Episode: Ep7: Grace Michel (CPC – University of San Diego) – Catalyzing student startups to build peace through education, leadership development, human rights, and social innovation


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Ep7: Grace Michel (CPC – University of San Diego) – Catalyzing student startups to build peace through education, leadership development, human rights, and social innovation

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Quick Show Summary (w/ minute markers):

  • Introduction
    • Grace Michel is the Assistant Director for the Center for Peace and Commerce at University of San Diego. She seeks to build peace through education, leadership development, human rights, and social innovation. She served for several years in Lima, Peru, with Paz y Esperanza(Peace and Hope), partnering with local church leaders in marginalized urban neighborhoods to promote holistic community transformation projects. Michel has worked with the U.S. Campaign for Burma and spent time on the Burma-Thailand border as an educator for Karen refugees. In 2013 Michel was one of USD’s Social Innovation Challenge award winners for her project, HOMESPUN, which brings together refugees from Burma living in San Diego for weaving circles, where elders pass on the art of traditional weaving to the youth, and participants learn social entrepreneurship skills to sell their woven creations.
  • Background in developing world and social impact field (1:55)
    • Grace says that she has quite a bit of international experience. She attributes her field of work, which has been primarily international organizations focusing on humanitarian issues and justice, to growing up with a multicultural family. Her mother was from Burma and she grew up with a consciousness of what was going on within the country. She also grew up with an orientation towards service. She always took advantages of those opportunities for travelling the world and helping out. She studied abroad in Latin America and Chile. She did summer trips to Guatemala and Mexico. She moved back to Latin America to help out with Paz y Esperanza.
  • Picking Lima, Peru (4:19)
    • She took a trip to the slums of Lima with a service group and had a very good experience and eventually led the trip for other students in the future.
  • DNA of successful programs (5:42)
    • Grace says that most important factor for her is finding the right collaborators and partners to work with and finding the right contact. Ultimately, she is more interested in projects in having a real meaningful impact in the local community. You have to get to know your specific target population and community. Having systems and processes that work and can later be adapted to the local community is something to look forward to.
  • Role at USD and Programs (8:49)
    • The Center for Peace and Commerce at USD is a partnership between the School of Business and the Joan Kroc School of Peace Studies. They seek to equip students as change makers and to create social impact around the world. The Social Innovation Challenge gives students tools and skills to develop their own social ventures and they give them seed funding as well. This challenge isn’t only for USD students; it is open to students from other universities in San Diego. It is super inclusive, which is unique for higher education. They realized that the value behind social innovation is creating good for the whole and the way to do that is to collaborate and share resources. They create a community around social innovation and social good.
  • Prize for the Social Innovation Challenge (SIC) (13:04)
    • There is no equity taken in the ventures at this point.
  • Intersection for business, education, and social innovation (16:00)
    • She is grateful to work with a community of colleagues that work effectively together. For her, being an educator is one of the most privileged and inspiring roles she gest to play with. She can use education as a tool for social justice. It is important to draw out the best in each student and help them use that as change agents. She was able to integrate that with business principles, which was an unexpected but a beautiful marriage.
  • Testament to the collaboration (19:03)
    • SIC is definitely one of the indicators of the growth and the collaboration of the two fields. They have grown significantly over the years and have increased the number of partners they have worked with. The most important factor is the education of the students and the community that they have built beyond the university. They have planted seeds in the San Diego community that have flourished.
  • Tracking mechanism for the students (20:57)
    • They are started to get more sophisticated with the follow up. They survey the students to understand the actual learning. They have also been doing some retrospective research with the past winners. As SIC matures, so does the quality of the student projects.
  • First year entrepreneurs vs. graduating entrepreneurs (22:34)
    • There is definitely a difference in what students are aware of in terms of time and grit. They see a big difference in the phase that they are at. Most undergrads are at an earlier idea stage. PhD students and graduate students have already incorporated the projects. A one size fits all model doesn’t for for SIC.
  • Assessment of impact community (24:13)
    • Grace says there is a ton of energy in the start up ecosystem. Grace says that when she interacts with all these different people, they are all very eager to work with one another and collaborate. They all know one another, so it is a relatively connected community. There are still ways to go about working more effectively.
  • Improving the community (26:05)
    • Grace believes a council would be helpful and also some significant funding sources. If the government supported the impact ecosystem it would also be beneficial. Communication with one another is another key factor. Millard Chan adds that the community is highly fragmented, making hard for the ideas and resources to flow. Grace continues and says that we are not all aware of what everyone is doing.
  • An organization as a repository (28:24)
    • Grace says that the Center of Peace and Commerce has worked hard to reach all the innovation and entrepreneur actors around the impact community.
  • Interuniversity coordination (29:32)
    • Grace says that up to this point, the outreach has been to specific centers. She says that it helps to have champions, whether it is organizations or funders. The Moxie Foundation has been in contact with several different campuses, which has been a helpful platform. The challenge is that there are competing agendas at the university level.
  • How can student social entrepreneurs better position themselves for success (31:06)
    • Grace says that the most successful students are the ones who are very open to feedback and who seek it out. The ones who reach out and take advantage of mentors go far. They put in the time and a lot of work.
  • Impact Icons (32:37)
    • Grace lists Teresa Smith with Dreams for Change, who was a winner of SIC. Her social venture is a food truck that serves the homeless population in San Diego. Another San Diego State team created a project called World Entrepreneurs (W.E.) Do Good. They developed a new device for threshing teff, which is a grain abundantly eaten in Ethiopia. They have been working with Project Concern International (PCI), a local organization in Ethiopia, and are getting their thresher into the hands of farmers. Engineering innovation is applied to development and improving people’s livelihood.
  • Contacting Grace (37:04)
  • Sponsor: This episode of The Impact Matters Podcast is brought to you by Alliance Healthcare Foundation (AHF) in San Diego. AHF works to advance health and wellness for the most vulnerable, the poor, the working poor, and children and homeless in San Diego and Imperial Counties.
  • End Credits: Produced by – Brendan Kurylo. Additional voices – Mindy Nguyen and Nicole Leandra. Theme music is “Good Times” by Podington Bear from soundofpicture.com. Sponsor music is “Jettisoned” from Podington Bear. Show notes by Tanaya Sawant.
  • Podcast Sherpa: Charles Wiltgen
  • Contacts: @millardychan on Twitter; podcast@impactsd.org on email; impactsd.org on web


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