Fordham shows up strong at social-entrepreneur gathering

by Farzana Ali (GSB ’15)

Among the 140 students at this month’s Shift Series social-entrepreneurship conference, which university had the largest contingent?

Hint: You attend there.

Yes, the Gabelli School of Business was the best-represented school at Shift, with every member of three “generations” of the Compass Fellowship at Fordham participating: sophomore mentors, freshman fellows and regional council members. Even two Fordham alumni, last year’s founding mentors from the Class of 2012, made the trek to Washington D.C.

Shift Series is a spring event that brings together Compass Fellowship participants from the 13 participating universities around the country, wrapping up the year they’ve spent on their own campuses developing ideas for socially conscious businesses. (Full disclosure: I, as your writer on this story, am a Compass mentor and an active supporter of the program.)

The social-entrepreneurs-in-training came to Shift Series with burning ideas in their minds and twinkles in their eyes, and many were wondering how to choose a project with real impact.

The first keynote speaker, Gouri Mirpouri, a “backyard activist” and founder of numerous community-based initiatives, shared 10 lessons in transforming personal ideas into social ventures — a list chock full of charming illustrations, witticisms and stories.

Ms. Mirpouri founded an initiative called “The Learning Farm” to rehabilitate street youth from Jakarta through organic farming. In her program’s first two weeks, at-risk youth work on the “heart” program to get them to open up and explore any sources of trauma in their lives. Next, they’re immersed in their community through the “hands” phase, when they learn about agriculture. Finally, the “head” portion teaches the participants to be smart and to not fall back into bad habits; they also pick up practical skills such as customer service and budgeting. Through her description of the program, Mirpouri told a culturally colorful story about determination, creativity and good communication.

Themes of energy, variety and comprehensiveness continued through the weekend, in three more keynotes and six workshops.

In one of them, DJ Saul of iStrategyLab discussed the “New Age of Marketing,” in which digital and experiential marketing converge. He showed interactive billboards, fridges that open with a tweet, and lockers that unlock when the owner checks in on Foursquare.

Fordham’s own Adriana Krasniansky (GSB ’15) led a session called “Write Me Some Love,” stressing the specialness of a handwritten note. She shared self-designed postcards with the audience, the products of her own social-entrepreneurship venture, prompting people to write to their future selves and to someone they are thankful for.

Many in attendance found Shift a formative experience for skills, habits and mindsets. During the weekend, one freshman switched her proposed venture from an on-campus laundry service to a business selling sunglasses to benefit cancer patients. Sydney Ferrigan (GSB ’15) admired the free flow of intellectual capital and contacts that occurred in Shift’s bonding-oriented settings.

“Everyone was so excited about seeing and helping others become social entrepreneurs,” she said. “Shift Series showed me how much of an impact that not only just one person can make, but what one freshman in college can.”

 

 

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