Danielle Barbeau

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

The Ashoka U Exchange: Reflections from a Star-Struck Student

I admit it. At the Ashoka U Exchange I was a little star struck. Some people get googley-eyed and weak-kneed at the sight of movie stars and musicians. But me? It’s social entrepreneurs who get me feelin’ giddy. Over 80 social entrepreneurs, including a handful of Ashoka Fellows, recently convened at the Ashoka U Exchange along with students, faculty, and others. You might ask: What is it about social entrepreneurs that make me swoon? Well, although plenty of them are good lookin’, what was most attractive about the social entrepreneurs I was fortunate to meet at the Exchange was way these incredible innovators mange to maintain a genuine humility and willingness to collaborate with others, including students, even when they have reached an elevated level of success.

We have come to expect that success merits a certain amount of distance and exclusivity. All too often the secrets to success are exactly that – secret – or at least not widely and openly shared. Social entrepreneurs are teaching all of us the value of collaborating across traditional divides in academia, business, philanthropy, technology, and even within ourselves.

Many of the social entrepreneurs who attend the Exchange have put incredible ideas into action and made a real impact on our world’s most pressing challenges. And yet, they don’t claim to have it all figured out. Instead, they continue to ask questions, seek input, and explore new opportunities for continual improvement and collaboration.

As a student, it can be difficult to see yourself as someone who can have a real impact, especially when you start comparing yourself to those who’ve already made their mark. But at the Exchange, students at all different points in their academic careers, from all different disciplines, had the opportunity to interact with people who’s books we’ve read, who organizations we’ve studies and who have inspire us to think big! Although the social entrepreneurs at the Exchange came from a wide range of fields, the message consistently came from all was, don’t wait! Right now YOU can change yourself, your community, and your world.

Take Ashoka Fellow Kathryn Hall-Trujillo for example. Hall-Trujillo is the founder of The Birthing Project, a non-profit building a social support system that allows black women to support each other and as a result have healthier babies and healthier lives. In New Orleans, Hall-Trujillo has partnered with Tulane University and is changing the way campuses engage with their surrounding communities and teaching students that they can make an impact right where they live.

On perhaps the other end of the spectrum, Saul Garlick, founder of ThinkImpact and his team at the Think Impact’s award winning Innovation Institute are working to transform the study abroad experience into a world-changing experience. Each summer they send students on a full-immersion experiential learning program in rural Africa where students learn about social entrepreneurship and innovation through intensive qualitative research and hands-on exploration.

Social entrepreneurs like Hall-Trujillo, Garlick, and so many others are opening up opportunities for students to engage with communities, ask questions, test ideas, and discover their passions. This approach has the potential to help students unlock their potential and have an impact while they are still in school, as opposed to “how can I have an impact?” being something students are left to face when they cross the commencement stage.

In addition to a pocket full of business cards, participating in the Exchange gave me with a renewed courage to overcome the fear that I don’t know enough yet to have a real impact. And though the many Ashoka Fellows and social entrepreneurs I was reminded that true “success” includes having the compassion and humility to remain engaged in a continual process of learning, adjusting, improving, and remaining open to others – especially those who are different than you.

So, don’t wait. Follow up on those contacts that you made at the Exchange or spark up some new ones. Share your stories of discovery and impact at the Ashoka U GOOD Maker Campaign by Wednesday, April 11, 2012. As we tell our stories, we will grow together, gain new insights, and collaborate in the spirit of the Ashoka “everyone a changemaker” vision.