This past weekend, people were probably having a typical Sunday night: plowing through backlogs of procrastinated work, mourning the loss of yet another weekend and preparing themselves for another dreary Monday. As I was doing just this, I checked my phone for the time: one second it read 2:00 AM and the next it said 1:00 AM. After the initial heart attack and serious debate about whether I had lost my mind, I realized that daylight savings had ended. I thought “Oh, right, this is something we still do.”, and went on to try to remind myself why.
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It is not surprising that many college-aged students, particularly at Penn, care about social impact – the act of creating positive change for people who face social challenges. IMPACT Magazine is just one example of a student group that seeks to inspire other students to make a difference in society. And yet in recent years, this mindset has not been unique to college students alone. Analysis of the Millennial generation (people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s) has shown that their actions, guided by their focus on social impact, have drastically changed the scope of investment, advertising and manufacturing in companies across the globe.
When I visited the Weiss Tech House, one of the first things I noticed was a note scribbled on the white board: “Take a chance on the us. We are the 3%. 97% of startups fail.”
Indeed, Weiss- Labs is an incubator for entrepreneurship and innovation at Penn that is incredibly successful. Started this semester by co-founders, Guthrie Gintzler and Ernest Tavares, Weiss Labs has created a community of support and guidance for budding entrepreneurs at Penn. The first cohort of 7 teams, selected out of 70 applicants, meets for weekly meetings to give each other updates, and feedback and learn about different aspects of entrepreneurship from speakers who are leaders in their fields– anyone from lawyers to venture capitalists.
Guthrie and Ernest in part created the incubator to battle the risk-averse and pre-professional Penn culture, which sometimes prevents students from pursuing their entrepreneurial aspirations. “A lot of people who have good ideas are too afraid to take a break off from their internships and work on their good ideas because it breaks some sort of social code […] It’s oftentimes better to work on your idea and follow your passion even if you’re taking a year off. And companies at the end of the day respect that a lot more than people think”
When Guthrie and Ernest were trying to probe what makes an incubator really successful, they heard that the main thing is creating a tight community. But it’s more than just a community for entrepreneurs; it’s also a family. Guthrie joked, “Pledge Weiss-Labs.”
“At this point in my career I want to work exclusively on tackling the root causes and complex systems that require an integrated approach to problem solving,” says Robert Fabricant in an interview with Allan Chochinov, Chair of the MFA Design Graduate Program at the School of Visual Arts. Co-founder of the Design Impact Group (DIG) at Dalberg Global Advisors with a persona that is eerily similar to Steve Jobs, Fabricant and fellow co-founder Ravi Chattpar have spearheaded DIG’s efforts at Human Centered Design—an approach to product design that integrates customer feedback throughout the process.
A focus on achievement is creating extremely high levels of anxiety in today’s society. Especially at Penn, there is a lot of pressure to succeed– to earn nearly perfect grades in an impressive major, to obtain leadership roles, to land a competitive internship, to have a packed social calendar, etc. We receive positive recognition for external forms of achievement. I hear of peers getting jobs at Goldman or McKinsey far more often than I do of them meditating or achieving zen. This recognition can become unhealthy when people start constructing their own goals and basing their own self-worth solely on extrinsic forms of validation.
Recognizing the difference between extrinsically and intrinsically motivated goals is critical in achieving a state of positive mental health. The key difference between the two is that extrinsic goals come from an externally constructed sense of achievement, whereas intrinsic goals come from internally derived interests that reflect personal meaning. According to research conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of Pennsylvania, extrinsic motivation includes the pursuit of goals for the purposes of money, social status, or physical attractiveness; whereas, intrinsic goals are motivated by activities that are inherently interesting, pleasurable, and/or meaningful.
Imagine you’re applying for a mortgage. If you’re one of the 2 billion without a bank account, (unlikely given you’re reading this) odds are you can’t get access to working or investment capital through institutional means. You don’t have a financial identity. And, as far as banks are concerned, you’re non-existent. Conventional capital markets are not designed to uplift the poor who have expensive dreams. Such dreams are reserved for the wealthy. The reality is that you’re not going to be given a second chance to get that dream house, apply to college or even travel to visit loved ones, if you’re deemed unworthy of credit.
“The important score that I had no choice over and determined what I had access to was my credit score,” explains credit score provider InVenture’s founder, Shivani Siroya at a Wired Money talk in London. Oft talked about, dreaded and at times vainly flaunted– the credit score as well as the lack of it has erupted an entire industry.
As Penn students, most of us are fortunate to have access to healthy foods whenever we want or need them. As a result, It’s easy to be unaware of the food injustices affecting citizens right outside of the Penn ecosystem, in West Philadelphia.
For many Philadelphians, issues such as malnutrition and the prevalence of food deserts—urban areas where it is difficult to buy affordable and healthy food—are daily obstacles to leading a healthy life. Because of this, youth in Philadelphia are more likely to buy tasty but unhealthy and inexpensive food from local convenience stores. One of the most distressing consequences of these food injustices is the fact that Philadelphia has the highest rate of obesity among high school students alone in the US and a 20% obesity rate of children between 5 and 18 years old.
With over 10,000 Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) operating in developing economies around the world today , the once avant-garde industry of microcredit has expanded into a major international force for combating poverty. Yet the recent ubiquity of MFIs, coupled with a marked decline in recent years of research into the field, creates a peculiar dichotomy of uncertainty surrounding microfinance.
How much have these institutions effected palpable, sustained change in the lives of their clientele? Was microfinance doomed from its inception, or has the field simply taken a wrong turn, with nobody bothering to bring it back on course?
What is it?
In the “Pay for Success” model of social impact bonds, private investors manage public projects that have some social impact goal. By going through the private sector, the goal is to reduce overall government spending. This also allows the government a risk-free way of supporting creative new social programs that may not become successful but have high potential.
We live in an era when change and innovation are commonplace. The reality is that today’s computer chip will likely be obsolete tomorrow, or soon thereafter. The 2010 vehicle models will soon seem like they belong in the last century, and the next-released communication software will make us astonished that we ever lived without it. The same principle applies for governing policies, public and private initiatives design, and really anything susceptible to growth and change.
Yet, for all the technology we rave about, policies we praise or growth we welcome, innovation and change also have dark sides that are seldom discussed. Fortunately, even in the presence of an overwhelming and loud majority, there are usually a few brave souls willing to point to the negative and voice a dissenting opinion (at least in a free country).
What are the secondary effects of our actions and our developments that are presumably meant for good? And are those secondary effects always good themselves?