The End: Highlights and Questions

Imagine sitting in an office cubicle, looking out the window away from your computer screen flickering the most recent version of the power point you’re working on, wondering if there’s a more meaningful job you could be doing where you could be changing the world.

Now imagine that you’re working at a microfinance institution in China with the goal of improving the lives of blue-collar Chinese factory workers by providing access to financial services that they’d never had access to before.

Now imagine they’re the same job. That was my summer.

I came into Do Good Better with a set of shattered illusions of social enterprises clutched under my arm, wondering and hoping that social innovation wasn’t just business hobbled by the constraints of a social mission. I came in with the questions I wasn’t able to answer during my summer internship. How do you actually measure if people’s lives are changing? Should I just go into full-time corporate consulting to learn some harder, more marketable skills, and then launch into social entrepreneurship? Where’s the line between monetizing doing good for people, and providing value and charging for it so you can continue your business? Where do I fit into this whole picture?

Over the course of the semester, I realized that most of these questions weren’t going to be answered by the course material- that is, this class wasn’t going to be revelatory in teaching me what to think. Rather the class was targeted toward teaching me how to think so I could grabble with these questions myself.

Revelation #1 was almost at the beginning of the class, looking an image I wish I had seen and talked about before spending so much brain power on the corporate America vs. social entrepreneurship debate. “Oh,” I thought. “I think I land somewhere here. .”


Revelation #2

I was chatting with my professor after class and two of my friends, both English majors, crept up to talk her. They expressed their thanks for her candidness and how they had never thought that they could do social innovation while using their major. They worriedly asked about grad school and finding jobs, and making major career mistakes. She responded with a laugh and a story about how she decided to move to China after an 8 hr car drive with two men who had just returned from Beijing. “Do something challenging that you love and where you’re learning new things, and you can’t go wrong! Really, you can’t mess this up.” My professor’s response has been lingering and marinating in my mind as I wonder if I believe that, or if I even want to.

Revelation #3

I flipped open to the “Root Cause Analysis” activity and realized that it was simply taking as problem and asking “why” 5 times to get to the root of the roots. “Oh.” I thought. “That’s easier than I though.”

Revelation #4

As we watched the homework on Nuru and One-acre Fund, both community changing organizations aimed at improving farmer’s profitability, I thought we were watching an example of a good way to do it (One-acre fund increasing farmer revenues by 300% within a year, scaling incredibly quickly) and a bad way to do it (Nuru working not just with farmers but with families, community centers, etc). Then in class, we talked about businesses with a single-prong approach, and multi-prong  approach, and realizing that Nuru wasn’t as good at the farming thing in the short run, but was changing a whole community. It was a depth, not breath approach. “Oh,” I thought. “Didn’t know that was an option.”

Revelation #5

I flipped open the Christmas card painted with colorful mittens hanging down in pairs from old-style clothes pins. The card was from a classmate thanking me for spending half an hour talking about their future visions, and where they saw themselves in 20 years. Handwritten in blue ink, it was one of those cards that were 100% un-required by social norms, and hence, 100% meaningful. It brought those warm-fuzzies as only genuine gratitude can. “Oh.” I thought. “This is how you should run a social innovation class.”

The process of continued self-reflection and layered learning looks like it’s going to require two things from me: 1) actually stopping and thinking about what I’ve learned (I literally will have to plan this in), and 2) incorporating that into my life plan. That’s my responsibility, but in terms of sharing with this class on this blog, I think that questions breed self-reflection and increased learning like nothing else. I’m writing down my list of favorite questions from the course that I’ll review as I go forward, and hopefully this list will be useful to you too.

Questions to ask going forward

  1. For SI organizations I’m looking at
    1. What is the verb? Target population? The outcome?
    2. Why why why why why?
    3. What are the outputs, outcomes, and impact?
    4. Is it needed?
    5. Does it work?
    6. Will it get to those who need it?
    7. Will they use it right
    8. What already exists that does this as well (and better?)
    9. How long/deep will I be committed?
    10. For me (before embarking on pathways)
      1. You worry about the things that you create in this life. If you create a financial empire, you will spend the rest of your life worrying about money. What do you want to worry about? Be worrying about in 20 years?
      2. How will I be different at the end of this project, job?
      3. How will I feel different? About myself and the people I interact with?
      4. How will this affect my 10 most important people in the world?
      5. What regrets am I willing to have in 20 years and at what cost?
      6. Why not run off to China and teach for a year? Why not a Mohawk?

Merry Christmas everyone!