7 things I learnt from The Social Innovation Project: The Untold Story  

Nada Ahmed at The Social Innovation Project

 

  • Be curious. Keep your eyes and your ears open.  

 

I first learnt about social entrepreneurship in my first year BU111 class. We learnt about Muhammad Yunus, his work in microfinancing, and listened to a video of Michael Porter talk about how business can be a catalyst for social change. We spent less than a class on this, and then moved on. If I hadn’t gone to class, payed attention, or let my curiosity guide me, the beauty of social entrepreneurship would have simply passed by me. Instead I felt deeply inspired and pursued my curiosity myself at home. A few months later, while walking past one of those bulletin boards no one actually reads, I saw a small poster that read, “New Club! The Social Innovation Project. We’re Hiring”. I instantly applied. This I where my social entrepreneurship journey began.

 

  • Emotions suck. Embrace them and push through.  

 

After I applied, I was granted an interview and was totally excited about it. I remember the morning of my interview clearly because I had just gotten off the phone with a close friend, ending an argument that left me emotional and teary eyed. I was feeling down, embarrassed by my tears, and not in the mood to deal with a club interview. I was very close to not showing up. If I hadn’t pulled myself together, put on some makeup and a smile on my face, I would have missed out on an opportunity that transformed my university experience. Emotions suck, and sometimes you have to embrace them and do what’s right.

 

  • Don’t hesitate to reach out to people. A missed hello is a missed opportunity.  

 

A few months into my first year with the Social Innovation project, I was sitting at an unrelated “Lunch with the Dean” event at Veritas Café. We were sitting at a u-shaped table where everyone introduced themselves. Across the table, a girl two years older introduced herself as a business student with a passion for social innovation. She didn’t mention anything else about this, and we continued the lunch and everyone went their own way afterwards. I made sure to go up and talk to her before she left, out of pure interest, to see how she was applying herself to social innovation. We had a nice long chat and then went our separate ways. A few days later, she reached out to me and proposed starting something new called “Community Connect”. It was a wonderful idea and I was eager to be involved. Later that summer, The Social Innovation Project adopted the “Community Connect” idea and I become project lead. This is how Community Connect started.

 

  • Don’t take no as an answer.  

 

Trying to get Community Connect off the ground was tough. We were asking for a lot to happen and in a very short amount of time. Unlike many programs or services, we didn’t have just one group of customers to promote this to. We had to think about organizations, MBA students, and undergraduates all at the same time – each one seemingly more difficult to convince than the other. My first connection with the local K/W nonprofit community was with a women from the Volunteer Action Centre. When I told her about Community Connect, her answer was something along the lines of “The program simply won’t work. And definitely not by September”. I felt naïve and hit by sudden shock of reality, but I didn’t let that “no” sit with me for long. I kept pushing and asked to talk in person. The Volunteer Action Center later became our first community partner (and yes, we started in September).

 

  • Don’t wait for “perfect” – Starting something is better than not starting at all.  

 

When the September launch time for the program finally came, we were far from where we planned to be. I had two options, to either postpone starting until the Winter semester, or make the most of where we were at in that moment and start anyway. I went with the second option, calling the semester a “pilot launch”. I learnt far more in that one semester than I would have if I waited to feel “ready”. The program’s success far exceeded my expectations. One thing I learned is that you may not ever feel fully “ready” and it will always be a learning experience. I can now happily say that I’ve created an opportunity for a total of 16 undergraduates, 5 MBA students, and built relationships with 3 organizations, with a handful more wanting to be involved in the future. Had I postponed starting, had I waited for perfect, none of this would have happened.

 

  • Good friends make all the difference.  

 

The Social Innovation Project introduced me to some of the best people I’ve worked with, whom I’ve shared amazing memories with and even better laughs. Good friends make all the difference. No explanation is needed here.

 

  • Recognize when it’s your time to move on.  

 

The right time to move on isn’t when you have people relying on you to deliver. It’s definitely not the right time to move on when what you’re doing gives you a great sense of reward and satisfaction. Sometimes, stress will lead you to ask yourself “why am I doing this again?” and question why you’re scheduling meetings you don’t have time for. That’s not the right time to move on either.

The Social Innovation Project and the entire social innovation space at Laurier has made me see the world in a different way, teaching me things I am beyond thankful for. But, life has its way of throwing you in unexpected paths and sometimes you have to recognize your time to shift directions. This leads me back to lesson #1: stay curious, and keep your eyes and ears open.

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