Student Spotlight: Paris Dior ’25

by William French '26
April 16, 2024

International and Public Affairs.

Community Engagement through Swearer:
Social Innovation Fellowship

Paris Dior ‘25, a Social Innovation Fellow at the Swearer Center, is also pursuing the Nelson Center’s Entrepreneurship Certificate while concentrating in International and Public Affairs.

Originally from the Bronx in New York, Dior says her path to entrepreneurship began with an AP Art class in high school, where she had to create a line of inquiry, a question or theme that her artwork in the class would follow throughout the semester. Dior remembers this was during the outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, where she learned that “using art as a form of expression was a great way to get people talking about social issues. So my line of inquiry was, ‘How can I use fashion and graphic design to create social change?’ and I started making social justice-themed sneakers and T-shirts.”

As a first-year student at Brown University, Dior pursued her interest in the intersection of art, social impact and business through the Swearer Center's Social Innovation Fellowship (SIF). SIF offers students the opportunity to be part of a learning community, together with other students, staff, faculty,  and community partners who are engaged in wrestling with and leveraging the promise and constraints of social innovation, social entrepreneurship, the dynamics of sustained community change, and the connections between academic and community work, active citizenship, and social change. The two-year developmental program offers students the opportunity to explore modes of social innovation, as well as the technical and conceptual skills and knowledge required for starting successful ventures or for making transformational changes within existing organizations. 

A two-year program, SIF fosters students’ social entrepreneurship skills through partnerships and learning communities engaged in exploring modes of social innovation and social entrepreneurship. Including partners such as the Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG), Social Innovation Fellows are empowered with skills aimed at creating sustainable community change. 

During the first year of SIF, fellows attend workshops and engage in experiential learning, matching with an internship based on their interests. In 2021, Dior applied and was admitted to the Social Innovation Fellowship, where she interned with The Black Leaf Tea & Culture Shop, a cafe that aims to celebrate community and Black Culture. Reflecting on her experiences, Dior particularly values how SIF emphasizes socially responsible entrepreneurship methods that are responsive to the needs of a community.

Recollecting one workshop in which a speaker shared their experience, Dior remembers, “They traveled to a different part of the world to develop an app, but then they didn't have a necessary understanding of the culture there and what structures would be applicable. So it's almost like finding a way to combat Subway issues when you're from New York, but then taking it somewhere where they don't have very well-established transit. [The workshops] stress the importance of making sure that you're doing your research. Here's something I'm passionate about, but is it a problem elsewhere?”

Dior also appreciates the supportive network she has built through the Swearer Center, particularly through her cohort and mentors with SIF and SEG, which hosts a network of entrepreneurs, business and community leaders dedicated to supporting positive social change through social enterprise.

“My cohort is amazing,” she explains. It's nice seeing other people who are also interested in entrepreneurship and innovation from a social lens because they're going through a lot of similar struggles that you're going through. You can go back and forth and solve things together. Being in a cohort as a Social Innovation Fellow helps me know that someone sitting right next to me might understand how I can get to that next stage in building a venture.”

She says the Swearer Center’s partnership with SEG also connects aspiring entrepreneurs to the Rhode Island business community.

 “When people are studying ventures, they may be reluctant to leave campus because it's all you know in the area,” says Dior. “But SEG has a lot of social innovation resources and is a really good avenue to push yourself out into the community.”

These collective experiences provided her with invaluable support and a network for her venture, Visionaries Empowered Through Art (VETA), a sneaker and apparel customization brand launched during her freshman Spring semester. Reflecting further on the launch of her own venture, Dior describes VETA as “a two-sided marketplace that connects people who want unique and sentimental apparel with artists who are looking for opportunities to share their designs.” She likens her company to “Uber for artists,” a customization service that allows artists to work with individuals, student organizations, and businesses to create original designs from scratch.

The company’s first large order was for the Brown Wrestling Team, which requested a T-shirt design with Grateful Dead-style bears wrestling in front of a Brown logo. When Dior returned to campus in her sophomore year, she expanded VETA’s apparel offerings to include sneakers.

“People were giving us sneakers and telling us what they wanted us to paint on them and we would send them back with the designs,” she said. “So, there was a sort of upcycling, environmentally friendly part of it. But we didn't limit it to just that, so we started talking with the Brown Bookstore about selling our designs.”

VETA’s Brown University-inspired high tops were first sold at the Brown Bookstore during Parents Weekend in October 2023. She reflects on how essential connection is to her work, stating that “a lot of social entrepreneurship is talking to people.”

“A lot of people will ask, ‘How many people should I talk to before I know that I have something or I know what direction to go in?’” she says. And the answer is: you never really stop talking to people. You might talk to a batch of people, try something, talk to them again, see what they think about it and then reiterate.”

Dior’s involvement with the Swearer Center and SIF has inspired her to explore entrepreneurship opportunities at the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, where she joined the Brown Entrepreneurship Program (BrownEP), a student-run entrepreneurship initiative, and participate in B-Lab, an eight-week summer accelerator program for students developing high-impact ventures. 

When asked to offer advice to other students who are aspiring entrepreneurs, Dior recommends taking as many entrepreneurship classes as possible and getting involved in programs like SIF to develop business skills and build your network.

“One of the best things you can do is just get yourself into the ecosystem of people who know, and then your knowledge will naturally build-out,” she says. “It’s like you're creating this whole entrepreneurial family tree.”

She adds that if you’re thinking about starting a business, “just go out and do it and start asking questions. Sometimes, it's not just about having the resources but knowing that they are there.” 

For more information about the Social Innovation Fellowship, visit the Swearer Center website