8 Organizations Supporting College-Bound Students

When navigating the complex system of higher education, students aspiring to go to college have a lot to consider: How do I choose a university? How do I write a strong application?  What classes do I need? Where do I find quality internships? How do I get financial aid? What resources are out there for me? It can be overwhelming for anyone…

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The difference between equality and equity

The terms equality and equity, in the context of education and social issues, are used interchangeably often. But there may be a way to think about the terms differently, perhaps to better guide the process of grant making. Equality stems from the word equal, as in the same. You cut the pie equally, so that everyone gets the same amount. Equity starts with the premise...

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We grew!

Last month we brought on a new team member, Avani Patel (pronounced Av-ni). Avani is our Local Portfolio Director and will be building our work in East Palo Alto focused on educational outcomes.

Here’s some of what we’re excited about in having Avani as part of our team: - She came directly from the Ravenswood City School District, where her previous position...

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Tips from an Instructional Designer

As you know we’re piloting a new class at BYU, one that we hope at some point soon we will adapt and deliver online for anyone to take. As part of this process we solicited the assistance of an instructional design professional. She had great tips and considerations for teaching from a distance and developing online content...

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We’ve been heads down for a number of months creating a social innovation syllabus. After weeks of white-boarding, scribbling and sketching, revising documents, review sessions and feedback calls, we pressed print.

Our class, ‘Do Good Better’, provides a structure for students to: 1) discover the varied roles they can play in the social innovation sphere, 2) learn about 3 key skills useful in all roles they might be interested in: root cause analysis, solution evaluation, and impact measurement...

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Do Good Better: The Blog

We are officially 2 weeks in to our brand spankin’ new course on Social Innovation - Do Good Better.  So far, so good.  We’re piloting the class to a small group of students at Brigham Young University.

As part of the class students are asked to blog once a week on a prescribed topic...

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Information Smorgasbord

Thanks to the internet (and google) we have almost endless information and resources at our fingertips.  We can access the life work, groundbreaking ideas, and carefully developed resources of experts in any imaginable field with a few strokes of the keyboard.  So why shouldn’t we?  It seems to me that in this age of information there is absolutely no excuse for reinventing the wheel.  There is just no sense in wasting time and energy re-doing something someone much smarter...

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Bespoke Learning

By Jessamyn Lau

You’ve heard a little about my musings on SE education and its shortcomings. It’s time to put a stake in the ground and offer some concrete improvements.

What if a social innovation class were truly about outcomes above outputs? And not about grades or how many people launch ventures? What if it were focused on individualised answers? And each student developed a personal plan to become equipped with the right knowledge and experiences to tackle big problems? What if each person learned and came away with something entirely different? What if the course you wish were around when you were at university was real? The one that helps you figure out how to live your life of purpose?

We think we’re close. We’re designing a class that will be taught to a pilot group of students in August. The curriculum is still in its nascency, but it’s already different from what’s out there. Most classes are tailored to the core group of individuals who know they want to go out and start something. This class will be for the broader group of people who know they are serious about using their career–or an aspect of their professional skills–to contribute to the social sector in a variety of ways: part time or full time, volunteering, working or donating.

In brief, there are three parts: - Overview of the full spectrum of social innovation, - The three biggest pitfalls for social innovators, - Putting the pieces together and developing your path to becoming an effective social innovator.

If you’re interested in participating in an online version of this class then email me, jessamynATpeeryfoundationDOTorg, and I’ll let you know if/when we’re able to offer it publicly.

Big project

By Jessamyn Lau

We’re creating a social innovation curriculum for BYU. Key take away, thus far? Creating a curriculum from scratch is both incredibly fun and incredibly hard work. Six huge whiteboards worth of scribbling, 3 books read, 10 other curricula reviewed, and countless hours worth of internet research/article reading/framework sourcing.

Right now I’m looking for great resources/reading/exercises on “root cause analysis”. Any and all leads would be gladly accepted!

Progress is happening, and we have a deadline (course will be launched in late August), but a lot more needs to be accomplished before then.

Maybe once it’s done we’ll make it available online somehow…

A Simple Idea

By Jessamyn Lau 


A group of BYU student leaders involved in building social innovation on campus have come up with a fabulously simple tool: Changemaker Maps.

They realised that every new student who came through the Ballard Centre’s doors (centre for social innovation on BYU’s campus), had to sit down and have the same conversation with a student leader or a staff member to get them oriented. They were essentially communicating the same information to many students again and again as new students tried to figure out where they could do to be involved, what social innovation classes they could take that would fit with their major, and what the possibilities were for them at the intersection of their field of learning and social innovation. So the student leaders created Changemaker Maps, which now sit in hard copy form at the entrance of the Ballard Centre, as well as online.

Each map is designed for students from a different discipline or college on campus (business, engineering, sociology, etc), includes a field overview, model in the field, listings of on-campus clubs and orgs to get involved with, as well as internships, resources and classes to explore.

Simple in design and content. Effective in helping orient many new students to come.

It’s not necessarily the most novel or groundbreaking idea, but absolutely useful in this and probably many other situations. We all know that the information most people need for any given task is already out there, but it’s breaking down the barrier to access, or creating more intuitive organisation of that information that makes all the difference to people actually getting that information they need.

A Maturing Moment

By Jessamyn Lau

In Summer of 2008 I was one of Ashoka U’s first interns. At that time Ashoka U was basically a bunch of half formed concepts and ideas on Post It notes on an Ashoka office wall in Rosslyn. Over the last 4 years I’ve had the privilege of seeing Ashoka U develop in to a thriving network of university campuses, each actively and strategically building social entrepreneurship on their campus. Collectively the network is pushing the current limitations of SE experiential learning, curriculum and research development, and they come together once a year to share all the insights and lessons they learn in doing so. The annual Ashoka U ‘Exchange’ was last weekend. Representatives from 100 campuses (inc. Stanford, Marquette, USD, Harvard, Thunderbird, BYU, Brown, NYU, to name just a few) met at ASU in Tempe, AZ for two days of deep discussion on the very niche subject of social entrepreneurship and higher education.

Despite being at least loosely connected to Ashoka U since its inception, I’m still surprised by the order of magnitude that the gathering grows by each year. This time around representation from several of the attending campuses included university presidents, provosts and deans. And in addition to faculty, admin, students and social entrepreneurs, there was representation from the US Dept of Education, Innosight, and IDEO. The community is flourishing. People are paying attention to what’s being shared at the Ashoka U Exchange and want to be part of the dialogue.

Coming from the even more niche position of working for a foundation funding and building a SE program, I liked what I began to see in terms of practical information sharing. There were other individuals there in very similar positions to me, as well as those who hold similar perspectives on how SE education should and could work in the future -normally finding those people would be akin to a needle in a haystack situation. I’d love to see the Exchange facilitate truly efficient knowledge sharing. This is a problem most conference models find challenging.

One of the most marvelous moments of the weekend went unnoticed by almost everyone. I saw a young student coyly approach one of the social entrepreneurs who had presented at the TEDx the evening before. She had noticed a quiet moment when he wasn’t engaged in discussion and looked approachable. I overheard pieces of the conversation as she complimented his TEDx talk, expressed admiration for his work, asked a couple of questions and asked to share information to get in contact later on. The beauty of this interchange was that it was incredibly real and important to her at that moment. It was clear she had just chosen herself a new, and carefully selected, role model. Her new role model was excited enough about her education and potential as a social innovator to respond warmly and genuinely. I have no doubt that that moment is one that will shape her future, because I’ve had one or two just like it that shaped mine.

In all honestly, in past years the Ashoka U Exchange has been something that was a ‘nice to attend’ rather than a ‘must attend’. After this year it’s going to be one of the very few conferences I will put on my 2013 calendar as soon as they announce the Exchange dates. I’m going back next year for the practical knowledge sharing and genuine relationship building it is beginning to effectively provide for those involved in this niche but growing arena. However, a core reason I will be attending again is I know wonderfully important inflection points of all sizes will be created; points which strengthen our collective belief and ability to create and support social innovators of the future.

I think we might be teaching social entrepreneurship wrong

By Jessamyn Lau 


(On second thoughts I’d rename this “I think we’ve got SE education wrong”)

Many schools begin their social entrepreneurship education with an intro to social entrepreneurs, teaching students what SE is and exposing them to various social entrepreneurs and the amazing solutions are they come up with. “Look how cool SE is!”, “You can change the world too!”, are the general messages reinforced.

The natural next step is a social venture business plan competition or a venture creation class. This is the way I began learning about SE, and know from first hand experience that in many ways this is great -it encourages students to think more deeply about a specific solution and sort through the myriad of details necessary to come to viable solution to a social problem. However, for a couple of reasons, I don’t think this is the best way of going about SE education.

In my opinion, this approach does a significant amount of disservice to students. They are encouraged to come up with an effective solution to a social problem, write the business plan, and launch their venture, in only a semester or two. No wonder so many ventures fail or struggle to find funding. Firstly, most students interested in SE aren’t entrepreneurs and know that -they then struggle to find where they fit and can contribute. Secondly, in general the entrepreneurial students don’t yet have a deep understanding of these extremely complex problems, or the highly developed and entrenched systems in which they are found. Yes there are a few break-out, star solutions produced by young and recently graduated SE’s, but for the most part the truly impressive SE’s whose solutions have potential to scale to the size of the problem, are those who have years of, often highly specific, experience. And perhaps have spent years wrestling with or coming to the right solution.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t start ventures if they aren’t going to be world changing ideas, or even if they will fail as ventures. I think there is enormous value in learning from a real start-up experience. What I am saying is this:

We need to set a more realistic timeline for students; for social entrepreneurs and social innovators. You don’t have to graduate and start a world changing venture or immediately get the dream job. In fact the social innovation field, and you, might be better off if you don’t. You’ve heard of patient capital? I’d like to argue we need more patient changemakers. Take your time. If this really is a life commitment, deliberately build yourself in to the person with the potential to meet the magnitude of the job.

More on this later…


Ashoka U Exchange

By Jessamyn Lau 

This past weekend I was in North Carolina at Duke for the Ashoka U Exchange. Here’s the blog post I wrote for Ashoka U’s blog on the value the Exchange had for funders:

If you’re a funder working with a university to support them building a social entrepreneurship program here are my top three reasons you should go to Ashoka U’s Exchange next year.

1. Become Informed and Useful

Funding and supporting university based leaders is a whole different ball game to funding social entrepreneurs. There are complexities, challenges and opportunities that come along with a university setting and can be discouraging or even debilitating if you’re not smart about recognising and understanding them. As funders in hands on situations we can be distracting with tangents we *think* might be useful for the university to pursue, or we can be value add -aware of the specific decisions and actions most crucial to establishing a social entrepreneurship (SE) program at a higher education institution. Attending Ashoka U Exchange with representation from multiple stakeholders from the team was a great move for learning together and being uniformly informed.

2. Build Brand

If you’re supporting the creation of a SE program then chances are you want that program to be renowned for excellence in the area of SE education. A reputation is, of course, made up of many components. One of which is building a brand. The Ashoka U network consists of the pioneers of the field as well as the many new campuses serious about embedding SE in to their campus culture and curriculum. The field of SE education is being built here. There is no better place to begin to get your name out there and recognised for what you’re accomplishing. And with this crowd the best way to get your name out there is to share openly and freely ideas, models and successes.

3. Reach Critical Mass

Though the majority of funders will primarily be focused on building SE education at the institution(s) they partner with, ultimately we’re all involved in this because we want to see SE and changemaking embedded in education everywhere. This will only happen as a critical mass of universities lead the way in establishing excellent SE programs, demonstrating that the workplace and the world needs more students to be better prepared to solve problems. There are already many universities with SE programs and curricula, but until now their efforts have been, for the most part, independent of each other. With Ashoka U’s ability to create a network, recognise elements of excellence, and highlight effective campus programs they are building a movement.

Full disclosure: I briefly worked with the Ashoka U team prior to joining the Peery Foundation.

Recidivism or Redemption

By Jessamyn Lau

Four statistics:

- The national recidivism rate is 60%. - It costs an average of $48,000 per year to keep one person incarcerated. - Hudson Link has a 0% recidivism rate. - Each year their 46 released graduates stay out of prison New York States saves $2.2M.

Pretty compelling metrics, huh?

Last week we were at BYU for the launch of the Peery Social Entrepreneurship Program. One of the events held was an exclusive screening of a film made by BYU alum Tim Skousen. ‘Zero Percent’ is still an unfinished film so we were not seeing the final cut, but I was already impressed with the subject matter and the masterful way in which is was presented. This is not an area the Peery Foundation works in, but my dad works in a prison and we’ve had many Sunday afternoon conversations about the importance of effective education inside prisons.

The film follows a group of men in Sing Sing maximum security prison taking part in the Hudson Link program. It tells their stories, observes their progress towards achieving their associates/bachelors degrees, and most importantly depicts repentance and redemption. The men and women who take part in the program are transformed and supported to lead more constructive and meaningful lives, through the challenge of higher education.

No agenda for this post. Just wanted to highlight some obviously important work. For more info check out this article from the New York Times. And when “Zero Percent” is finished and gets released put it on your to-watch list. It’s a testament to the power of education as a tool for redemption.

Piloting the Future of Education

By Jessamyn Lau 

In a past life I was a Montessori Directress. The founder of the Montessori Method was Maria Montessori, who designed her education methodology for the children of Rome’s slums. A lot of the Montessori method revolves around children being their own teachers, and becoming self-directed learners. The directress (teacher) prepares an environment where the students can go at their own pace and collaboratively learn/teach one another. The directress observes the children, what work they are drawn to, keeps a log of their progress in each area of learning, and at times steers or encourages a child to try something they haven’t before or that might be an appropriate challenging next step. The directress is not occupying the position of primary vehicle of knowledge. She directs the learning and progress of the class or individuals as a coach or guide.

This morning we visited Covington School in Los Altos. It’s not a school we’d typically visit, as the kids there seem to have every opportunity and support that they might need. However, a very interesting pilot project is taking place in their 7th grade classrooms, and our friends at Innosight Institute invited us to go with them to see this exciting experiment in action.

In November 2010 Covington’s 7th grade Maths class began integrating the materials and learning platform of the Khan Academy in to their curriculum. The students utilise school Macs to log on to the Khan Academy learning platform to practice mathematical exercises at their own pace, in the areas they most need to currently be focusing on. Each child sees a ‘constellation’ of their current accomplishments in topics they have mastered, the ones they are currently working on, and also the topics that are suggested as their next areas to work through. They choose how to navigate their own learning. They set their own goals for each week and they see their progress and achievement at the end of each day and week. Each child works at their own pace during their ‘Khan Goals’ and ‘Khan Challenge’ time.

Where is the teacher in all this? Observing the whole class directly in the classroom, observing each child’s progress individually on the online teachers dashboard, and spending time with each child one-on-one reinforcing concepts that the teacher, through the dashboard report, can see they have been struggling with as they’ve worked through exercises. The environment is prepared for every child to direct their own learning at their own pace. Children struggling with a certain concept can spend the time they need to master it, without the whole class knowing they are repeating concepts. Children who excel in particular areas can learn and practice at an accelerated pace, without feeling self conscious or having to sit through disengaging reinforcement of things simple to them. Teachers no longer teach to the middle or bottom of the class, get an accurate picture of where each child’s strengths, struggles and enthusiasm lie (many children go home and log on to the Khan platform to continue doing exercises and challenges they enjoy and decide they want to master), and they get time to work one-on-one with each child every week.

I’m pretty sure Maria Montessori would be impressed with the use of today’s technological advances to reinforce the key principle of self-directed learning, and the development of a solution that has the potential to serve children in almost any circumstance, background or geography. It’s an exciting project because of the extremely broad potential for application and the fairly low barrier to adoption for schools, teachers, families and after-school programs in practically any part of the world.

My current understanding and ability to explain this pilot is nascent. For more info check out the blog that the Khan Academy, the teachers, AND students are using to share their experience.

Hands On

By Jessamyn Lau 

The depth to which we are involved with each of our partners varies. Some organisations are newer and have a list of things we can help them find/do, others are very well established and for the most part we just get out of their way and watch with awe. Each partnership is defined by the situation and needs of the organisation.

One unique partnership is with BYU (Brigham Young University). Before I joined the PF, Dave and the Peery family had noticed an opportunity at BYU. A number of the family are BYU grads and they were very familiar with the student body who are highly entrepreneurial, have diverse international experience and language skills, and firmly believe in the school’s motto of ‘Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve’. It’s obvious, right? Social Entrepreneurship fit! While there were a few solid SE activities already established on campus, they recognised an opportunity to coordinate the existing efforts, as well as build a robust program that would serve students and faculty across campus more completely.

Currently, this is what about 40% of my time is spent on, as we prepare to launch the program. This will dramatically decrease over the next year but for now BYU is the one partner we are in communication with almost daily. I’m a BYU grad myself, so it’s extremely gratifying to be able to continue to build what I wanted to see while a graduate student there. I work with the program’s director, a founders group of professionals all volunteering their time to create the program, and many faculty and student leaders. As with most of what we do at the PF, it’s gratifying work -just in a different way.

The program will be launching in February, the week of the 7th. I’m pretty sure you’ll get to hear a little more about all the goings ons, then.

And if there are any funders out there working with universities already doing or currently thinking about doing a similar thing, we’d love to hear from you. We’ve learned quite a bit over the last couple of years we’ve been working on this partnership, and we are still trying to figure out how the relationship will change as the program becomes more established with time. Always open to learning/sharing.