If you won the lottery today - what would you do?
What if I told you that you already won - the freedom to vote, access to higher education, and the liberty to pursue purpose driven vocations instead of just occupations. Many times we take those liberties for granted and feel that we must adhere to the “norm” 8-5 “good paying safe jobs. Even though engineering might be seen as “safe” as-it-gets-profession, it’s actually been my ideal vocation since I immigrated from Bolivia as a kid for it’s ability to “make” things rather than just “think” of things. When I travelled back to Bolivia at age 16 - the disparity of quality of life between the US and Bolivia had become much more poignant than what I remembered as a 7 year old. For example, the city where I was born, Cochabamba, was known to suffer droughts and thus an underground water tank was built in our front yard by my family to use as storage for “dry days.” I remember clearly that the “rich” had those water tanks and the rest had to make the best with what they had or had to buy water in limited amounts. I didn’t understand how a city would function without its residents having access to water all the time like in the U.S. Since that trip, I knew that I had to provide a service to my community, thus engineering seemed like the best way to design, create, and execute solutions to real life problems. However, I felt like something was missing in the equation of my chosen vocation but I wasn’t sure what it was exactly.
During a freshman seminar at USC, Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, gave a speech about “changemakers” who go beyond just creating solutions to “problems.” He said something about values-driven innovative solutions to everyday problems around the globe and for the first time I heard the term “social entrepreneurship.” I didn’t quite understand what that all meant but I remember clearly thinking Ashoka was the greatest thing ever and that engineering was the appropriate professional path for me to pursue. Years after being in the aerospace industry, that missing feeling came back. Not to belittle the value of my previous years of sincere passionate championing of higher education and community service through my leadership roles in college and in work, I still felt like I was an engineer by profession and a wanna be philanthropist by night. I couldn’t see how my everyday work was actually creating values-driven innovative solutions to issues that I was most sensitive about like those apparent mostly in developing nations.
Not till I became a StartingBloc Fellow and attended a 5 day high impact social entrepreneurship training surrounded by amazing 130 young, emerging leaders, of which 50% currently run and/or launched their own venture, from 25 different countries, of varied industry disciplines, did I have that same “a ha! moment” that gave me the same goosebumps as Bill Drayton’s speech at USC. This time around I totally understood what this “social entrepreneur” term was - I saw it embodied in my Startingbloc fellowship class of passionate young leaders. Thus after completing intensive modules on topics such as Transformative Action, Corporate Social Responsibility, Social Entrepreneurship, Cross Sector Partnerships, and Sustainability with some of the most experienced leaders in each of those areas - I knew exactly what was the next phase of my vocation - merging the “doing good, living good” paradox through social entrepreneurship. After the team case competition segment of the fellowship - where my team analyzed a sustainability social media case study, developed a strategy, and presented recommendations to board members of a large scientific company - the importance of large corporations genuinely fostering corporate responsibility beyond just going “green” or donating a few bucks to local schools really resonated with me.
StartingBloc served as a gateway to a network of driven and self-reflective young leaders from around the world pursuing sustainable, socially responsible vocations; a united global community of 1,350+ past fellows to collaborate with today. Over 50% of my fellowship class launched and/or started a for-profit and/or non-profit with much success and most importantly with significant social impact in the areas they were most passionate. I also learned how to strategically drive change within large corporations as well as how to build cross sector partnerships. Thus, ideally with the business acumen I plan to gain with an MBA degree, my analytical problem solving work experience, and this global network of social innovators, the opportunity to fund a venture “doing good, living good” seems much more attainable than ever before.
I will be forever grateful to a Riordan Fellow for introducing me to this truly transformative experience called the StartingBloc Fellowship. In fact, after completing the fellowship in Boston, MA, this past winter, I jumped on the opportunity to join the StartingBloc LA Board to help launch the first ever StartingBloc LA Institute slated for February 2011. Grant Takahashi, the StartingBloc LA Co-Chair and past Riordan Fellow(‘09), best sums up the purpose of this fellowship: "I think the Fellowship is valuable in helping direct young people what a conscious career looks like and what is possible. We're excited to bring the Fellowship to Los Angeles because there is incredible social innovation being done here and a real hunger among young people to get connected to this movement. Students and young professionals who are interested in becoming more effective agents of social change should consider applying to the SB Fellowship. We are looking for the next generation of leaders who will ascend to positions of influence to ignite social change.”
Find out how you can expand your own network and become a StartingBloc Fellow visit: http://startingbloc.org/
Most recently, USC Marshall and StartingBloc hosted an inspiring and educational social entrepreneurship event where real CEOs shared their pearls of business wisdom through their own successful and not so successful ventures: http://www.marshall.usc.edu/news/all-articles/usc-groups-join.htm
From this past StartingBloc event, I was able to meet Adlai Wertman, professor of clinical management and organization, and founding director of the USC Marshall Society and Business Lab (SBL). I followed up with Prof. Wertman and will discuss the trends in the curriculum of MBAs towards social entrepreneurship and the business case for these shifts in MBA programs in a future blog.
Ahh....the power of a network.....