Last weekend, sixteen students packed into University vans with sleeping bags and boxes of cereal for an evening away from campus to learn each other’s names and how they all plan to change the world.
All sixteen represent the newest class of the C.V. Starr Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship, which provides an opportunity for individuals or teams of students to start an innovative social venture or grow the impact of an existing organization. Each spring, those selected receive up to $4,000 to work on their project over the summer, and begin a yearlong process of intensive skills training and participation in a community of social entrepreneurs on campus offering mentorship and critique. Fellows from past years have gone on to pursue their ventures as full-time careers following commencement, as well as received national recognition and funding for their work through the Echoing Green Fellowship, Ashoka, Draper Richards Kaplan, MassChallenge, and others.
Sitting around a dining room table long enough for ten Thanksgiving turkeys, the fellows spent their twenty-four hour retreat sharing stories and learning about each other’s ventures (11 in total) on campus, in Providence, and around the world.
Starrs Shyam Desai ‘15 and Divya Bhatia ‘15 will spend this summer in India, working to expand the operations of Let’s Be Well Red, an organization founded by Rajvi Mehta ‘13 through her own Starr Fellowship last year. The organization addresses the issue of iron-deficiency in India, where 80% of the population suffers from anemia, through early awareness and education as well as the local production and distribution of iron-rich nutritional bars.
Here at Brown, Rie Ohta ‘13.5 will work on restructuring and promoting an existing program on campus, $ocial Classmates. A semester-long, not-for-credit workshop, $C aims to create a safe space in which Brown students may constructively explore social class.
Andrew Kaplan ‘15 and Sam Gilman ‘15 will tackle a project on a national scale with the creation of Common Sense Action - an organization dedicated to elevating the youth voice to the policymaking table and reducing the uncompromising extremism of today’s politics.
“Our venture aims to be a megaphone, amplifying the youth voices calling on government to open doors for the next generation,” says Gilman. Kaplan adds: “Being here and hearing the stories of the other fellows, each working to open doors in different communities, inspires us to keep pushing forward.”
Fellows from last year’s class arrived just as the coffee finished brewing on Sunday morning, distributing hugs and advice to the newest members of their community: “Now that you’re an entrepreneur, you need to take your education that much more seriously,” said Pierre Arreola ‘13, founder of Hip Hop 4, in a question-and-answer session with the group. “And remember: you can’t do everything yourself. Take it from someone who tries. Rely on others.”
Relying on others is one lesson that the Starr Fellowship focuses on instilling in students. A visit from Robin Rose, Senior Associate Dean of Continuing Education at Brown, on Sunday afternoon, focused on the value of listening and offering critical feedback to your peers. Mastery of this skill is vital for Starr Fellows, who will meet on a bi-monthly basis in small groups over the next twelve months to help envision and encourage the ventures of their classmates.
The Starr Fellowship is a key component of the Social Innovation Initiative at Brown's Swearer Center for Public Service. “The Social Innovation Initiative is proud to support student social ventures at Brown by providing a range of resources to students - whether it be courses, funding, mentorship, or networking opportunities,” says Lizzie Pollock, the Assistant Director for Social Entrepreneurship at the Swearer Center. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to invest in the diverse range of students and projects selected for the Starr fellowship this year.”
For more information on the fellowship, visit http://brown.edu/go/starr.