Why I'm Taking a Year to Learn and Do the Things I Give a Damn About
I'm taking one full year to focus on what I most give a damn about: entrepreneurship education to empower girls.
The decision to take this adventure wasn't an easy one—I loved the projects I worked on during the two years I worked at GOOD/Corps, GOOD's social innovation consultancy. But my "a-ha" moment came when I visited India last summer as part of a project with Gap Inc.'s Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement program. I got to meet female factory workers who are part of the P.A.C.E program, and the conversations I had with them shattered my preconceived notions of what life is like for these women. They exuded "empowerment" and all cited positive life changes due to the entrepreneurial skills they were learning through the program.
These encounters were a stark contrast to my Teach For India classroom experience a few years earlier—where we struggled to retain our female students and keep them in school. I immediately recognized the rift between my classroom and my experiences with the P.A.C.E women. Economically empowering women is more effective than aid dollars, yet schools fail them in this regard.
Our current education system is test score-driven and focused on rote skills rather than empowering students to actively solve problems, think critically, and execute effectively—key skills found in each and every entrepreneur. Not every girl needs to start their own company, but if we can teach them entrepreneurial skills from an early age then we can help them define their own futures.
I quickly realized that only recently have we seen the rise of experience and entrepreneurship-focused education organizations, and even still very few target girls and their unique learning styles and patterns. Even fewer target low-income girls. I came to three conclusions:
1. There's a need in the space.
We need to start teaching girls entrepreneurship skills sooner rather than later so they can start "leaning in" right from the start.
2. To "beg, borrow, and steal" is a good thing.
There are far too many startups in the social good space nowadays and not enough due diligence done prior to launch. Thus, I want and need to learn the best practices from organizations and social entrepreneurs who are currently tackling this problem. In the social impact space we should all "beg, borrow and steal" each other's winning sauce. After all if we are going to win, we have to play a team game.
3. Let's create a year of "Learn + Do."
I realized the only way I was going to become well-versed in the world of entrepreneurship education is if I dove in head-first—a year of "learn + do" with the social entrepreneurs and organizations that were tackling this problem from the ground up. I also realized that this year of "learn + do" fit perfectly with GOOD's mission. And I then followed my own motto, "If you don't ask, you'll never get a yes." Three months ago, I made the following pitch to GOOD's founder, Ben Goldhirsh:
"We should all be playing a team game in the social impact sphere but there are no practical opportunities for the next generation of social intra/entrepreneurs to be learning from the existing best in class organizations. The GOOD Fellowship is an attempt to start solving this problem. It is a year fellowship geared towards empowering pragmatic idealists to learn the best practices from the best in class while actively contributing to the organizations they apprentice with—a year of 'Learn & Do' to create the next generation of informed and empowered impact professionals."
Could I launch the GOOD Fellowship and design a year of "Learn + Do?" Ben said YES!
The central question I hope to answer is: What are the best practices in entrepreneurship education today and how, if at all, are they being targeted at girls in sixth through 12th grade?
The fellowship will consist of apprenticeships with three organizations around the globe, with a term of three to four months at each. I'm currently planning to be in San Francisco and in Bangalore, India—locations based on density of awesome organizations, my own connections and reach, and family and friends that are going to let me couch-crash. The third location is still to be determined.
I am asking each organization for an "entrepreneurial apprenticeship" where I will report directly to a social entrepreneur or senior management and be able to shadow them during my time at the organization. I'm avoiding the word "internship" because I want this to be a real, self-designed learning opportunity, where I get to see the ins and outs of running an impact-driven organization.
In exchange for a unique apprenticeship opportunity, my mission as a GOOD Fellow will be to join these organizations as an "intrapreneurial teammate." Having always worked for startups, I know how to quickly identify a need, dream up a solution, and most importantly, put a project plan into action. In the same spirit, I will be getting my hands dirty from day one and, by the end of my time at each organization, leave them with a fully completed project that's immediately useful to the team.
One year ago, I had my "a-ha" moment and realized what I really give a damn about. Three months ago I pitched the fellowship to Ben. Then, one month ago, I was introduced to BUILD's Founder and Ashoka Fellow, Suzanne McKechnie Klahr. Today, I am happy to report I'll be embarking on the first leg of the fellowship with BUILD, whose mission is to "use entrepreneurship to excite and propel disengaged, low-income students through high school to college success." I will be shadowing Suzanne and her team, and my project will be to help build out their national corporate partnership strategy.
This fellowship's the start of a helluva an adventure—I'm scared, nervous, excited but most of all grateful. If it wasn't for the GOOD community—all the people I've been inspired by via GOOD, both online and off—I could never have taken this step.
Leave me a comment on this post, or drop me an email at email@example.com—ideas for a third organization/location and suggestions of changemakers in the "entrepreneurship education" or "girl's empowerment" spaces that I should be grabbing coffee with are appreciated and welcomed! I look forward to relying on you for inspiration and advice. Thank you for being a community of folks that gives a damn—that belief is all you need to start changing the world.