I first dug into each member's background after an intro phone call. FB, LI, and Google proved a great start. Here's what my initial due diligence turned up:
- Pursuing Masters at MIT in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science/Technology & Policy
- Co-founder of MIT Assistive Technology Club; obsessed with tackling assistive technology challenges that require custom engineering solutions
- Potential superpower: He has roots in Canada
- Potential trigger point: Engineering problems he can't solve (also, he has roots Canada)
- Pursuing Masters (#2) in Plastics Engineering in Specialty Medical Device Design and Manufacturing at UMASS - Lowell
- Founder of Kahlen (pronounced "Clean") - inspiring dignity and self-sufficiency in older populations via swanky/ergonomic product design
- Potential superpower: Balancing hard work and life passions; leaving US in early-October to work/surf in SE Asia
- Potential trigger point: Anything lacking a tasteful design-inspired touch, humor included
- Undergraduate at Northeastern University
- Founder of Njabini Apparel - economically empower Kenyan mothers by providing manufacturing resources/distribution network for the sale of stylish hand-made products
superpower: Dedicated to finding ways to co-mingle profit and impact; Buddha-like appreciation for the gradual process of figuring out his business model
- Potential trigger point: Do not confuse Mike's calm and collected demeanor with his willingness to put it all on the line to execute mission; rolls deep w/ Northeastern #socent crew
- Pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Gov't
- Co-Founder of Kushiri.org - online platform linking experts to organizations in the developing world
superpower: Redirecting the same determination and know-how that initially landed her a job on Wall St. into social cause; unfettered belief in the combined power of her team
- Potential point of sensitivity: I was surprised to learn that Kushari is short for KushiriKiana, meaning “participate” in a regional New Jersian dialect. (Did I get that right?)
The goal was to guide the panel into familiar, but not necessarily comfortable, territory with poignant and pointed questions. "You're at ForSE on a panel about student-led social entrepreneurship; do you really consider yourself a social entrepreneur (SE)?" We unpacked panelists' personal definitions, biases, frustrations, and lexicon in broad daylight. Will, Ann, Mike, and Irene shared potent anecdotes about organizing, launching, and growing startup ventures. Golden threads of personal realizations, lessons learned about leveraging the almighty student status as a founder, and critical decision points TiEd into our discussion.
It was a day dedicated to exploring the interplay of profit, purpose, and action from the student perspective.
So the new crop of social
enterprises must have, at their core, social causes as the life-blood of
mission, operations, and ultimately, success and failure. While each successive generation of talent is deemed a liability or bottleneck to progress by the last, the quality of talent taking ownership of the issues--both domestic and international--is astounding. Now the biggest challenge we face as a country is inherent within our competitive advantage: The United States' most valuable export is talent.
To students across the US interested in startups and SE, it is way too early in your career to choke on textbook definitions. The only entrepreneurship education worth swallowing is the one you earn by chewing into your own resources and currency (whatever that may be) and supporting others. Continue to challenge your campus, your community, your company, your employer to dissect the anatomical "neck" of business value and social causes. Remember, your neck. It's the vital channel through which the mind's rationality and heart's matters flow.
Without heart, the mind is a cold, self-serving hallow vessel; and without mind, the heart overheats, brimming with notions of what could and should be done.
Aside from hosting the panel, personal highlights from #ForSE2011 include meeting Andrew Yang and learning about his new endeavor Venture for America, which sounds like a ridiculously awesome opportunity for any student in college.
Also, massive respect and thanks to MIT's #ForSE2011 planning team and co-organizer/emcee Arun Saigal who ALL did an amazing job producing the event. Looking forward to next year!