In 2012, PSU was selected as an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus, a designation honoring our university’s excellence in social innovation education and commitment to making higher education a world-changing experience.
Ashoka U is a highly respected international non-profit organization which believes that: “In a world that is changing faster and faster, students need interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial, and solutions-oriented skills to succeed. Ashoka believes the way colleges and universities can stay relevant is to embed Changemaker skills such as empathy, teamwork, leadership and changemaking into their culture and across their curriculum.” As we recently reported, research shows that employers agree.
Our world in the 21st century requires us, as changemakers, to improve lives and strengthen our planet in a period where the pace of change itself has changed. We can’t keep up – let alone lead – by simply learning, doing, and repeating. In the words of Ashoka’s founder, Bill Drayton, “It’s the change game, not the repetition game. If you don’t understand that, you can’t lead.”
Last week, the three authors of this post were among the 700 attendees at Ashoka U’s annual convening, the Exchange. We celebrated the now 30 Changemaker Campuses, including public universities and private colleges all over the world who are building a global “Everyone a Changemaker” movement.
Starting with one word to express our experiences, these are our reflections.
Cindy Cooper, Director, Impact Entrepreneurs, School of Business Administration*
The Exchange was reinforcing. It was reinforcing to coalesce with a committed group of dedicated educators and innovators who are in solidarity about the promise of higher education to build changemakers for a better world.
PSU’s mantra is “Let Knowledge Serve the City.” Our expression of this ethos at PSU’s Impact Entrepreneurs is to contribute to creating the conditions that enable people to make choices for good.
These lofty ideals fuel us as inspiring visions of the future should. But the climb is real work, and the air can get thin. We face challenges every day to grow and improve our programs, deliver on goals and measure our impact. We constantly ask ourselves: How do we support more staff, faculty and students in being changemakers? How do we generate more strategic and effective collaborations across campus and with a global community of partners? How do we equip more impact-driven innovators with the resources they need to succeed? How do we know we are generating more happiness and less suffering?
Being among hundreds of individuals candidly sharing their efforts to get the values and skills of changemaking to reach as many people as possible helps us develop better approaches and validates our progress so far. It says we are on the right track, but don’t stop, keep going, aim higher. Reinforcement makes us stronger, more creative and more resilient. It is the meditative oxygen we need to reach our promises to ourselves and each other.
The 2015 Ashoka U Exchange and the chance to connect with a vast network of inspiring leaders in higher education provided a deep breath of reinforcement: a solid foundation of best practices and the esprit de corps to press on.
Abby Chroman, Project Manager, Impact Entrepreneurs, School of Business Administration
Advancing social innovation in higher ed. doesn’t mean leaving behind expertise in policy, or engineering, design, medicine, journalism, or law. It means creating environments where disciplines are integrally connected for real world application. The 2015 Ashoka U Exchange demonstrated intersections among what I see as some of the most important skills, schools, movements, and ideas in the world today.
Packed into a classroom in the classic-looking University Of Maryland campus on the last day of the Exchange, I listened in on a discussion about public policy and social entrepreneurship, particularly in the context of higher education. The panelists were brilliant. They explored the historic context for the existing relationship between academia, social innovation, and public policy, and with active engagement from the audience, closed with practical ways to grow the impact of that intersection.
In another session authors and NYT columnists David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg along with NYU professor Robert Lyon and instructor Sri Naomi Bishop facilitated a conversation about the power of solutions narratives both as journalistic practice, and as content for curriculum. The discussion brought forth everything from existing structures for publication in news and journals to ways instructors can find relevant tailored materials for lessons, and the tension and importance of in-depth reporting in a fast changing world.
As a Millennial working in social entrepreneurship and higher ed., I’m sensitive to the question about what role higher ed. has if we can’t predict the future. From where I stood in snowy Washington, DC last week, something came into focus for me. The particular role of higher ed. might be changing but it’s not becoming less important. Colleges and universities have the ability to strengthen and empower individuals in deep and complex disciplines to shift and tip systems that span sectors, borders, and schools of thought. What other institution can do that? The more we enforce the intersections of disciplines for real world solutions, the more I want to be a part of this.
Angela Merrill, Changemaker Campus Liaison, Impact Entrepreneurs, School of Business Administration & Institute for Sustainable Solutions*
Much how the fibers of an artist’s canvas provide a surface from which to paint, the interwoven and reinforced fibers of the community at The Ashoka U Exchange provide students a surface from which to create a masterpiece of the world.
A favorite pastime of mine has always been to draw unguided, yet inspired, doodles on the pages of my sketchbooks. Every line, dot and abstract figure looks different to create a whole and impacting image. The conference format too creates an environment to explore various topics to compose a “big picture.” There were personal development sessions and workshops on systems thinking or “the science of change,” insights on international development as well as the role of social entrepreneurship in social justice.
However, what sparkled were connections with student leaders from various universities. To me, it created a diverse gallery of the initiatives that are thriving with the support of the Ashoka U canvas. A friend from Brown spoke of “Pop-Up Classes” in changemaking, while students from the University of San Diego spoke of their sunny, music-filled social impact career fair while Fordham detailed a program that equips students with consulting skills to gain credit and work experience.
We, as Portlanders, are organically drawn to lead social change, and the canvas surface has been prepped. My question for the students, faculty and staff at Portland State is this:
How do we want our changemaker masterpiece to look?
*A special thank you to reTHINK: PSU and the Institute for Sustainable Solutions for generously supporting our participation in the Ashoka U Exchange.
The Impact Entrepreneurs Social Innovation Incubator has emerged from hiatus! After taking a year off while we created our online certificate in the Business of Social Innovation, we are thrilled to be back.
We are excited to be working closely over the next year with four amazing new members. Check them out:
Construct Foundation is building a portfolio of partners and mutually reinforcing education initiatives to identify and support new models for teaching and learning, prioritizing K-12 students in Portland Metro’s underserved communities.
Gender Gap Year is closing the gaps in women’s representation, leadership, power and pay through an innovative gap year program in Portland Oregon. Through badging, boldness, action, and self exploration, the year long program empowers women between 18 and 22 to live authentic, connected, and strategic lives of equity.
Lanyi Fan incubates locally-generated solutions and facilitates international relationships to address the high unemployment and environmental problems encroaching on existing livelihoods in West Africa.
The Pathways to Prosperity Initiative, an intrapreneurial program of nonprofit Self Enhancement Inc. (SEI), provides at-risk urban youth and their families in the Portland area “with the knowledge, skills and support needed to leverage economic opportunities and increase financial capability.”
We’ve set off to attend the annual Ashoka U Exchange. The event has grown each year and now includes over 650 university representatives and students who will convene in Washington D.C. to discuss and learn about how to further social innovation in higher education. The Exchange includes sessions such as “bringing social solutions narratives into the classroom” and “systems thinking for leading changemakers.”
Impact Entrepreneurs’ Director Cindy Cooper will be a featured panelist in Online Learning: Inspiring Stories from the Front Lines, an interactive conversation about triumphs and failures of booming online learning platforms. As a speaker on the panel, Cindy Cooper will share her experience developing a rigorous online certificate in social entrepreneurship supported by the reTHINK: PSU Provost’s Challenge.
Abby Chroman, Project Manager with Impact Entrepreneurs, will moderate Universities as Catalysts for Social Innovation, a presentation featuring two of the 2015 Cordes Innovation award winners that explores how universities leverage existing resources to partner with communities and spark social innovation.
Angela Merrill, PSU’s Changemaker Campus Liaison, is heading to the Exchange to research best practices for catalyzing connections and student engagement across campus.
Follow @PSUimpact and #Exchange2015 for our real time updates on the speakers, field visits and everything social innovation this weekend and look for another IE blog on Exchange highlights early March.
This post was contributed by Angela Merrill, Undergraduate at Portland State University’s Urban Honors College & Changemaker Campus Liaison
“Wherever we are in the world, we can commit ourselves to change.”
– Tichelle Sorenson, Director of the Portland State MBA
Since learning the term ‘social entrepreneurship,’ as a senior in high school, I have been presented with a variety of definitions for it. From Mohammed Yunus at the Grameen Bank, who was called a social entrepreneur for his work building the microfinance industry, to CanCity in Brazil, which empowers trash collectors to create furniture from melted-down cans, new ventures redefine the field every day.
Now, as the new student intern with PSU’s Impact Entrepreneurs, I’m not just out to define social entrepreneurship with a boundary for where it starts and stops because realistically, not everyone wants or needs to become a social entrepreneur. Finding an authentic personal journey to make change is still an important step towards creating more happiness (and less suffering) in our world.
Impact Entrepreneurs and the PSU Alumni Association share my conviction. Earlier this month they invited three changemakers to present at a lively event at Bridgeport Brewery. They each talked about finding their unique path to creating positive social impact throughout their lives and careers. Here my takeaways from their stories.
“Know what’s out there, contact an expert and help good people do good things.”
Currently a Research Associate at the Center for Public Interest Design (CPID) at PSU’s School of Architecture, Todd started off studying philosophy as an undergrad and became involved in various NGOs at rape and refugee call centers. Increasingly, he found himself needing to solve problems of design and, after watching a PBS documentary on Public Interest Design, decided to become an architect to work with (and not for) communities of underserved populations. Not only did Brad Pitt narrate the documentary, but it also featured CPID’s own director Sergio Palleroni – a leader in the field of Public Interest Design.
“Subscribe to be a lifelong learner and connect with those experts you might not normally connect with. Be curious. Agility is the strongest muscle, so being adaptable and having transferrable skills will help you be ready to tell your story.”
A self-proclaimed storyteller, Rhian is a serial “intrapreneur” who leads Corporate Citizenship at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide – one of the largest public relations firms in the world. She enables change by aligning the overall strategy of her clients and employees to create purpose and profit within the corporate giant.
At around 5pm each day, an alarm goes off on Rhian’s phone that says “Was today worth it?” She says the day she answers no to the question above, it’s the day to quit.
In the same way she aligns other business strategies with purpose, she too has learned that aligning herself with her company and personally defining impact is a key step in the journey.
“Have the audacity to step out of a predetermined role. If you have a crazy idea, do it.”
The skills software engineers employ are in high demand across sectors, and Eric’s story is no different. Although a first job working for a stock analysis firm paid him well monetarily, something didn’t feel quite right. After being fired from this job, he listened closely to his mind/body connection to discover where his passion was leading him – to make things and share them with people. Now a technologist with Idealist.org, he is able to do this by creating a platform that directly facilitates online users to find their own pathway to changemaking. He says, “At Idealist, we don’t necessarily have the skills to save the whales. But if you want to save the whales, we want to help you find other people who want to save the whales and can help you do it.”
It doesn’t matter to me that Eric, Todd, and Rhian didn’t introduce themselves as social entrepreneurs. They have found creative and pragmatic ways to solve the problems they see in their lives and they have crafted careers to address those issues. They are changemakers who inspired the audience to find their own pathways to changemaking.
“A Path Appears,” the latest book by Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, takes the reader on a journey starting with the story of a nine year-old girl who convinced people to donate money to provide clean drinking water for individuals around the world and ending with the tale of two college students that turned a homework assignment into an organization that delivers healthy school lunches to low-income schools in America. Through these captivating examples, this book makes the case that you do not have to be rich or business savvy to help make a change, and that problems exist closer to home than you might think.
A primary message in “A Path Appears” is that even small contributions can create a real impact in social issues across our nation and around the world. What may seem like a drop in the bucket can change someone’s life for the better. So often we find ourselves not contributing because we feel we don’t have enough to offer. This book teaches us that with a small amount of research and care you can make a change no matter how much money, time or experience you have.
Kristof and WuDunn also use this opportunity to challenge the common notion that issues like malnutrition, extreme violence, and lack of education only affect people in developing nations. The authors show us a different reality. They paint a picture in one story of Chicago’s west side, where three murders a day is the norm. “How could this happen in a developed country, in a wealthy city?” We ask. “And how can we stop it?” The powerful solution that Kristof and WuDunn illustrate here didn’t start with economic development or criminal justice, but with an open mind. Dr. Gary Slutkin, a medical doctor born a raised in Chicago, had an extensive background in infectious diseases. He worked around the world on illnesses from tuberculosis to HIV with a special focus on eradicating transmission. When Slutkin began looking at Chicago’s violence as an infectious, transmittable disease, he started to find ways to treat the problem as such. He looked at the time and place where violence would begin to escalate, or to move from one family to another, and that’s where he started stopping it. This is just one of the many stories that demonstrate that you don’t have to look across the world to find a problem and solve it. Sometimes you just have to look around you.
“A Path Appears” is full of powerful moments capable of motivating even the most skeptical person into wanting to make a change. Every night after reading the stories in this book I excitedly told my wife about things people across the world were doing to make a change. This book will drive you to take action and that step, even a small “drop in the bucket,” might just change someone’s life.
You can order a copy of “A Path Appears” here.
Social entrepreneurship has come on strong in the education space with an ever-growing number of institutions teaching entrepreneurial skills with a lens on social issues. From the midst of a fast-changing field, Impact Entrepreneurs at Portland State University paused to consider the social entrepreneurship education trends of tomorrow.
Business students will choose a focus on intrapreneurship
Social intrapreneurs use entrepreneurial practices inside existing organizations and institutions. Because their innovations ultimately yield bigger impact for their employers, intrapreneurs are in high demand. In the last few years, we have seen the rise of the social intrapreneur as one of the most prized employees. In the next five years, educators will include intrapreneurship in social entrepreneurship curriculum, organizations and institutions will fund employees’ pursuit of intrapreneurship education, and social ventures will thrive with intrapreneurs running programs and operations with new ideas and creative leadership. Join The League of Intrapreneurs here.
Boomers will join the ranks of social innovation students
The number of Americans age 55 and older will double in the next 25 years, and they’re not ready to quit. They will have a lifetime of experience and want to work on something they care about. It’s a huge opportunity. In many cases these encore professionals will seek training and education for their new stage of life and work. They will enroll in social entrepreneurship programs alongside younger generations to build skills and pathways to work with social purpose organizations and companies. Colleges and universities will craft experiences and curriculum for these new cross-generational audiences. Discover research, examples, and opportunities from the encore movement at Encore.org.
The world will see developing countries as sources of social innovation
The old narrative says that when wealthier nations invest in leadership and R&D, the solutions they invent benefit the rest of the world. But the developing world is a rich environment for social innovation where entrepreneurial leaders, often focused on their own markets, are effectively addressing pressing social problems daily. Now companies, countries, and organizations spot ideas from the developing world that could be successfully utilized in other contexts. Education institutions will follow this lead, guiding students to search for solutions from the developing world and practice collaborating with local innovators to grow their solutions for broad, international social benefit. Find a great example in this story about Kenya’s leadership in mobile money.
Programs and departments will collaborate across campus
The days are gone when the majority of students leave their university with one skill that they bring to their one job where they work forever. Now students demand a broad spectrum of experiences to support their career, which increasingly include a variety of roles. Social innovation and social entrepreneurship programs in particular will adapt by collaborating across campus, leveraging cross-disciplinary infrastructure, and building pathways for students to get the depth and breadth of experiences that will help them succeed throughout their lives as changemakers. Impact Entrepreneurs at Portland State University is collaborating with departments across campus to deliver the Certificate in The Business of Social Innovation.
Employers across sectors will look for changemakers
The most in-demand skills from employers match the goals of social entrepreneurship educators. Examples include leadership, creativity, empathy, hands-on training, problem solving, judgement and decision-making, and perceptiveness. As the overlaps between in-demand job skills and social innovation skills become more obvious, employers will partner with education institutions to fund programs that systematically benefit their workforce, their institutions and ultimately their impact. We’ve collected information here illustrating how the most in-demand job skills among employers today match social entrepreneurship curriculum.
Employers increasingly want to hire more entrepreneurial, more ethical, more impactful employees. And it’s no coincidence that the skills taught in Portland State University’s online certificate in social innovation and social entrepreneurship (a “changemaker certificate“) match those most desired by employers. As work becomes more complex and demand for creativity and flexibility grows, the skills linked to creating positive social and environmental impact — those of a “changemaker” — increasingly overlap with those that help organizations succeed financially.
The influential economist Michael Porter argues that businesses succeed when they create value not just for owners, but “shared value” for society as well. A similar approach is embraced by nearly 1200 sustainable businesses that have obtained B Corp certification, and by the 27 states that now allow Benefit Corporations as a distinct legal entity. The social entrepreneurs recognized as Ashoka or Skoll fellows have been pursuing transformative approaches to creating value for society, around the world, for decades. But it’s not just triple-bottom-line businesses, social enterprises, and nonprofits that want changemakers as employees; traditional businesses do as well.
How do we know? We looked at five recent surveys of in-demand job skills covering more than 4000 employers and 5600 individuals both in the United States and around the world (from Mckinsey; Georgetown University; the National Association of Colleges and Employers; Gallup/Lumina Foundation; and a consortium of employer organizations). We then looked at the top 10 human skills listed in each survey, separating out training in specific technical skills such as math, English fluency, and computer literacy. What we found is that the remaining skills line up neatly with the attributes of successful changemakers identified across studies summarized by faculty at the University of Northampton (an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus, like Portland State University).
For example, the top job skills demanded across all five employment surveys — oral communication, written communication, and critical thinking/problem solving — were also identified as critical attributes of successful changemakers in a number of research papers. Work ethic and teamwork, the next most desired skills, were likewise shared across both sets of research. Creativity, leadership, and self-management are key to both employability and successful change creation. Even skills like ethics and initiative, essential for social entrepreneurs, are highly desired by employers.
Our students explore each of these top skills in our certificate program. Experiential assignments and applied learning prepare them to launch a venture or to work effectively for an employer. Each student creates and refines a solution to a social or environmental problem of their choice, using best practices from design thinking, lean entrepreneurship, and leadership. Whether or not they decide to make their social venture a reality, they’re learning the most in-demand skills to be successful wherever life takes them. And we’re glad to know employers increasingly believe that employees who create shared value are also the most valued.
By Jacen Greene, Program Manager for Social Enterprise Initiatives, Impact Entrepreneurs at Portland State University