CoCo Chair Lizzie Shackney ’17 was selected to receive an Enrichment Grant from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship to attend the Igniting Innovation Summit at Harvard last month. You can read Lizzie’s story below, and visit the PCSE website to learn more about our grant programs.
On November 7, I attended the Igniting Innovation Summit on Social Entrepreneurship at Harvard. The speaker list sounded interesting, I liked the idea of getting of campus for a day, and I thought it would be a good experience to meet other people who were interested in the broad concept of “social entrepreneurship,” but most of all, I wanted to be inspired. When people ask me what I plan on majoring in or what I want to “be when I grow up,” I usually respond with an exasperated, “I have no idea.” But that’s not really true.
I have an idea of what I want to be when I grow up, but it’s mostly just that: an idea. I know that I want to have a career that has a positive impact on the world. I know that I want to be a part of a team of people that has that same desire, and I know which of my past experiences I most want to base my future off of. If anything, the summit gave me some direction. It was also a space for me to think about my goals, and for me to take the skills and advice of professionals and bring them back to the activities that I engage with here at Wesleyan.
First, we heard from Deepa Subramaniam, who is the Director of Product at charity: water. She talked about what the organization does and the intense need for clean and safe drinking water, especially in the developing world. She shared what makes it special as a charity organization (their 100% model, the proof they provide to those who donate that they’ve made a real impact), and how they have made themselves into an innovative non-profit. She also talked about her own career path, and how she left her successful career at Adobe to work at charity: water.
Then, we heard from Rachel Chong, the Founder and CEO of Catchafire, a highly successful volunteer platform that links those with skill to volunteer projects in need of help. Similar to Subramaniam, she started out with a more corporate career, working for Shell and then on Wall Street, so that she could understand how these companies and firms work from the inside. She encouraged the summit-goers to keep their passion for creating change alive throughout their careers.
I found it interesting that both of these opening keynotes had worked in corporate roles before switching over to the non-profit world; I realized that I’ve heard this story many times before. I assume that the skills and resources acquired in the for-profit world can contribute to a person’s success in the non-profit world, but I also hear them say that they hadn’t felt fulfilled in the for-profit world. I suppose that both of those factors contribute to the switch.
Next, we attended our first panel discussion. I went to a panel called “Mothers Matter: Innovations in Maternal Health in the Global Context,” where I heard from three public health-related professionals. All of their work involved using technology to make women’s health services more accessible, either through mobile apps or telemedicine. All of the panelists did most of their work in developing countries, and one did additional research in the United States. I thought a lot about the maternal health issues in the United States, such as high premature birth rates, lack of pre-natal care for poorer mothers, and inaccessibility to health options, such as abortion. The panel definitely re-sparked my interest in maternal health and the rights of pregnant women in a domestic sense; it reminded me that there is much to be done in the United States.
After lunch, we heard from the chief emerging payments officer of MasterCard, and then from my favorite keynote, Doug Rauch, the President Emeritus of Trader Joe’s. He was funny and genuine, and talked about how non-profits are still businesses. Business is about solving problems, and non-profits solve problems. He talked about motivation, and showed a picture of yogurt on the screen. “It’s not yogurt,” he said, “it’s culture.” How do you create a culture of motivation and innovation, a culture of trust? That’s the challenge.
Success, he argued, has a lot to do with failure. It’s important to create an environment in which it’s a really great thing to fail and share those failures. Innovation can’t happen without failure, and so it’s all about finding the best ways to fail, and then getting right back up again. Learn, share, and come back to your purpose: when you can celebrate and understand these principles, you can also embrace innovation.
Overall, I thought that the day went very well. The food was great, the speakers were even better, and I left feeling motivated and focused. I had asked myself questions about where I wanted to go and how I could improve my own leadership within my activities and classes on campus. I’m grateful to the Patricelli Center for funding this experience, and would recommend that more students take the time to get off of campus, if at the very least to get refocused.