Beeta Ansari

Beeta is Ashoka U’s Exchange Director, the world’s largest global convening for social entrepreneurship education.

Changemaker of the Week: Raymond Dong

Raymond Dong, a junior at the University of Chicago, describes his work spearheading three different social ventures, the challenges he faced along the way, and the best part of being a Changemaker!

Raymond is being featured as part of Ashoka U’s series, “Changemaker of the Week” which highlights extraordinary student changemakers in college and graduate programs around the world. Check the Ashoka U Blog each week for a story of a new Changemaker of the Week!

Describe each of your social ventures.

My first quarter of freshman year, I co-founded a chapter of UAID, a student run not-for-profit organization countering health inequities in universities across the country. With this organization, I organized HIV/AIDS training programs with our UChicago Medical Center for undergraduate students to learn about health disparities in the south side of Chicago. Since then, I have been on the National Board for this organization the last 2+ years now, working with student leaders at over fifteen universities to collect medical supplies for summer international service trips to Panama, Uganda, and Honduras. Further, I’ve co-organized international trips to Uganda, Malawi, and China to give U.S. college students the ability to serve abroad with our partner organizations.

Since this, I have founded Collegiate DECA, a UChicago organization offering undergraduates the opportunity to learn about specialized business sectors (consulting, finance, management, and marketing) through peer-to-peer mentorship. I have organized 4 regional competitions to date with over 200+ competitors from ~10 universities and 40+ judges in total. As a team we have raised over 5K in funding to assist students in developing confidence in public speaking and presentation skills as well as connecting them to career opportunities through partnering with consulting firms.

Further, BridgeMe is a more recent social venture I founded that is only slightly over a year old. A non-profit organization missioned to improve the international student experience, we have become affiliated with 9 universities to date, have raised over 10.5K in funding, and gained the support of the Chicago mayor’s office. We set up programs in universities for international students to connect with domestic students, and are reconstructing our web platform for peer-to-peer mentorship and advice to be shared from old to new international students.

Aside from all of this, I just recently started a service project targeting rural Qinghai, China missioned to improving access to care and information transmission to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates.

Did you face any challenges/obstacles along the way? If so, how did you overcome them?

I can’t even start explaining the many obstacles and challenges faced along the way, with each of my ventures or organizations. One of the biggest hurdles is gathering a dedicated team to take on the issue at hand together. When things go well, everyone wants to be associated with your organization, but when you fail, people may leave immediately. Overcoming these problems require a lot of personal drive and motivation. With each organization, I have lost co-founders at various time points, and have had to reconstruct my team.

Most recently, a noticeable obstacle faced concerned my DECA organization. Two years after founding, DECA was positioned to be a very large business organization on campus. Suddenly, two professors came to our first meeting (which was packed) and completely ruined our entire summer’s worth (and even 2 years worth) of recruiting efforts through them pitching a travel scam to our members. Recovering was one of the toughest obstacles I have faced so far but through countless hours of damage control and high-quality meetings during the following weeks, we were still able to gain record attendance at our fall competition.

After your first organization, what motivated you to start another?

Simply put, I have always had a desire to improve the lives of students around UChicago, but also the lives of individuals around the world. After founding my first organization, I gained the confidence to want to continue identifying social problems (be it maternal mortality, problems international students face, or college students struggling with presentation and public speaking skills) and designing solutions to them. Working with organizations gives me something else to do outside of all the dense economics and pre-med course work I have.

How has being a college student changed the way you act as a changemaker?

I’ve come to realize that it’s never too early to become a changemaker, and anyone can be one. There isn’t anything special about me besides the fact that I’ve been able to identify solutions and pursue them. As a college student, it has been especially easy to gain support and mentorship from entrepreneurs and professionals for my social ventures because the older generations are very supportive of us. That’s why I recommend every college student with an idea to try executing it!

What’s the best part of working on your ventures?

By far the best part is working with other talented individuals. Many of my best friends are people I have met through these ventures. Going through the highs and lows of the organizations together builds a special kind of relationship I wouldn’t be able to find outside of working on ventures. For example, my DECA board is one of my favorite groups of friends just because we are always there for each other, and have gone through an incredible journey together.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to any college student thinking of becoming a changemaker?
Find a dedicated team. One person is definitely not enough to start a social venture because of all the work required in building a successful social venture. Having a dedicated team to work with not only speeds up progress, but also makes you (the founder) a stronger individual through positive peer pressure of your teammates. If your team isn’t dedicated, naturally it’ll be easier for you to lose persistence.

How has your school or school’s social entrepreneurship initiative helped you progress as a student social innovator and in this venture?

Our entrepreneurship programs have been amazing! Special shout out to the college’s UCIE department led by Jerry Huang for all of their work in running the College New Venture Challenge and offering me advice and support for all my ventures. Further, the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the Booth School of Business, the International Students Department, and many other areas of UChicago have all been instrumental in my development. The valuable resources of all these departments have allowed many changemakers to thrive on this campus.

More information about Raymond will be featured on social media this week, so make sure to like Ashoka U on Twitter and Facebook! Check out Ashoka U’s blog each week to see new stories of phenomenal student changemakers making a difference in the world.