Danielle Barbeau

Danielle was a student at the University of San Diego and member of the Ashoka U Live Team.

Lynn Price on Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education: Bust Out and Make It Happen!

Lynn Price, of Denver, Colorado, is an Ashoka Fellow, author of the book Vision For A Change: A Social Entrepreneur’s Insights From The Heart, and founder of Camp To Belong, an international non-profit organization that works to reunite siblings who live in separate foster, adoptive or kinship homes through their Summer Camp Programs.

For Lynn Price, disruptive innovation is a way of being, woven deeply into her work and personal story. You might say that Price’s whole life has been a series of disruptions, which she has courageously and creatively turned into remarkable innovations.

When Price was eight years old, her parents revealed that they were not her biological mother and father. Price was just an infant when her birth father abandoned the family. Her mother, unable to cope with this loss, was institutionalized. Price also learned that she had an older sister who had been placed into foster care with a different family.

This traumatic disruption could have derailed Price for life. Instead it served as a launch pad for innovation.

Price completed her degree at the University of Illinois and went on to have a successful business career in communications. In 1994, Price sold her business in order to be the mother she never quite had to her three young children.

She also stayed involved with the foster care system, serving as a foster mother to several children, and volunteering as Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for foster children. While Price reconnected with her sister in high school and remains close with her today, her personal experience as a foster child separated from her sister gave her the awareness to recognize that change was needed in the way the foster care and adoption systems handled siblings.

Rather than waiting for the system to change, Price created the change she wanted to see by establishing Camp To Belong in 1995. Camp To Belong reunites siblings who live in different homes to create fun memories and emotional empowerment among other youth in the same situations. Since then, Camp To Belong Summer Camp Programs have sprung up across the United States and Australia.

As an Ashoka Fellow, Price has written numerous books, is a professional speaker (mostly on the topic of social innovation) and has worked closely with universities across the country. She will attend the Ashoka U Exchange, where she hopes to share this a message with the higher education community, particularly the students: “YOU, with a capital Y-O-U, can be the catalyst for change.”

“Change is having a profound impact,” Price said. “Like [Ashoka founder Bill] Drayton says, it’s revolutionizing an industry. Change could be starting with something very small, like just bringing awareness to issues people just don’t think about.”

For example, people frequently comment to Price that they never considered the fact that siblings in foster care are separated. ‘They’ll say, I know they are separated from their parents, but I had no idea [about siblings]. I just never thought about it!”

Price calls this awareness the Power of the Ripple. “It starts small then turns into a tidal wave.” When the tidal wave hits, legislation, processes, and policies are profoundly impacted.

When it comes to disruptive innovation in higher education, Price feels that we need to integrate the mindset of a social entrepreneur into the culture of academia.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that truly anything is possible,” Price said. “As a social entrepreneur, you are a giant risk-taker. Sometimes you have to bend the rules to make things happen and that’s the mindset we need at the university level.”

Another thing universities can learn from social entrepreneurs is to have an unselfish, no-ego approach to sharing ideas, she said. In higher education, the culture should be that everyone’s idea is a good one—so say it and share it, find the best of what you do, and then proceed as a unified front.

Price observes that as students graduate from college today, they care deeply about the world. They are making educational and professional decisions, which meld a passion to change the world with business and career plans; they define wealth as a better world, and they don’t necessarily see big paychecks as the only conduit to fulfillment.

Knowing this, Price says universities need to empower students to recognize what they already know and can contribute even before graduation. A transformative university experience should empower students to believe they can get started and put their ideas into action now, rather than getting stuck thinking that gaining the “experience” needed to have any real impact on the world begins the day they walk across the commencement stage.

In the keynotes she gives around the country, called Vision for a Change, Price often finds people feeling stuck because “you get into business, you have to write the strategic plan, and spend months on budgets, make the flow charts, etc.” It’s at this point that she encourages people to go out and put their ideas into action.

“Just do it!” she says. “Then make it look pretty.”

Another paralyzing trap is feeling like you have to predict an exact outcome, Price said. “You don’t have to know what your goal is for five years from now; you don’t have to have an exact outcome planned out. If you have the vision, go with it and see what happens!” Price’s own story is a great example of this kind of calculated risk-taking that grew from trusting what she already knew.

The same approach—of testing out new models, even without all the facts—is needed in higher education. “We need to say to students, ‘Go on! Bust out! And don’t feel like you don’t know anything!” Price said. “Let them pave their own track record, not have to wait to get it after graduation. Mix gut in the process. Take risks. Have respect for people with experience, but let objectivity and naivety broaden the horizons. Encourage collaboration; no ego, and unselfish commiseration.”

With this kind of disruption, Price believes universities can truly transform the educational experience into a world changing experience.

Learn more about Price and her work in her book, Vision For A Change: A Social Entrepreneur’s Insights From The Heart, or visit http://www.lynnprice.com/