• Where’s the focus on collaboration and early education?

    By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    It’s September and so, like every year, there’s a breadth of blog posts and articles on improving academic success. And this is something that’s personal to me since I’ve been a student for, well, pretty much 22 years — give or take a few relatively short professional and non-professional breaks in between.

    Image via Stanford Social Innovation Review

    On September 4, writer Arshad Merchant (who is also a partner with Wellspring Consulting) outlined, on the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) blog, the most important areas in which they thought students needed help to complete their degree, and thus, improve graduate rates all around, which included:

    1. Staying on track to graduate—which meant selecting a suitable major, understanding what requirements they must fulfill to graduate, and using strategies and support to improve their academic performance
    2. Building their employability—through securing part-time jobs, writing a resume, and defining a desired career path
    3. Maintaining sufficient financial aid—by renewing their scholarships, staying current on scholarship payments, and making smart financial decisions
    4. Managing life—by staying connected with people who cared, maintaining a positive attitude, and resolving problems that might challenge their ability to graduate

    The title of the piece was called “A Simple Method to Improve College Graduation Rates” and it was looking specifically at a Boston-based organization called Bottom Line that helps low-income students get into college and, of course, graduate.  The problem was that not a successful amount of them were.

    So from the four areas of need outlined above, they created DEAL: “Degree (academic performance, on track to graduate); Employability; (access to financial) Aid; and Life (emotional support).” Not super innovative, huh? Which I guess is where the “simple” comes from in the title. One commenter named Yvonne C. Hunnicutt said: “Isn’t this common sense for ANY college student?!” While I don’t fully agree that this is the case, since a lot of DEAL is easier said than done, I do think most college students do recognize the necessity to keep those four areas in mind even if they don’t fully articulate it that way.

    As a grad student myself, my main concern is this: why doesn’t DEAL mention the collaboration with the college itself? Most colleges and universities offer this kind of support whether it’s mentoring, career workshops, financial advising, etc. However, it is true that a lot of students (including myself as an undergrad) don’t take full advantage of these resources but they’re there.

    And what about pre-college? Pre-high school even? The 2011 PBS special with Tavis Smiley Too Important to Fail shows many young black males don’t even make it to college; they don’t even graduate from high school. This, for the most part, is because of things that happen way before an organization like Bottom Line intervenes. This includes but is not limited to: poverty, institutional racism, disproportionate suspension, crime in the community and unprepared educators.

    DEAL did in fact increase the graduation rate at Bottom Line, which is great, but it’s important also to go beyond that and consider who gets into Bottom Line’s program to begin with. Who is already excluded from that? As a child of a grade one teacher (so I’ve had too many dinners to count where the topic revolved around pedagogy), I’m a firm believer that educational success (employability, knowledge, literacy, etc.) must be considered holistically from the early days.

  • Empathy: it’s all good, right?

    By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    Empathy has been studied seriously since the 1960s as something more than an emotion. It’s an affect, yes, but it has implications for things outside of the personal realm. Social activist and cultural critic bell hooks cultivated an idea of “engaged pedagogy” which centers on the idea of mutual recognization.  “Engaged pedagogy rests on a compassionate premise: to be effective, teachers need to be engaged with students, to nurture not only their classroom performance but their whole well-being: mental, physical, and spiritual,” writes Janet M Lucas in her 2011 dissertation “Not just a feeling anymore: Empathy and the teaching of writing.”

    How empathy works in social businesses may be difficult to assess. After all, it goes back to whether or not intentions matter. But empathy has been and continues to be a hot topic online in the social entrepreneurship world. I’d say it’s pretty much a buzz word by now. Intentionally or not, affect and emotion have always held a premier role in social business. Especially when it comes to companies selling products, it takes emotional marketing and/or a “virtuous” feeling on the part of the consumer, to sell a fair trade, environmental, ethical (etc.) product, considering that it’s usually at a higher price.

    Empathy: it’s all good, right? Well, maybe not. In “The risks of empathy: Interrogating multiculturalism’s gaze,” which was published in Cultural Studies, Megan Boler argues that “passive empathy… falls far short of assuring any basis for social change, and reinscribes a ‘consumptive’ mode of identification with the other.” Consuming the other (or “eating the other” if we look at this again through a bell hooks lens) is already a huge issue in social business. The so-called exotic is sold, bought and traded through goods manufactured (but sometimes not) in the Majority World.

    Last year, Ashoka launched their empathy initiative in which they outlined the following: “Empathy. We don’t hear the term every day, but Ashoka Fellows over the past thirty years have shown time and again that there is no practice more fundamental to the human experience and no skill closer to the heart of what it means to be a changemaker. Its presence–and as profoundly, its absence–can be seen amongst the myriad challenges that populate our daily headlines, whether school bullying, ethnic conflict, crime, or the global preparedness of tomorrow’s workforce.”

    But is it really possible to “identify with another person’s feelings” as Mary Gordon’s Cultivating Empathy describes empathy? How could a straight able-bodied white middle-class North American male identify with the feelings of a poor black lesbian from Zimbabwe? But this isn’t about the Oppression Olympics. Rather, if I go back to Boler, it’s about being active in not consuming identities because claiming to empathize is far different than acknowledging someone’s right for self-determination and ownership.

    To problematize empathy isn’t to disregard it, but rather, it’s to take a look at how promoting empathy can blind being critical, which is crucial, especially in an industry that purports to care.

  • Five socially oriented Pinterest accounts to follow

    By Tiana Reid, Editor and Community Manager at SocialBusiness.org.

    The social sector is often given flack for not jumping on the bandwagon fast enough when it comes to new technologies, and especially, social media. But when resources are strained, tweeting your latest innovation sometimes seems like the last thing on your mind. Times, indeed, are a-changing. Everyone, everywhere, in whatever industry, is taking social media seriously. (And often, too seriously.)

    To those who care (or pretend to care): it’s been ordained that Pinterest is the web’s latest social media darling. Of course, Fancy, Pinterest’s potential rival, is also getting a lot of love lately, however, Fancy focuses on, well, selling. Products are the name of the game with Fancy, whereas Pinterest’s platform more easily allows for the sharing of ideas.

    When it comes to social good, however, Pinterest isn’t exactly a mecca of sharing. In early February, Mashable rounded up 15 of the Most Popular Pictures on Pinterest. This was it in a nutshell: baked goods, sappy quotes and wedspiration (wedding inspirations, duh). But socially oriented Pinterest accounts are out there. And there are more than this list, obviously. But here are a few that the Social Business Pinterest account follows, likes and repins.


    What? Spicy kimchi stew recipes, out-of-this-world environment-friendly architecture concepts and “the most craptastic urban rebranding efforts ever” (Grist’s words, I swear).

    What’s the cause? The environment—and the independent journalism industry that cares about it.

    What to expect? All green everything.

    Notable board? This made us LOLZ

    Project Repat

    What? This social business pins the best of their hypervisual tees, circle scarves and bags.

    What’s the cause? Recycling excess t-shirts while creating jobs by collaborating with the worker-owner cooperative Opportunity Threads.

    What to expect? Fun mixed with sass. My bet is that their “Glenn Beck is a moron” printed bag will take off faster than you can say “ASAP.”

    Notable Board: Repat Roadtrip

    Echoing Green

    What? A mix of sweet-and-simple quotes, social innovation reads and visual explanations of why the non-profit does what it does—and does it well.

    What’s the cause? A network and hub for entrepreneurs, students and investors looking to build innovative solutions to global issues.

     What to expect? Inspiration. I know, I know, Pinterest is supposedly alllll about inspiration, but Echoing Green’s boards, from ‘Intriguing Infographics’ to ‘Social Innovation’ and ‘Purpose,’ are aimed to rouse you toward action.

    Notable Board: Social Innovators Collective

    Amnesty International USA

    What? The range here is broader than broadway. Everything from marketing posters from the organization itself to film recommendations and facts. Unlike smaller social business and nonprofit Pinterest accounts, Amnesty predominately pins their own content.

    What’s the cause? You already know: Amnesty is the biggest human rights organization in the world. 

    What to expect? Variety.

    Notable board: Little Activists

    Much Better Adventures

    What? Surfing, skiing, hiking. Repeat.

    What’s the cause? Working to make travel local, ethical and sustainable.

    What to expect? Photography so trippy you’ll think LSD made a comeback.

    Notable board? Morocco Planning