Many new college students begin their university careers with lofty hopes of changing the world. At the end of their first day of classes at Fordham, new freshmen from the Gabelli School of Business were given a reality-check: they can change the world.
On Sept. 3, more than 500 Gabelli freshmen gathered on the Rose Hill campus to receive words of wisdom from journalist David Bornstein, whose book How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas (Oxford University Press, 2007) was required summer reading.
The book is a collection of case studies about social innovators such as Jody Williams, whose international campaign against landmines won a Nobel Peace Prize, and Diana Propper, who used investment banking techniques to make American corporations environmentally responsible.
But Bornstein, author of The New York Times’ Fixes blog and founder of the social innovation news site dowser.org, said that he has come to realize that many potential innovators forgo their aspirations because they simply don’t know where to begin.
He recalled asking students at a Midwest college to list every social problem they could think of, and then list every possible solution to those problems. The students were able to fill a blackboard with problems, yet were unable to devise more than a few solutions.
“How could you go through four years of college but only have been exposed to four or five solutions to the 100 problems in your head?” Bornstein said. “What does that do to your energy and your motivation? You have so much awareness about the problems, yet so little awareness about what can be done to solve them.”
Bornstein advised freshmen to spend their time “half on criticality, and half on hope.” If, as brand new students, they committed to pursue solutions as well as problems, then they would be well-poised to effect major social changes by the end of their time at Fordham.
He also emphasized that the ability to make social impact is not limited to people with wealth or status. All it takes is finding the right niche.
“It’s misleading to think that to start social change you have to start your own company,” Bornstein said. “There’s a role for ‘intrapreneurs’ — people who go into hospitals, large companies, or corporations, and change them from within.”
Bornstein said that major social change happens at the intersection of three elements:
- Who you are (What interests you? What bothers you? What kind of work gives you energy rather than drains you of it?)
- Where there is urgent need
- Where opportunities to start solving those needs exist
Once you reach that intersection, he said, take risks and maintain a “pitbull-like tenacity.”
“I encourage you to fail—a lot,” Bornstein said. “Know that failure is the most normal part of this process of social entrepreneurship. It’s a sign that you are doing the right thing.”
Joining Bornstein on a panel following the talk were Frank Werner, Ph.D., associate professor of finance and business economics, Michael Pirson, Ph.D., associate professor of management systems, and Michèle Leaman, changemaker campus director for Ashoka U, an initiative of the international social entrepreneur network, Ashoka.
During the event, Leaman presented a plaque to members of the Gabelli School to officially recognize Fordham University as one of Ashoka’s 25 “changemaker campuses” working to change the world through social innovation.
The conversation about social entrepreneurship and innovation will continue on Sept. 9 at the celebration of the Loschert Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship. The event will feature Midwest Social Innovation LLC founder Jeff Snell, Ph.D., who led fellow Jesuit school Marquette University to become one of the first ten changemaker campuses.