the United States — how at the local, state and federal policy level, they’ve been making paths or policy changes to incorporate social innovation. And that led me to D.C. where I am now.
How do you feel about moving to South Bend?
I grew up in New York City, went to college in Claremont, California, and currently live in Washington, D.C., so I fully embrace that this is going to be an experience that I have never had before. I’m really excited for that challenge. I think especially coming from larger, urban places, I’m really excited by the issue that Cohort 2 is addressing with small businesses, because in another setting, it would be incredibly difficult.
But from what I hear about South Bend, it seems like it’s a much more approachable problem. In order to address a social problem, you need to be working with the people on the ground. But sometimes social entrepreneurs will take shortcuts and make assumptions about what the problem is, as opposed to talking to people.
INVANTI is a startup generator in the Midwest.
We recruit entrepreneurial talent and provide them deep insight into the most important problems facing Americans today. We then generate new solutions and business models and ultimately build companies that matter: invanti.co