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‘I can’t change the world on my own—but with others I can make a difference’

Collaboration, as the author discovered in a week-long Harvard program, effects change
05:30 AM December 29, 2018
Kevin Petrovic (left), who has raised over $20 million in venture capital, recounts his journey.

Kevin Petrovic (left), who has raised over $20 million in venture capital, recounts his journey.

Have you heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”? It’s an old African proverb which implies that an entire community must collaborate to effect change.

Drawing inspiration from the proverb, the Harvard College Social Innovation Collaborative has established a program named Village to Raise a Child—aimed to engage the youth and their ideas to promote social entrepreneurship.

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As one of the Global Trailblazers chosen by the program in 2018, I had the opportunity to fly to Boston, Massachusetts, where I interacted with the originators of some of these great ideas from Generation Z.

The trip included a week-long, immersive social entrepreneurship program that culminated with the presentation of our projects in the Igniting Innovation Summit at Harvard University.

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Trailblazing ideas

The five Global Trailblazers 2018 were selected from an application pool of more than 200 entries from all over the world. The five lucky entries flown to Harvard included a student from Brazil, India, Kenya and the Philippines, and another group of four students comprising a team, also from the Philippines.

Patricia from Brazil found a way to utilize a seed from her country to solve eutrophication, a problem caused by humans and characterized by excessive growth of algae in a body of water that leads to the death and depletion of fish life.

Global Trailblazers take a break from their hectic schedule to tour the MIT campus.

Global Trailblazers take a break from their hectic schedule to tour the MIT campus.

Ishita from India developed digiTAC, an easy-to-administer Teller Acuity software test using machine learning, which does not require a special hardware or trained medical expert to operate. It aims to provide on-the-spot early detection of eye defects in children in a low-resource setting like rural India.

Lewis from Kenya is a budding social entrepreneur whose mobile application can use artificial intelligence to identify cough symptoms and diagnose if you have tuberculosis. With a success detection rate of over 80 percent, his product has attracted the attention of startup accelerator Y Combinator, which has granted it funding.

Team Firend—a derivative of its slogan, “We want to be your friend in making fire end”—composed of Filipino students Camille, Maxine, Alexa and Patricia, proposed the use of banana peel ash and baking soda to create a working paint additive that can act as an eco-friendly and low-cost fire retardant.

My own project entry, GiveLife, is an online platform that directly matches donations with recipients in need of educational and medical assistance. It is an ongoing project that has successfully matched almost a thousand needs with donations and resources that may otherwise be lying idly without the platform. It can be easily accessed through www.givelife.ph using a desktop or mobile device.

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Goal-setting workshop

The cool thing about the Harvard program was the opportunity for the Global Trailblazers to meet experts who gave advice on how to grow projects, and effectively market and confidently pitch ideas.

We had a goal-setting workshop to find the “why” of our projects. This centered mostly on thinking about what specific problem we are trying to tackle and why our projects are needed.

The Global Trailblazers in a group posterity shot with Mariana (center, in white) of Harvard’s Social Innovation Collaborative

The Global Trailblazers in a group posterity shot with Mariana (center, in white) of Harvard’s Social Innovation Collaborative

We also had a public speaking and pitching workshop that helped me in particular to refine my pitch deck and make my presentation more informative, persuasive and convincing for prospective partners and donors.

Another highlight of the program was when we got to meet Peter from Studio67, a branding and marketing consulting company that works with companies like Lyft and The Harvard Shop. This was very valuable and quite timely because I was at that stage where I was trying to figure out how to maximize social media to spread the word about GiveLife.

Peter himself took time out to look at and critique the GiveLife website, and also help craft promotional plans for my platform’s social media pages.

A big part of growing as an entrepreneur is the ability to network and meet new people, and learn from them. I was able to meet numerous successful entrepreneurs and have conversations with them about their work and life as a student.

One such entrepreneur was Kevin Petrovic of FlightCar, the youngest founder to raise over $20 million in venture capital, before selling his peer-to-peer airport car-sharing technology platform to Mercedes-Benz. He was open and welcoming to all our questions about his company.

He told us how he started his company in high school and the difficulties he faced as student entrepreneur. It’s still hard for me to believe that I actually had a conversation with this Princeton University dropout, now Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student, who is just a few years older than I and already with his own company.

Chill time

A significant part of the program was also having some chill time in Boston—giving us a taste of what it’s like to be a Harvard student and live in a campus dorm.

I remember vividly being in awe of the beautiful architecture of Sanders Theatre where we got to sit in an actual Chinese Political Philosophy lecture. It felt surreal listening to such an interesting lecture in a hall that seemed like it was from a different time and era.

Some of the most memorable conversations I had on the trip were those over meals with Harvard professors in the famed Harvard dining halls. We got the chance to tour not just the Harvard campus but the MIT campus as well.

The packed itinerary also made sure we got to attend events like an International Comedy Night or a Harvard Ventures Meeting on campus.

Igniting Innovation Summit

The week-long program culminated with the Igniting Innovation Summit, the largest undergraduate conference on social innovation in the world. As a Global Trailblazer, I was invited to pitch my GiveLife project to an audience filled with strangers and talk to people afterward about the story behind my project, and network with other social entrepreneurs.

The summit had two major keynote speakers, Chinyere Nnadi and Zainab Salbi.

Nnadi, founder of Sela Technologies and Sustainability International, is a Wharton-educated Nigerian social entrepreneur committed to leveraging cutting-edge technology to increase prosperity in the emerging world.

Salbi is the founder of Women for Women International, a grassroots humanitarian and development organization dedicated to serving and helping woman survivors of wars. People Magazine chose her as one of its “25 Women Changing The World” in 2016.

Their talks highlighted the importance of shaping the path we are in and acting on the problems around us to really find solutions that work.

Attending the week-long program most certainly filled me with new ideas and motivation to continue to grow my project. I made lots of new friends and connections and had one of the most eventful weeks of my young life.

But if I had to sum up this whole experience into a single phrase, it would be this from one of the keynote speakers, Zainab Salbi: “Live your truth.”

I can’t change the world on my own. But with a project like mine, with other projects like those of my fellow Global Trailblazers, and hundreds of other social enterprises out there, we can make a difference.

The truth is, it really does take a village to raise a child. —CONTRIBUTED

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TAGS: Global Trailblazers, Harvard College Social Innovation Collaborative, Social Entrepreneurship, Village to Raise a Child
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