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Finding Your Path: Lessons Learned from an Investment Banker Turned Social Entrepreneur

By Gerald Chertavian

Right after college I started my professional career on Wall Street as a banker. I decided to volunteer as a Big Brother in New York City and I was matched with an eleven-year-old boy named David. David lived in a housing development on the Lower East Side that was one of the most heavily photographed crime scenes in New York. During my Saturdays with David, I quickly noticed he was a gifted, passionate artist, although he lacked the knowledge and the support to pursue his dreams. I learned that his potential was being limited by a lack of opportunity that was in part driven by his zip code, his socio-economic status, his skin color and the school system he attended.

In fact, many of the people I met in David’s housing development were extremely motivated and talented – although they lacked access and opportunity. With his hard work, commitment and a bit of my support, David graduated from college, the first in his family to do so. His dedication and abilities eventually earned him a position as an animator in Los Angeles. He now runs his own business, owns his own home, and is happily married with two beautiful children. But I never forgot about the other people in David’s neighborhood, especially as I began to hear more and more about a lack of skilled employees in the country.

Year Up was born from this experience. From 22 students in 2000, we will serve 1,900 students annually in 2013. Our mission is to "close the Opportunity Divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education". In my journey from banker to social entrepreneur, I have been lucky enough to learn some great lessons from mentors and peers. Below are four that have guided our growth at Year Up from a small, local nonprofit to a national organization.

1) Accept you don’t know, what you don’t know

The biggest trials in launching a social venture will not be the obvious gaps or issues that you know need to be addressed. The primary challenge is figuring out what is not on your radar. The best way to solve this issue is to surround yourself with a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, experiences and point of views. They will be the ones to point out the big holes and issues in your thought process and plans.

When looking for our first rental space, I was determined to locate Year Up right in the middle of a low-income community. I wanted to meet the students where they lived. My understanding from my experience with David was that public housing complexes were insular, and I wanted the students to feel comfortable. Then came Linda Swardlick Smith, an experienced and passionate Master in Social Work, who I was thrilled to hire for my team. Linda made it clear to me – in a conversation that wasn’t easy – that locating Year Up in the Financial District of Boston was the better option. This would allow our students to begin feeling comfortable in a professional setting, and help them walk into a corporate building with their heads held high. In addition, she pointed out that we would not be dealing with one type of student, and our location needed to accommodate a diverse population. If we were to set up shop in Roxbury, it may be difficult to attract students from East Boston or Chelsea.

So we opened our first site in Downtown Crossing instead, in close proximity to all the major transit lines and that made it convenient for all groups. And moreover, the central location proved in time to be vital for hosting visitors, including the investors and corporate partners who fueled our growth.

2) Put the right people in the right seats

When hiring, it is important to look for people who are emotionally fulfilled by the mission. Making sure they are willing to go the extra mile for your cause is more important than being sure they have the perfect set of skills. Skills can be worked on and improved, especially in someone who is motivated. But an unshakable passion for the mission cannot be taught, and when times are tough and late nights are the norm, you want your staff to really believe in the work that they are doing.

I learned this lesson from the first instructor I hired, Richard Dubuisson. Richard began his childhood in Haiti, and after moving to Miami he was held back because he did not speak English. He had trouble adjusting and dealt with severe prejudice. He applied for our first open teaching position knowing I was looking for a teacher with five to ten years of experience and a master’s degree, none of which he had. But in his interview, Richard made an intriguing promise that convinced me he was the right hire: he said he would be the best teacher I would ever have, because he had been one of our students. His unwavering passion and experience led him to be the perfect fit, and one of our very best instructors for over a decade.

3) You need to be a fanatic

As Winston Churchill once said, "a fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject." When starting a social venture, you are constantly selling your product, and are talking to people every day about the work that you are doing. You must have an unwavering passion, because doing that is not easy. When I started Year Up, I was out three to four nights a week just trying to connect with the right people. I would try my best to meet the "movers and shakers" in Boston and to explore whether they had an interest in getting involved in our mission. It was exhausting and thrilling at the same time.

Having said that, I’ve tried hard over the years to achieve work/life integration, which is different from work/life balance. The work at Year Up doesn’t stop at 5pm and so it has been really important to figure out how to integrate work with life outside of Year Up. It helps a great deal to have a support system around you. In my case, I have been extremely fortunate to have had a "quiet co-founder" with me at all times, my wife Kate. She was there from the beginning and has been deeply involved ever since. From setting extra plates at dinner for staff or graduates, to mentoring countless students, to interviewing potential hires, Kate helped make Year Up a reality and helped us to achieve an integration that has worked well for our family.

4) Dream big and then go to sleep, wake up and dream even bigger

Entrepreneurs are in the right position to dream big. If you are not dreaming big to solve the problem, then who is? When I wrote my first business plan, my dream was to reach 10,000 students. As we welcomed our first class of only 22 students, this goal seemed overly ambitious, and several people laughed when we told them about our aspirations. Well, we will hit the goal of reaching 10,000 students in a few years, and so we have shifted our gaze to having a national impact. To advance our vision of a country in which all 6.7 Million "Opportunity Youth" have access to meaningful career opportunities, we are adapting our program and piloting new models that are capable of reaching 100,000 people a year. We are also working to impact the systems and policies that perpetuate the Opportunity Divide. With this plan, we will reach many more young people in search of a chance to prove themselves.

Social entrepreneurs are dealing with some of the biggest issues of our day. Your ideas can dictate what our future country will look like and I firmly believe that you will be at the forefront of solving some of our most pressing social challenges. We need you more than ever and I am humbled to walk alongside you on this long road towards a more just and equitable society.

Moving Beyond Sustainability to Environmental Effectiveness

by Colin Beavan

The task at hand — to create a new reality; a new way of living with fewer
resources while providing a prosperous life for every member of our growing
population — is going to require more than even the best technology that money
can buy. It’s going to require imagination, open-mindedness, a willingness to
live and to understand life differently. With that significant challenge ahead
of us, is “sustainability” the best weapon we can bring to the fight?

To illustrate my point, let me ask: is sustainability an inspiring call to
action? Do you dream of a life that’s simply “sustainable?” Or do you
hope for something better, say, a happy life? One that’s full of meaning?

Who among us would be satisfied with living a life that can simply be sustained?
And if that’s not what we want for ourselves, then why is it the word we use to
pitch this lifestyle to the still-unconvinced? Sustainability, the way many on
the most recent wave of popularization have tended to think about it, is nothing
more inspiring than business as usual — adapted so that we can do it forever.
As usual.

I am aiming a punch straight for our “green” solar plexus. I want
to knock the wind out of our guts. I want us take a deep breath and think of
something better.

What I’m saying is that there are a lot of products and processes out there
that could be made in a way that’s arguably sustainable when, in fact, they do
no good for humankind at all. To my mind, even if resources are used
“sustainably,” if they are not being used to improve human life, they
are still, essentially, being trashed.

A new means of evaluating products and services in terms of their improvement
to human life will be a necessary step in the evolution of
“sustainability” — if we want to use that term — as an enduring
philosophy.

When our measure of sustainability asks only if a given activity is
something we can get away with doing — and fails to ask whether that activity
is worth doing at all — we fail to see the larger picture.

Imagine a soda can. Sure, it’s better for the planet if the can is both
recycled and recyclable; it’s even better if the local recycling program
ensures that the aluminum used to make the can continues to loop through the
process of use and re-use. At that point, the process of packaging soda becomes
arguably sustainable.

But when we view that product in the interconnected world in which it lives,
we still end up with obese kids buying sugary sodas from machines in their
schools. Another example: No matter how green a car we drive, unless the system
changes we
are still stuck with
suburbs and highways and spending 13 percent of our
incomes to service those cars.

Business. As usual.

“Sustainable” implies something can be done, but it says
nothing about whether it should be done. It says nothing about whether
our precious resources are being used for our betterment.

In order to change the paradigm, I believe that we need to begin to include
“life enhancement” as a measure of a product’s overall worth in the
world.

Consider, first, that reduced resource use and ecological lifestyles, on both
the cultural and the individual level, need not mean deprivation. Let’s assume,
in fact, that there are synergistic solutions that can help solve both our
lifestyle and our environmental crises.

Indeed, let’s assume that such solutions are better than what we call
“sustainable” because they have the added benefit of enhancing human
life. I’m going to call these solutions, for the purposes of this post,
“environmentally effective.”

Environmental because it is less harmful to the environment. Effective because
resources are effectively used to enhance human life. In other words, we get
joy or life, quality or health. Or something else good. That’s better than
boring old “sustainable,” right?

One simple example of environmental effectiveness on the individual level:
cycling. Studies show that bicycle commuters are happier than car and transit commuters.

Research also shows that, at the cultural level, people who live in
pedestrian-friendly areas tend to have more friends.

In both cases, the scenario that uses fewer resources results (directly or
indirectly) in better quality of life. The happiness of people, therefore, does
not depend on energy and material use. It depends upon whether materials and
energy are used effectively to improve well-being.

You can argue, therefore, that a transportation system based on biking is
not just sustainable, but actually environmentally effective.

In this next-gen version of ecological thinking, I’d like to propose that
the ecologically responsible designer of products and systems go beyond the
question of identifying the lowest possible energy and materials input. The
real question is whether use of those valuable ecological resources can be
justified in terms of quality of life improvement.

In mathematical terms, the “environmental effectiveness” (E) of a
product or system might be represented by an equation that looks something
like:

E = life enhancement / ecological resource use.

The more life enhancement (pleasure, health, contentment, security,
community, connectedness) delivered per unit of resource, the higher the
environmental effectiveness, and the more ecological the product. In other
words, even a conventionally-grown apple has a higher environmental
effectiveness than organically-grown tobacco.

And if you think about it, products like sugary sodas wouldn’t score so well
either. Carrot juice, even in the same throwaway container, would score better.

Here’s another example: a coal-fired power plant. If we were to build one
here in New York, say, where I live, we might be able to turn our air
conditioners up and keep our buildings a degree cooler. But if we built the
same power plant, say, in India, we could deliver electric light to villages so
kids could learn to read at night.

The same power station is more environmentally effective in one case than
the other. Though both examples have the same ecological resource use, the
Indian case delivers more life enhancement.

We have become so short on environmental resources that we can no longer
afford to be wasting them on things that don’t even improve our lives.

Environmental effectiveness goes beyond sustainability and challenges us to
ask whether or not we’re using our resources to enhance life; because if we’re
not, isn’t that the true definition of waste?

It challenges us to look deep into the environmental crisis not only for
opportunities to use less, but also for ways to use better. It
challenges us not to squander our limited resources on things that harm us or
others but to value our resources enough to insist that they are used for our
good.

That’s vision. That’s opportunity. That’s a chance to get better lives as
well as solving the environmental crisis.

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Making is Hard To Do

By Dale Dougherty Co-founder of O’Reilly Media, Founding editor and publisher of Make magazine, Co-creator of Maker Faire

At the core of the maker movement is the idea that we are more than consumers; we are makers. We are producers, creators, builders and shapers. Makers are enthusiasts who love what they do and want to share it with others, as seen in Make Magazine. Makers are mostly amateurs.

Makers “scratch their own itch,” to use the phrase that Eric Raymond coined to describe what motivated Open Source developers. Making technology do what we want it to do and adapt it to our creative and personal goals is very satisfying. This desire to satisfy ourselves and our interests is at the heart of a growing DIY (do-it-yourself) culture. Yet this is a culture that is very personal and intensely social. Makers are builders of communities that organize around shared interests. We’ve seen the growth of maker communities, both online and local.

There’s no better place to meet makers than this weekend’s at the NY Hall of Science in Queens. You’ll meet hundreds of makers who exhibit their creative projects that use technology in innovative ways. You’ll be among thousands of others who we hope get their first hands-on experience making something and meeting others who are makers.

If consuming is meant to be easy, making is hard by comparison. While a lot of DIY projects may be easy to do, many of the projects that makers undertake are hard. Hard as in hardware. Working with hardware isn’t as hard as it used to be. Hardware is now benefiting from the same forces that allowed open source to reshape the software industry and create the web economy. Makers are part of a prototyping revolution that is inviting a new audience to design and develop products. Open technologies and new collaborative processes just might change the way we make things at work and home.

Yet if the maker movement is to continue to grow, we must understand the importance of community building and broadening participation. Maker Faire has served as a catalyst for community building. There are over 60 Maker Faires worldwide this year. Maker Faire helps to identify makers so they can find each other in a community. It also helps to invite others to participate and learn to become makers.

The growth of hackerspaces and makerspaces is crucial to the success of the maker movement. These physical workshops organize tools, materials and expertise for people. They help to prepare makers and train them to do things that many of us would think are hard to do. It’s also important that these workshops be available for young people. Many existing spaces cannot serve young people because of liability reasons. We need find ways to include young people in the existing spaces or by setting up unique spaces that are focused on the needs of young makers. That’s become a personal goal of mine – to extend the maker movement to schools and reach more young people.

We need more places in our community where young people can go to learn and gain the experience of making. And we need more mentors and other volunteers to provide expertise and personal support. We have two key initiatives: the MENTOR Makerspace program and the non-profit Maker Education Initiative. The Makerspace program is a DARPA funded program to establish physical workspaces in up to 1,000 high schools over the next three years. We have just launched our initial round of pilot schools in the Bay Area.

We’ve also set up the non-profit Maker Education Initiative to work with partners to develop model programs that provide more opportunities in our communities for young people to engage in making. One of its programs is Maker Corps, which will help organize volunteers in communities to help develop young makers.

We want everyone to understand that they can become makers. While it’s not necessarily easy, it is possible. For those makers who develop and share their own creative projects, it can be very satisfying.

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Jeffrey Hollender on How To Get Business & The US Economy Back on Track

Big business in America has evolved over the last 40 years from an engine of growth and prosperity to a wealth concentrating and environment destroying force that writes its own rules and will do almost anything to ensure its survival. Can we recapture the potential of business to create a sustainable and equitable future? Hollender will discuss these questions and more at his lecture at NYU Reynolds on February 7, 2012. This event is free and open to the public.

By Jeffrey Hollender

I can’t repeat these sad facts often enough:

  • Just 1% of Americans own 40-50% of the wealth. Annual income for the wealthiest soared from $4 million in 1974 to $35 million on average in 2007.
  • The richest 400 Americans average $270 million in income and pay only 18% in federal taxes. In 1955, the country’s most affluent made far less money and paid 51 percent of their income in taxes.
  • Inequality in America is worse than Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen.
  • Tax rates on executive pay, have been cut in half since 1970.

Don’t be fooled by declining unemployment numbers, strong automobile sales, or the fact that luxury brands like Tiffany’s and Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) are making money hand over fist – our economy is still in a terrible mess. And we need to act NOW to fix it

The reason America’s financial house is in such disorder is four-fold:

  • First, we simply lack a credible strategy for creating a sustainable and equitable economy.
  • Second, and related to point number one, we have allowed our largest corporations to sit on gigantic piles of cash (accumulated by some as a result of paying little or no income tax) rather than invest in the research and product innovation that is essential if we are ever going to hire more workers and maintain our global position of economic leadership.
  • Third, our economy is being held hostage by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s old economy industries – from oil, gas and coal to banks and brokerage firms – which evade corporate income taxes and live on government subsidies.
  • Fourth, as a nation, we are consistently failing to do what citizens in places like Egypt and Tunisia have done and exercise our democratic right to fight against this unacceptable state of affairs.

Last year, I wrote about the loss of the nation’s third largest manufacturer of solar technology: Evergreen, based in Devens, Massachusetts, shut down its brand new plant, laid off 800 workers and left for China. And there’s the real truth: the erosion of much of the manufacturing foundation of our economy continues unabated.

New jobs are appearing, but in all the wrong places. The Bureau of Labor projects that in the next decade we’ll create 394,000 new food service and preparation jobs earning an average of $16,430. Lowe’s Home Improvement stores announced not long ago that it was adding 8,000-10,000 jobs for weekend sales associates and “assistant” store managers while firing 1,700 store managers.

While it’s unquestionably true America will never be able to compete when it comes to many sectors of manufacturing, a low-wage, service-based economy that specializes in flipping hamburgers rather than building solar panels, imports its food from China and manages health care costs by having X-rays read in India rather than investing in preventative and alternative health care providers is an economy I wouldn’t want to risk my financial future on. To paraphrase Bloomberg Business, who would invest in an economy that lost $2 trillion last year and has a negative net-worth of $44 trillion?

And we keep making matters worse.

As 2012 came to a close, so did two federal tax incentives for the solar and wind energy industries that have powered their explosive growth. The expiration of the incentive tax credit – used primarily by solar – and the production tax credit for wind will cost tens of thousands of jobs and slow the nation’s transition to carbon-free power.

The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that 37,000 jobs will not be created in 2012 as a result of the cash grant program expiring. The American Wind Energy Association, predicted that an extension of the production tax credit, or PTC, would create 54,000 jobs over the next four years.

So what’s the solution? Here’s a 10-point plan to get us back on the right track:

  1. End all corporate financial subsidies. The renewable energy industry will do just fine if we stop subsidizing oil and gas with billions and billions of subsidies.
  2. Institute a corporate flat tax with no exceptions.
  3. Close the door on offshore corporate tax shelters.
  4. Provide $5 billion of capital for start-up businesses, small businesses and worker-owned companies that provide livable wages and offers sustainable products or services.
  5. Reduce payroll taxes permanently. Offset this with a tax increase for the wealthiest 1% of Americans and an elimination of the tax deduction on second homes.
  6. Decrease the defense budget by 25% over the next 10 years and invest 100% of those funds in education, research and infrastructure.
  7. Target three industries in which America can assume global leadership and align our federal investment in education and R&D in support of those industries.
  8. Institute a tax on carbon and increase the gasoline tax to fund our federal investment in the three chosen industries.
  9. Mandate over the next three years women make up 50% of the directors of all public and private companies.
  10. Publicly fund all elections, allow online voting, get rid of the electoral college and let the public directly cast their vote for their chosen candidate.

About Jeffrey Hollender
Jeffrey Hollender is the founder of Jeffrey Hollender Partners, a business strategy consulting firm and the co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation, which he built into a leading brand known for its authenticity, transparency, and progressive business practices. For more than 25 years, he has helped millions of Americans make green and ethical product choices, beginning with his bestselling book, How to Make the World a Better Place, a Beginner’s Guide. He went on to author five additional books, including The Responsibility Revolution and Planet Home. He is the Board Chair of the Greenpeace Fund US and a board member of Verite as well as the co-founder and Board Chair of the American Sustainable Business Council. Please visit www.jeffreyhollender.com to learn more and visit Jeffrey’s blog. He can also be found on Twitter (@jeffhollender) and on Facebook.

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Reaching the Top

BY: Mike Jones

One of
the more troubling aspects of a top-down system of governance is that all too
often those who are impacted the most by federal or state legislation are the
ones with the least input in its creation.  I was recently asked by the Coalition for
Residential Education (CORE) to speak on a Congressional panel along with
several other young people to push back against this issue and, hopefully, give
those people at the top a little advice from those of us at the bottom.

 

The
impetus for our visit to Capital Hill is the recent push to defund
residential/group home care in several states across the country by reducing
the number of minors that are placed into these programs. The foster care
system, while still the first stop for young people that can no longer live
with their families due to abuse, neglect, or issues beyond their control, is
overcrowded and many youth end up bouncing to multiple different foster care
placements before either turning 18 or becoming emancipated minors. Reform is
needed but not all reform is created equal.

 

In the
Fall of 2010, the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth released a
white paper concerning the state of youth in the U.S. Child Welfare System.
For the most part, the points provided are sensible and reflective of what
welfare advocates have been pushing for years. For example, proposals to create
a “foster care bill of rights” and to “monitor the use of psychotropic drugs”
administered to young people in foster care are sensible and long overdue.
Other parts however, such as a proposal to decrease funding to “congregate
care” (Group homes) after a one-time
90 day period following the placement of a minor, and to eliminate that option
for anyone under the age of 16, is raising eyebrows among advocates for
residential education like CORE.

 

Over the
past decade, states such as Massachusetts, Virginia, and North Carolina have
made reducing the number of youth in residential or group home care an
essential part of their plans for Child Welfare Reform. The motivation behind
this is two-fold. On the one hand, it is generally accepted that foster care
placement, in which a minor lives with relatives or “qualified adults” that they
are not related to, is preferred to placement in a group home. On the other,
more suspicious hand, the motivating factor for states and a growing number of
organizations in the field (such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation) is that
foster care just costs less; in fact it costs 2/3 less than a comparable group
home placement.

 

With
this in mind, you might be asking yourself why these wildly expensive and
supposedly less preferable group homes exist in the first place and you would
no doubt find company in those higher echelons of policy-making that feel the
same way. However, these institutions have been around for decades for a
reason, there is a real and continuing need for them. There are approximately
half a million young people in the child welfare system and although it would
be nice to think they all have support networks of people to take care of them
at a moments notice, that’s simply not the case. Group homes may not be the best
first option but if given the chance they can be a close second for thousands
of young people across the country.

 

This was
what I had in mind when, with the support of an amazing group of young people
bearing similarly positive experiences with group home care, we made our way to
Capitol Hill. The speakers, with ages ranging from 18 to 33 all gave incredibly
moving testimony about how when the traditional foster care system failed them
and they were placed into residential care, they found themselves in a
community of young people just like themselves and were given a stable
environment to live and ultimately thrive.

 

One by
one, each speaker rattled off the ways in which a residential placement option,
while not the ideal choice, eventually ended up being the right choice for
them. The message of the event was clear; a monolithic system of care in which
a few policy makers decide that foster care and foster care alone is the right
decision for the 500,000 minors in the system is not an acceptable solution to this
national problem. Defunding residential group home programs while knowing that
there are simply not enough foster care families to meet the needs of displaced
youth will further add to a population of transient minors in the foster care
system. Maybe the top should listen a little more closely to what’s going on
down at the bottom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Facebook Philanthropy

By Hannah Oppenheimer


At 10:30 am on a
Saturday morning in large Latin American city, I was sitting with a group of
American students as we waited for a bus that would take us 40 minutes away to
volunteer. I was curious to meet the kids we would be playing with that day. We
were only told one thing about them–that they lived in severe poverty. Our job
was simply to play with them–soccer, arts and crafts, board games. Despite the
obvious language difference, I imagined it would be a lot similar to some of my
teaching and babysitting jobs.

 

And in fact, it
was. Just like my jobs in the US, the kids couldn’t seem to keep the paint from
spilling all over their clothes or the picnic tables. The boys were competing for
who knew the most bad words and the girls were trying to lie about how many
refills they’d already had of fruit punch. There was one adorable quiet boy, as
there always is. But he warmed up to me, as they always do. And as usual, I had
fun escaping the adult world to sit with young friends, who told me their
dreams while I braided their hair or asked them to tell me the stories behind their
drawings.

 

The only difference
between this and my other jobs was the camera flashing. At the beginning of the
day, while we were waiting for the bus, another American volunteer turned to me
and said, “I just can’t wait to take photos with the kids today. We will look
so cute in the pictures! And we’ll look really helpful, too!” For those who
aren’t fluent in modern American dialect, that translates to, “Putting this on
Facebook will make me look like such a good person!”

 

But she wasn’t out
of the ordinary. In fact, the organization in charge of the event held an
informal orientation on the bus ride, in which they literally told us it was
okay to take a few “Facebook photos.” They said, “We’re all guilty of wanting our
photo taken with poor kids.” The volunteers were not, however, permitted to
take photos of the neighborhood because they said, “This isn’t a zoo.”

 

I don’t know if it
was a zoo or not. But poverty certainly seems to be the most fashionable
tourist attraction for travel abroad. And anyway, how is taking a bunch of
Americans on a bus to play with poor foreign kids any different than taking
them to a petting zoo? It’s mutually beneficial, sure. The animals get their
feed, the people get their photo. Not only do they feel good, but they look
good, too.

 

But sustainable?
There certainly are plenty of volunteer abroad programs that work. But I always
worry more specifically about the child-centered
volunteer programs that run on a flow of international volunteers. It’s a great
experience for everyone involved to be exposed to global cultures. But in some cases,
a global mindset isn’t in the bare necessities for the children actually
receiving the services. Kids are complex and soak in everything, so they need neighborhood
role models who consistently show up, who build relationships, who fuel local
empowerment–not just kind-hearted foreigners with good intentions, in and out
in a flash of the camera. 


Hannah Oppenheimer is a 2010 Reynolds Scholar at NYU’s College of Arts & Science.  She is currently studying abroad in Buenos Aires.

Courage in the Heart: The story of how women in rural Bangladesh are radically changing the fabric of their society by amplifying their voices and demanding their rights.

by Annie Escobar 

576-CourageintheHeart-thumb-300x200-573.jpg

This
past summer, as part of our Reynolds Program Internship program, Patricia
Schneidewind (a fellow Reynolds scholar) and I traveled to
Bangladesh for nine weeks to
document BRAC, the world’s largest development organization’s social justice initiatives.  Today, on the 100
th anniversary of
International Women’s Day we are launching Courage in the Heart, an online
storytelling platform featuring the stories of 12 women who are radically
changing the consensus about the value of women by organizing to demand their
rights. Visit the site here:
www.brac.net/courageintheheart

 

Mussamat struck us with her beauty from the moment we saw her.
She greeted us with a brilliant smile, making me second guess if she was the
woman we would be interviewing. I didn’t expect someone who
had acid thrown on her face (by
her husband after he insisted her family pay a higher dowry) to be so full of
life.  BRAC is now fighting her case in
court to bring the perpetrators to justice.

 

Her
interview was like many others. After convincing the inevitable crowd of
interested neighbors to give us some space, we sat, just the three of us, in
her courtyard. Ruhul, our good friend and translator, gave basic instructions
about what our project was and then basically just told her to talk and then left
(the women felt more at ease without the male presence).

 

Mussamat
began speaking. She spoke quietly at first and then her voice developed a strength
and a rhythm.  For long moments she stared into the distance, letting a loud
heaviness settle into the spaces between her words. My
limited
Bangla meant that I could only understand bits and pieces, but it was as if my
body could feel it all. So much is communicated through the
face, the voice, and the breath.
My heart felt compressed and
breathing became difficult. When she was finally done, half an hour later, we
quietly shut the camera off and all held each other and cried. And then, in a
moment that is still profoundly humbling, Mussamat took her scarf and slowly, gently
wiped the tears and sweat from my face. It is a moment I draw strength from
every day.

 

Suddenly,
a feeling of lightness came over us and we all started cracking up. We laughed
and danced in that courtyard until it was time to leave.

 

The last image of her in my mind is of her beaming, holding her
daughter, sending us away with a giant wave.
 As
we drove away, I asked Ruhul if he heard her say how old she was.

“22,”
he answered.

The
same age as Patricia.

 

When
we left her house that day I made myself a promise. That I would make sure that
we were not the only ones carrying that testimony.

 

To
me, our experience in Bangladesh
was a testament to the power of solidarity and connectivity. With the help of
the BRAC staff and Ruhul, we approached these women and incredibly, they let us
into their lives and revealed with intimacy some of their most painful and
proud moments. The compassion we tried to bring to our interviews hopefully
contributed to the trust with which they revealed their stories, but I also
think it was something else too. The last words that Julekha, a mother in
Mymensingh whose daughter was raped and murdered, said to us were, “When you
leave, tell everyone that you heard my story. I have told you everything. I
want to feel justice.” Many of the women seemed to see the camera as an
amplifying tool for their testimony and they spoke out to their imagined
audience on the other side of the camera. Now that audience is there,
listening.

 

Today,
a year after launching this project, Mussamat’s, Julekha’s and others’ stories
will be passed on. My hope is that these women and their stories can give
others the inspiration to believe in their own strength and courage to confront
injustice.

 

Visit
www.brac.net/courageintheheart to see these stories.
Carry them with you. And please, share this project with anyone you can.


Photo Credit Annie Escobar, ListeninPictures

Bill Drayton- The Gentle Visionary

By Courtney Montague
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“If your idea isn’t fitting (your vision), you can change it. If the world isn’t fitting you idea, you can sometimes change it as well.” – Bill Drayton
To many in the field of social entrepreneurship Dr. Bill Drayton is not only a founder of the field but also a visionary. He has consistently iterated his approach to social change and in the process assisted millions of people in countries across the globe. NYU Wagner and The Catherine B Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship were lucky to host Dr. Bill Drayton for a series of events last week.  Since it began thirty years ago Ashoka has provided seed capital to over 7,000 high impact social entrepreneurs. The average number of people served by these high impact social entrepreneurs is 174,000 and more than half of them change government policy through their innovation.  These entrepreneurs don’t just teach a man to fish; instead they change the entire fishing industry, government fishing policies, and ultimately the world’s perception of fishing. 
After spending time interviewing Dr. Drayton, who insists on being called Bill, here are some tips this gentle, humble, kind and powerful visionary, feels like all of us at NYU need to consider:
1. The Biggest Barrier to Creating Change is Not Giving Yourself Permission
Our biggest barrier to creating change is actually ourselves.  Dr. Drayton advises, “All those people who tell you you can’t do things. Be polite; but ignore them.” So stop listening to the naysayers. Allow yourself to look at a problem, develop a large scale solution, implement that solution and then constantly refine it as you work to change the system. Give yourself permission to be great, and just go do it. 
2. Collaborative Entrepreneurship is Key
If you’ve been at NYU Wagner for any period of time you’ll have already been in a number of group projects. Although we might all struggle with Wagner’s obsession with teams Dr. Drayton agrees that collaboration is key; “We’ve learned (at Ashoka) how to create the most powerful force in the world- collaborative entrepreneurship.” 
Five years after receiving an Ashoka Fellowship an average of 97% of Ashoka Fellows are still working on their project, 88% of their projects/organizations have been copied and 55% have changed government policy. These are extremely powerful people, correcting ineffective systems or simply creating new ones.  Dr. Drayton explained that when these visionaries work in teams they have an even greater exponential effect on changing a particular system. Therefore, Dr. Drayton encourages social entrepreneurs to consider ‘collaborative entrepreneurship’ and openly admired Wagner and The Reynolds Program’s commitment to team spirited innovation.  
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3. Learn it Young 
Dr. Drayton also emphasized how incredibly important it is for children and young adults to learn that they can create change. Most, if not all, of Ashoka’s fellows started their changemaking path very early in life and can trace when their hunger for change first began. He noted how those experiences, at a young age, serve to enforce a person’s empathy, their confidence and helped to develop their changemaking skill set.  This idea forms the basis of Ashoka’s Youth Venture Program. A program designed to give young people an opportunity to implement their vision of change and learn the associated skills before the age of 20.
So the next time you are working with a youngster, whether they’re your student or your younger brother, try to create conditions whereby they can realize their power to change the world. 
4. Times are Changing and Everyone is a Changemaker
Dr. Drayton firmly believes that society’s traditional hierarchal structure, in which most of the world’s resources are concentrated in the hands of a few, is quickly disintegrating.  As information technologies shrink the boundaries between cultures and countries Dr. Drayton firmly believes that the world will soon be a much ‘flatter’ place (I mean he’s right- just look at Egypt). And those who cling to the old, hierarchal way of doing things will be lost along the way. He emphasizes the need for the world to change into a place where ‘everyone is allowed to be a changemaker.’  From businesses that allow each employee, from the janitor to the CEO, to voice their vision for the company’s future to a country’s democratic, government structure, Dr.  Drayton believe it is time we embrace every person’s voice. 
5. NYU Wagner and Reynolds are ‘Islands of Change’

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Throughout our interview and throughout his speech Dr. Drayton continued to praise the entrepreneurial and collaborative efforts of NYU Wagner and The Reynolds Program. He even suggested that, “The Reynolds program is an island of what the world will be like.” He believes that only a university committed to social innovation, entrepreneurship and empathy will succeed in the coming years. And he believes that NYU is perfectly situated on the cusp of that paradigm shift.  As an individual that has learned a tremendous amount from Wagner and Reynolds, I know I am already indebted to not only a great school but a leader among socially focused entrepreneurial institutions.  It is no wonder NYU Wagner and NYU Reynolds are already such close friends of Ashoka.
Check out the video and podcast of the event at http://www.nyu.edu/reynolds/speaker_series/1011/drayton.html or on iTunes.
All photos credit Annie Escobar - Founder of ListenIn Pictures: http://listeninpictures.com/

Collaborations Bring Renewal of Faith

In November 2010, 2009 Fellow Courtney Montague invited Reynolds Alumnus Magogodi Makhene (2008) to travel with her to New Zealand to facilitate Courtney’s program Be The Change.  Magogodi writes about her experience in her blog Africa’s Moment on SocialEdge.org.  An excerpt is provided below.  Click the link at the end of the post for the full entry.

A Renewal of Faith: Meet Be The Change-Makers
By Magogodi Makhene – Africa’s Moment
This week renewed my faith in why I do what I do.  GVN Be the Change introduced me to a group of passionate, grounded and very real people who welcomed me into their lives and allowed us all to learn from each other.  I am so grateful for this opportunity and cannot wait to see each participant and their idea butterfly beyond the embrace of our community.  Fly.  Am so proud to introduce you to my new circle of friends and the work they are doing.
Kent, Palmersto, North New Zealand.
“Everyone can see a kid with a broken arm, how do we see a kid with mental health issues.”  Kent’s presentation of his vision moved the room to silence.  This man is powerful.  He speaks about mental health services for youth from a deeply gutteral and primal place.  He amplifies our best self, the part that helps pull us through dark days, perhaps because he’s been there himself.  And he’s only 18…
To read more, view Magogodi’s full post at Africa’s Moment.

Linda Rottenberg, on High-Impact Entrepreneurship and her upcoming Reynolds talk

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On
December 2, I look forward to visiting NYU Wagner for the Reynolds Program
Speaker Series. In addition to fielding questions, I’m excited to talk about my
own journey as a social entrepreneur and my reflections on the social
entrepreneurship field — which has really gained ground over the past decade.

 

My own organization, Endeavor, is a
global nonprofit (headquartered a stone’s throw away, in Union Square) that
pioneered the concept of High-Impact Entrepreneurship in emerging markets. For
13 years, we’ve been selecting and supporting high-potential entrepreneurs who
create jobs, generate wealth, and serve as role models.


If you’d like to learn more about
what High-Impact Entrepreneurship is all about and how to get involved, I
encourage you to check out our newly redesigned website and blog (http://www.endeavor.org)
and stay in touch on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/endeavor_global)
and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/endeavorglobal).

RSVP for Linda’s event on December 2 at 12:30pm by visiting: http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22B8V93RNUW