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Using Your Influence

Earlier this month, TEDxChange 2013 took place in Seattle, Washington. TED talks and TEDx events have gone viral over the past few years, taking place in cities and communities across the globe. TEDxChange 2013 focused on the theme of “positive disruption” and featured a speaker from our own community here in Greater Washington. Julie Dixon, Deputy Director of the Georgetown Center for Social Impact Communication (CSIC) and a friend of the Catalogue, was one of the six speakers at TEDxChange 2013, talking about social change and the currency of influence.

At Georgetown, Julie considers the intersection of digital media and social good, and presented the idea in her TED talk that social influence is perhaps the most valuable resource that each of us possess today. In the nonprofit and philanthropy sectors, the focus is often on mobilizing money from donors, time and skills from volunteers, but few organizations actively ask for supporters to use their influence on behalf of the common good. Julie posed the audience with a question — do likes on Facebook and retweets on Twitter really matter? — and definitively answered it with a yes. A well-crafted tweet or Facebook comment has the potential to find a kidney donor, raise money for the victim of bullying, or gain attention for local, state, or national legislation.

In Washington, influence is the currency of the day in for-profit and government circles. Isn’t it time that the not-for-profit sectors start using for social benefit as well?

Julie Dixon – Using Your Social Currency to Support Global Causes | TEDxChange: Positive Disruption

Stimulating Change: LearnServe International’s 4th Annual Panels and Venture Fair

The Figuring Out College Success team after their big win at LearnServe's 4th Annual Panels and Venture Fair

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

This past Thursday, I had the pleasure of being a judge at LearnServe International’s 4th Annual Panels and Venture Fair at the School Without Walls. LearnServe International empowers high-school students from around the DC area who have the motivation (but perhaps not the means) to make a difference. Through their Fellows Program, LearnServe helps guide students through the creation of their own “social venture.” This year’s Venture Fair featured 60 young entrepreneurs who represented 30 high schools in 4 different counties. What do all of these young entrepreneurial minds have in common? They all helped to design 45 different social ventures with the goal of serving their schools and their communities.

In the cafeteria of the School Without Walls, LearnServe fellows set up their presentation boards and prepared to discuss their ideas with leaders from both the business and community worlds. Students were split into 4 groups: DC Public and Charter Schools/PG County Public Schools, Montgomery County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools, and Independent Schools. Students were judged based on three different categories: innovative ideas, presentation boards, and their venture pitch. Awards were presented to the one group from each category that received the overall high score from the judges. Winners won a certificate, a book, and a pro-bono consulting service session with business leaders from different companies in the area.

As a judge, I reviewed five different ventures, each one as impressive as the next. It was extremely inspiring to see high school students who were all so motivated to make changes within their communities and beyond. Of all the ventures, one group that I judged not only caught my eye, but had the highest score in their geographic region, and therefore, won. Figuring Out College Success (FOCS) is a venture started by Nancy, Zora, Yousef, and Spencer, all sophomore students, with a goal of making the college preparation and application process easier for students. Whether they are students from international backgrounds, working class families, or first-generation college goers, the mission of FOCS is to help effectively transform the frustration and discouragement of the unknown into motivation to pursue the college path. As four young students who have not yet been through the college preparation or application process yet, their goals proved to be one of the most impressive portions of their venture proposal.

  • increase enrollment in Honors, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes by 10%
  • ensure participants, by mid freshman year, have a developed relationship with their counselor and have a plethora of extracurricular activities under their belt
  • have participants by mid sophomore year create a pool of teachers for recommendations
  • have junior year participants who by their second semester have a full resume and have visited multiple 4-year institutions up the East Coast
  • ensure that by senior year participants have applied to multiple colleges and have set up permanent financial plans for the school they’ll be attending

As a first time judge for the LearnServe Venture Fair, I was blown away by the original and transformative ideas that these young people had come up with. It’s refreshing to see so many young people willing (and able) to change the world, and LearnServe provides them with a great platform to do so. Congratulations to all of the winners, the participants, and everyone at LearnServe who helped to put on an extremely stimulating event. To learn more about LearnServe International and all of the programs that they provide, click here.

Fearless Changemakers Surround Us

By Michael Smith, Senior Vice President — Social Innovation, The Case Foundation

Earlier this year, we at the Case Foundation declared our intention to Be Fearless in all that we do. As we reflected on the 15 years since Jean and Steve Case created the Foundation, we realized that we — and our partners — were best when we were willing to dream big, experiment with new approaches, and admit our failures so that we could learn from them. We were best when we were fearless.

In a time when social challenges seem to be getting bigger and more complex, those of us charged with finding and funding solutions cannot be satisfied with the status quo. In a world where athletes, entrepreneurs, and explorers are all supposed to be fearless, for some reason many leaders responsible for lifting up communities and changing the world for the better have often become safe, incremental, measured, and sometimes slow to act. It’s time to change the game. That’s why not only have we declared our intention to Be Fearless, but we are committed to inviting others to help us define a fearless approach to social change, to spread the concept far and wide, to learn and experiment together, and to uncover the fearless changemakers and change movements already happening in communities in the US and around the world.

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