Adapt, Pursue, and Reassess: Student Reflections on Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship

As we wind down another semester, particularly one as eventful and intense as this fall has been, it’s important that students are given structured opportunities to reflect on the meaning of their learning experiences. 

Foundations of Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship (ISS 3241) is a required course for students pursuing this field through the SIE Specialization and Secondary Concentration in COSSPP’s Interdisciplinary Social Science Program and the SIE Minor in the Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship. It provides a comprehensive overview of the emerging field of social innovation & entrepreneurship (SIE), examining how it promotes a human-centered and adaptive framework for addressing social and environmental problems at a systemic level using innovative approaches that are empowering, impactful, sustainable, and scalable.

As part of their reflective dialogue throughout the semester, students participate in weekly discussion boards and write several reflections. Below are final reflections from two students this semester that provide insight into their learning experiences, growing understanding of the complex world around them, and visions for how they’ll leverage their talents and passions in service to that world:

This Foundations of Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship course has been instrumental to my understanding of the field and I know will be a crucial catalyst to my continued pursuit of the field, both in and out of the classroom. Previous to taking this course I, like most, had an awareness of the many problems facing our globe. Considering the role I can personally play has always been a source of confusion, guilt, and overwhelm in my life, leading me to constantly feel that my one person could never come near the degree of change required to move the needle on these issues. However, while this sentiment still remains in my mind, it has now been shown a remedy which allows me a framework to hone my pressing desire to help. As is fundamental to being a changemaker, I am now conditioned to see opportunity instead of just challenge. 

Acquiring a more complete understanding of the nature of complex adaptive problems has really opened my eyes, both in terms of this field and my life. I will try to sum up my key takeaways in three main points. First, adaptive problems require adaptive leadership, which goes further the typical view of leadership in terms of authority. To lead in this way means evolving beyond simply commanding and dictating but immersing oneself in the principles of SIE as a whole; of empathy, willingness to self-correct, share credit, and break free from established structures.  Second, as was highlighted in the quote by Albert Einstein which I cannot forget, solving problems requires spending the majority of one’s pursuit in understanding the problem and then only a relatively small (yet continual and iterative) amount of time coming up with and implementing a solution. The emphasis on the essential nature of this principle has in fact changed my perspective on approaching my life overall. I now understand that without a complete understanding of problems, premature “solutions” can in fact do more harm than good. And third, when it does come to solutions, they are never finite. I have come to understand that the continual process of ideation is a non-negotiable element to the success of solutions when addressing adaptive problems like poverty or environmental damage. One must pursue these issues with a permanent open mind and heart and be willing to immerse oneself in the problem in a way which allows us to continually understand more and more about the effective ways solutions can be implemented and sustained. 

The greatest influence on my commitment to finding solutions has been provided by the plethora of examples given throughout the course of what social innovation and entrepreneurship looks like when implemented successfully, as well as those discovered on my own for the assignments. This has been an integral part of my learning and of the impact which this course has had on my perspective. Deep heart-felt connection is not far beneath the surface in this class. It became a normal occurrence to be brought to tears when engaging with the array of different examples given depicting some of the very real and immediate problems which plague humanity. The successful implementation of the principles and techniques taught in this class to face these problems was so inspiring and moving. I think of the time spent learning of Jessica Laporte and Kouzin Dlo; of her passionate, patient, and dedicated pursuit of the cause; and of the brilliant model she has implemented to bring clean water to the Haitian community and simultaneously provide jobs to women. It is this type of inspiration which has lit a fire within me to channel my empathy into becoming a part of this beautiful movement of bettering the world. 

I clearly could go on forever about the impact of this course. My plan to integrate it into my personal and professional life is currently very broad—I do not at the moment foresee a specified issue which I want to dedicate myself to, but rather feel like I am ready to begin this pursuit using the new body of knowledge and understanding I have. The primary lessons which I am dedicated to integrating into my life as a changemaker are those of open-hearted empathy, collective/collaborative impact (interconnectedness of the world), and the overall lesson of being empowered to ruthlessly dedicate myself to bettering the world, because it is possible and because it is vital. I seek to become a fearless leader in my own life, beginning by taking steps towards bringing more love and understanding to those in my life and towards immersing myself in issues, no matter how small, that I find meaningful and important and to use each failure as a valuable lesson for success. 

The depth and breadth of the course were immense. I am left with a much more complete understanding of the field and also with an assured motivation and sense of my ability to play a role in sustainably improving the myriad of dire social and environmental issues facing our world. I know that an important part of my successful pursuit is going to come from my complete understanding of the field and so, due especially to its large scope, I will continue to study and learn from the material from the class. No matter what path I pursue, I seek to do so through a lens of being a changemaker, for I have learned that this persona is not determined by the particular area which one addresses but instead by the relentless pursuit of leading empathetic, systematic global change for good. I feel inspired, motivated, and equipped with some of the basic and essential prerequisite skills and knowledge to walk this path with dedication and open-heartedness. 

Cosette Falker is a sophomore majoring in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences with a Specialization in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  She enjoys travel, reading, and spending time with good food and good company.

The feature image is from Pexels.

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