Social impact...takes a planet! | Khanjan Mehta | TEDxPSU

so my name is contra Maeda and I lead an academic program in humanitarian engineering and social entrepreneurship my students design new technologies and then work with partners in a whole bunch of developing countries to commercialize these technologies the goal is to build sustainable and scalable enterprises that actually deliver impact it's all about the execution so my students spend anywhere from a semester to several ears with mean and when they graduate they want to pursue careers in social innovation and global sustainable development they want to do things where they can directly tangibly see the human impact of their work every year I speak to hundreds of students early-to-mid career professionals and they all tell me the same thing what pays well I don't enjoy and what I really enjoy doing but I can see the human impact of my work will not pay the bills will not pay the student loans so what should I do next I didn't know how to advise them and so I spent three years talking to over 300 social innovators working on a wide range of challenges from emergency relief to global health to clean energy I asked them about their journeys what they would they do now how did they get there about two-thirds of them were scientists and engineers about half of them were women about half of them worked on challenges in the United States the other half booked on challenges all around the world the one common thread was that they all believed in the power of science technology and innovation to improve the human condition and today I'm going to share with you five things are learned across these conversations the first thing I learned is that it takes a planet people equate social impact with nonprofits and increasingly with social enterprises but the reality is fairly more complex than that you need every single kind of organization to move the world forward nonprofits do amazing job do an amazing job delivering healthcare to the remotest parts of Africa there are nonprofits that are empowering young girls to become to become engineers and entrepreneurs at the same time there are nonprofits that do or harm than good there are food banks that perpetuate food and security there are hundreds of nonprofits on the on the periphery of urban slums in developing countries that perpetuate dependency there are nonprofits that are changing the world for people who do not want their world to be changed so there is a place for nonprofits there is a place for large organizations large organizations do a lot of bad things and they've got bad rap for that no question about it but at the same time they have the power to move the needle they have resources they know how to scale they know how to get things done they know how to build supply chains look at Intel in terms of publicly traded company they create and support 100,000 livelihoods they are one of the greenest companies out there they are investing tens of millions of dollars trying to bridge the digital divide between men and women and of course they make the chips are going to our computers and our processor as a millennial I don't know how I'm going to solve any problem if I'm taken away from my computer or my smartphone so you need the large corporations to government's well let me admit I'm not a big fan of government's to begin with but you need them you can criticize the Chinese government all you want but you also have to give them credit for bringing eighty seven million people out of extreme hunger and poverty from 2000 to 2010 right here at home you have the National Science Foundation you have the National Institutes for health they fuel the entire American and global innovation ecosystem entrepreneurship is the engine of the economy traditional entrepreneurs strive to build multimillion-dollar enterprises that create value that create jobs social entrepreneurs strive to build multi-million smile enterprises that deliver social impact the urban I Hospital in India Pro has provided eyesight to over four million people it's a phenomenal social enterprise but it took them 40 years to build it and we have yet to see similar successes from other parts of the world microfinance has been a game-changer in Bangladesh and in India but it has yet to get traction in Sierra Leone and Liberia social enterprises are great we need them but they are not a panacea there a magic bullet for development finally your multilateral organizations we love criticizing the UN agencies but we have to remember that it's only because of the UN refugee agency that millions of refugees are alive today we have to give them credit for taking the lead despite some early fumbles taking the lead on on fighting the Ebola virus and now being at the lead of fighting the Zika virus so what's the point the point is that does every organization have a positive social impact the answer is no there are great government's and there are evil nonprofits there are great social enterprises and there are great large corporations it takes a planet we should not generalize every organization has its own effectiveness has its own impact and we need social innovators we need problem solvers like all of you here in every single organization so how do you find the right organization for you it becomes a lot easier if you start asking the right questions and what I found is that we often asked the wrong question we asked what organization do I want to work for the question we should be asking is what problems do I want to solve what problems really tug at my heartstrings what problems keep me up all night what problems my willing to devote a lifetime to what more problems my ability to make sacrifices for what problems do I really really want to solve and who is going to provide me the best platform to solve that problem the problem of course is that there are lots of platforms out there and you need to destroy platforms to figure out if they are right for you or not so how do you decide what the best platform for you is here are three questions to guide that decision and winnow down the platforms you test-drive the first question is what is your preferred engagement approach you can address a problem say global health or mitigating climate change by policy modifications with a technological solution with the with a market centric approach that is a business solution through activist II through activism through advocacy some some approaches take a direct approach and some of some approaches are focused on influencing external stakeholder to make change what approach aligns best with your way of thinking and your worldview the second question is do you prefer working with systems or do you prefer working with people you can address a problem say global health working with the National Health Ministry working with a regional nonprofit or working with people one on one they're all valid approaches on one end of the spectrum you can have a much larger impact but it's going to take time to achieve that impact and you may not even get to see it at the other end of spectrum you get to work with people one on one you can directly see the human impact can be very fulfilling but that impact is constrained to a smaller population the third question is what is your preferred work culture do you prefer working independently do you prefer working in themes do you want to be part of a hierarchical organization where you know exactly what your role is or do you prefer working in an inner and a chaotic emergent entrepreneurial environment are you okay with wearing this wearing a suit and tie to work every day or do you prefer working in your old jeans and sneakers and sitting on a yoga ball with your dog nibbling on your sneakers do you want to work 24/7 do you want a nine-to-five job do you want to spend more time in the office do you want to spend more time in the field what is your preferred work culture so the point is you need to find your core values your worldview your philosophy of engagement and that's how you will find platforms that work for you and then you start test-driving those platforms how do you get a foot in the door it comes down to two things it's all about the quality of your work and it's about the strength of your relationships in other words it's about your portfolio and it's about your network so start building a compelling portfolio tell us about the things that you have done talk about your passions your passions are important to indicate that this that you really care about those problems but then give us evidence that you're not just sitting on it you're actually doing something actively so it's about passion it's about evidence it's about your experiences but more importantly it's about your impacts so don't tell me I spent three months in Africa and I taught these kids how to brush their teeth and I painted a few walls and handed out t-shirts tell me I built of social enterprise in Burkina Faso that provides affordable sanitary napkins to secondary school girls we have 50 full-time employees we have 1.2 million customers and now 90% the attendance rate for secondary school girls in these villages that we work in is 90% that is compelling across your portfolio here are 10 competencies that you need to get across empathy your communication skills written and oral being your ability to speak multiple languages your global portion contextual understanding your resilience and adaptability your teamwork skills an entrepreneurial mindset your ability to make good sound ethical decisions and most importantly your work experience your work experience must be relevant it must show growth over time and finally it must be diverse diverse in terms of the kinds of problems that you have solved and in terms of the geographical regions that you have worked in so build up your portfolio and alongside that start building up your network professional careers in social innovation and sustainable development are not advertised out there they are about change making they are about you're going to find them through your extended network so start building your network go to conferences go to workshops conduct informational interviews get to know people really well and form deep relationships every step of your journey and that's how you will find these opportunities that's how you will you will find get your foot in the door and gradually get the rest of yourself inside as well but now that you're in the door will you be happy there will you feel complete will you feel well compensated will you make enough money and ask them great use for you the answer is that yes solving problems that matter can actually be lucrative there are four things happening here globalisation a convergence of sectors increased professionalization and a larger role by the private sector so one of the major myths is that is that pursuing an impact focused career you are conceding to a lifetime of poverty or you're conceding a lifetime of eating ramen noodles what I do know is that the 300 people that I spoke to you their salaries ranged from $30,000 to $300,000 the median was $80,000 which is compelling it tells me that I can solve problems that matter I can make some good money and I can drink good wine and vacation in Bali the last and the most important lesson is that you're always always always in the real world what does that even mean many of the people that I spoke to told me how they had all these assumptions about who they are and what they are do what they can do what they cannot do and these assumptions became their prisons they always kept waiting I'm gonna do this after I graduate I'm gonna do this after I get my dream job or dream wife or whatever get going you've always been in the real world you are always in the real world and the best place to get going is a university I believe that the purpose of a university is to find your place in the universe to find out what works for you what does not work for you personally personally and professionally so take courses across the spectrum engineering to Zimbabwe and pottery to hydrogeology make new friends try new cuisines travel the world discover but also learn how to design because everything that is everything that is not made by nature is made by humans at some point in time so discover design start getting stuff done that's how you will drive your reality thank you

  1. Looking and sounding good my friend. Penn State will miss you. We need you to get over to Prishtina to work with the university here. You actually coined a work: activacy. That's innovative.

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