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What Does SE Mean to Me: Saul Garlick

Dec 10th, 2012Business, Education, National

This is a new series of columns, which will let us hear the voice of the social entrepreneurs themselves.  They’ll answer the question:  What does Social Entrepreneurship mean to them and how did I get enticed by it?”

(Photo Courtesy of Subject)

To affect change, we need to appreciate cross-disciplinary models for creating new products and services.

In college you learn myriad subjects, build critical thinking skills, become better writers. What you DON’T do is see how that plays out in the context of teams, across cultures and under great time pressure in the “real world”. Extracurricular activities serve the purpose of giving you exposure to some of these dynamics but with the cushion of campus programming offices and a typically finite audience on the campus community.

What if you could take all of that to the next level? What if you could take your learning global and tackle some of the most intractable global challenges that exist today.

What if your work could be based on more than what we read in books, see in lectures or hear from friends? What if you could build something within a village on the other side of the globe as a true social entrepreneur this summer? Would you go?

When I was in college I was passionate about building organizations. I liked to start things. I never really called myself an entrepreneur; I just wanted to be involved in issues and opportunities on campus that really inspired me. At other times, I simply did what was necessary to move forward, gaining critical credits in topics I was traditionally pretty weak in (I’m thinking of foreign languages here).

I used to rove from one extracurricular meeting to another seeking the kind of learning I could never gain from a classroom. I was hungry to learn, but I was also wondering what was out there that would push me to a new level.

I wish I had known about social entrepreneurship.

For all the fame the sector has achieved today, it was not even close to my vocabulary when I was college. Today I am on a mission to make sure that every student has an opportunity to do something remarkable with their personal journey through college and, frankly, learning in general.

I would say that a revolution in applied learning is underway that might just upend the traditional educational structures, as we know them. Imagine if the courses you took in college from political economics to physics to geography had immediate relevance in your life? Would you care more?

If grades were the outcome of a really deep understanding of the material and how it could be useful in the real world, not how you studied previous year’s exam questions, would you be more energized to learn?

The answer as I have heard from hundreds of college students, who have gone with my organization to Africa for their summers, is a resounding, “Yes!”

Let me be more specific. When I was in college I avoided math and science courses with a special vigor. I did this on the false presumption that the coursework at Johns Hopkins in those subjects was going to be too difficult (never mind that math was my preferred subject in high school). So I set out to avoid entire fields of study. I wish I hadn’t done that, and if I had gone on ThinkImpact’s Institute, which didn’t exist back then, I may not have. The whole world would have looked dramatically different to me.

Which brings me back to my earlier thought that I wish I knew about social entrepreneurship in college. If I had, I may have understood the potential for doing big things across academic disciplines to solve problems and improve lives. Effective social entrepreneurship leads to truly sustainable enterprises that find great ideas through financial tools, engineering savvy, business know-how and yes, communication and politics.

That’s why to create impact, we need to integrate cross-disciplinary models into learning.  We need to extend the classroom into the field, we need to connect the dots between theories and humanity better, we need to have more ‘real-world’ applications of our knowledge.

Saul Garlick is the CEO and Founder of ThinkImpact, Colorado-based social enterprise, which takes students to Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda or South Africa to engage with local communities, test ideas, and build social ventures for the future.  



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