What happens when you get 100 social entrepreneurs in a room together? You get an overwhelming sense of optimism and idealism, and you get a glimpse into a world where the most innovative and creative ideas rise to the top to solve some of the world’s most pressing social problems. A Santa Monica beach house overlooking the Pacific Ocean set the stage for this year’s StartingBloc Insititute for SocialInnovation, a five day-long fellowship program that seeks to empower individuals from various academic and professional backgrounds that are at different stages of developing and implementing their own projects. The Institute also featured a group case competition tackling this year’s theme: healthy neighborhoods. The best case solutions were presented to a panel of entrepreneur judges active in the Los Angeles area, including Robert Egger (founder and president of LA Kitchen and DC Central Kitchen).
I went to this year’s Institute equipped with two ideas:
1. A potential way to introduce more of a culture of innovation into federal, state, and local governments that are often too rigid and inflexible in devising programs to effectively address social problems in an inexpensive way, and
2. An ongoing project of mine (called Develop U) that aims at providing education, technology skills, and computer access to help people start their own businesses through sites like eBay. In my previous community development work, I found that many people within at-risk populations have problems developing and reinventing themselves to match trends and opportunities that are prevalent in this digital age. What many of us, including me, take for granted here at the University of Virginia are sometimes the simplest things. Lack of basic computer literacy prevents people from ever finding decent work. This isn’t only an international phenomenon, but a reality experienced everyday in some of America’s poorest neighborhoods in cities like Dallas, where I lived prior to coming to Virginia. The Institute allowed me yet another opportunity to pitch my ideas on community development and get feedback from passionate people that were more motivated than I ever was.
While the Institute programs and sessions were all great, I really do believe that the value of this program was embodied through the people that I met. This is glimpse of what I learned from them:
– You can do good and do well. Socially conscious work can be done while not being poor and hungry.
– Non-profits have an immense amount of political clout and influence that, when organized and tapped, can be a powerful force for driving social change.
– Always design products and services with the end user in mind. This concept is embedded in the human-centered design process. Check out http://www.designforamerica.com for more on this.
– Use existing resources and frameworks to develop good work that provides a social benefit. From an economic development perspective for example, think about the difference between Norway and Nigeria, and how these two countries have utilized national natural resources to develop themselves (also termed the Norway-Nigeria moment).
– Crush fear and start something. Imagine. Innovate. Create. It isn’t always the best ideas that are the most effective. Rather, it’s the ideas that actually get converted into a plan, and subsequently into action, that have an impact and that are remembered.
For more information on StartingBloc and their programs, check out http://www.startingbloc.org. They are now accepting applications for Fellows to attend their next institute in Detroit.
– Post by Imran Khan, MPP’13