One Word Takeaways from the 2015 Ashoka U Exchange

March 9, 2015 at 9:22 am Leave a comment

In 2012, PSU was selected as an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus, a designation honoring our university’s excellence in social innovation education and commitment to making higher education a world-changing experience.

Ashoka U is a highly respected international non-profit organization which believes that: “In a world that is changing faster and faster, students need interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial, and solutions-oriented skills to succeed. Ashoka believes the way colleges and universities can stay relevant is to embed Changemaker skills such as empathy, teamwork, leadership and changemaking into their culture and across their curriculum.” As we recently reported, research shows that employers agree.

Our world in the 21st century requires us, as changemakers, to improve lives and strengthen our planet in a period where the pace of change itself has changed. We can’t keep up – let alone lead – by simply learning, doing, and repeating. In the words of Ashoka’s founder, Bill Drayton, “It’s the change game, not the repetition game. If you don’t understand that, you can’t lead.”

Last week, the three authors of this post were among the 700 attendees at Ashoka U’s annual convening, the Exchange. We celebrated the now 30 Changemaker Campuses, including public universities and private colleges all over the world who are building a global “Everyone a Changemaker” movement.

Starting with one word to express our experiences, these are our reflections.

Cindy Cooper, Director, Impact Entrepreneurs, School of Business Administration*

“Reinforcing”

The Exchange was reinforcing. It was reinforcing to coalesce with a committed group of dedicated educators and innovators who are in solidarity about the promise of higher education to build changemakers for a better world.

PSU’s mantra is “Let Knowledge Serve the City.” Our expression of this ethos at PSU’s Impact Entrepreneurs is to contribute to creating the conditions that enable people to make choices for good.

These lofty ideals fuel us as inspiring visions of the future should. But the climb is real work, and the air can get thin. We face challenges every day to grow and improve our programs, deliver on goals and measure our impact. We constantly ask ourselves: How do we support more staff, faculty and students in being changemakers? How do we generate more strategic and effective collaborations across campus and with a global community of partners? How do we equip more impact-driven innovators with the resources they need to succeed? How do we know we are generating more happiness and less suffering?

Being among hundreds of individuals candidly sharing their efforts to get the values and skills of changemaking to reach as many people as possible helps us develop better approaches and validates our progress so far. It says we are on the right track, but don’t stop, keep going, aim higher. Reinforcement makes us stronger, more creative and more resilient. It is the meditative oxygen we need to reach our promises to ourselves and each other.

The 2015 Ashoka U Exchange and the chance to connect with a vast network of inspiring leaders in higher education provided a deep breath of reinforcement: a solid foundation of best practices and the esprit de corps to press on.

Abby Chroman, Project Manager, Impact Entrepreneurs, School of Business Administration

“Intersections”

Advancing social innovation in higher ed. doesn’t mean leaving behind expertise in policy, or engineering, design, medicine, journalism, or law. It means creating environments where  disciplines are integrally connected for real world application. The 2015 Ashoka U Exchange demonstrated intersections among what I see as some of the most important skills, schools, movements, and ideas in the world today.

Packed into a classroom in the classic-looking University Of Maryland campus on the last day of the Exchange, I listened in on a discussion about public policy and social entrepreneurship, particularly in the context of higher education. The panelists were brilliant. They explored the historic context for the existing relationship between academia, social innovation, and public policy, and with active engagement from the audience, closed with practical ways to grow the impact of that intersection.

In another session authors and NYT columnists David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg along with NYU professor Robert Lyon and instructor Sri Naomi Bishop facilitated a conversation about the power of solutions narratives both as journalistic practice, and as content for curriculum. The discussion brought forth everything from existing structures for publication in news and journals to ways instructors can find relevant tailored materials for lessons, and the tension and importance of in-depth reporting in a fast changing world.

As a Millennial working in social entrepreneurship and higher ed., I’m sensitive to the question about what role higher ed. has if we can’t predict the future. From where I stood in snowy Washington, DC last week, something came into focus for me. The particular role of higher ed. might be changing but it’s not becoming less important. Colleges and universities have the ability to strengthen and empower individuals in deep and complex disciplines to shift and tip systems that span sectors, borders, and schools of thought. What other institution can do that? The more we enforce the intersections of disciplines for real world solutions, the more I want to be a part of this.

Angela Merrill, Changemaker Campus Liaison, Impact Entrepreneurs, School of Business Administration & Institute for Sustainable Solutions*

“Canvas”

Much how the fibers of an artist’s canvas provide a surface from which to paint, the interwoven and reinforced fibers of the community at The Ashoka U Exchange provide students a surface from which to create a masterpiece of the world.

A favorite pastime of mine has always been to draw unguided, yet inspired, doodles on the pages of my sketchbooks. Every line, dot and abstract figure looks different to create a whole and impacting image. The conference format too creates an environment to explore various topics to compose a “big picture.” There were personal development sessions and workshops on systems thinking or “the science of change,” insights on international development as well as the role of social entrepreneurship in social justice.

However, what sparkled were connections with student leaders from various universities. To me, it created a diverse gallery of the initiatives that are thriving with the support of the Ashoka U canvas. A friend from Brown spoke of “Pop-Up Classes” in changemaking, while students from the University of San Diego spoke of their sunny, music-filled social impact career fair while Fordham detailed a program that equips students with consulting skills to gain credit and work experience.

We, as Portlanders, are organically drawn to lead social change, and the canvas surface has been prepped. My question for the students, faculty and staff at Portland State is this:

How do we want our changemaker masterpiece to look?

*A special thank you to reTHINK: PSU and the Institute for Sustainable Solutions for generously supporting our participation in the Ashoka U Exchange.

Entry filed under: Events, Opportunities for social innovators, Personal Leadership, Social Entrepreneurship. Tags: , , , , , .

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