By Carrie Kerpen, CEO
I often write about the wisdom I’ve gained from women with long, successful careers. But I’ve learned just as much from young women at the very start of their journeys, too. I recently had the pleasure of hearing incredible stories from three former students from Josh Spodek’s social entrepreneurship class at NYU—and each woman had an important leadership lesson to share.
You Are Your Own Best Advocate
As a sophomore at NYU, Nikita Roach decided to try a course in the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship. “At the time, I did not plan to start a business, develop a product, or innovate a solution,” she remembers. In the first week, she was directed to jot down five unmet needs that were relevant to her world. The one she listed at the very top was trypanophobia—the fear of needles. “Over ten percent of the population suffers from it, hindering preventative medical care that save lives,” Roach explains. “I wanted to help solve this problem.”
In doing so, she learned a very important lesson: you are your own best advocate. Needing to pursue potential funders, engineers, and mentors who might be interested in her project, an eighteen-year-old Roach discovered that no matter how old you are, you are your own voice. “People will help and serve as surrogates for your vision,” she says, “but, in the end, the passion, vision, and drive have to come from you. I think that anyone determined to work toward a clear goal can launch a business, venture, or innovation.”
As a student on track to law school, Roach found that the skills of both entrepreneurship and law overlap quite a bit—both professions take grit, passion, creativity. And as a young lawyer, she plans to actively seek out opportunities to do pro bono work for entrepreneurs.
Persistence and Passion Open Doors of Opportunity
While at NYU, Grace Pozniak found three problems: 1) Music festivals needed to connect more to their communities, both as a social initiative and as a way to improve their reputations. 2) Neighborhoods had unique social problems that they needed help alleviating. 3) Many festival-goers and music-lovers struggled to pay for tickets (or simply couldn’t afford them). Pozniak tackled these three different problems, with a single creative solution--teaming up with a local music festival called Governors Ball to create Gov Ball Gives Back. Together, they focused on the issue of hunger in New York City and partnered with five organizations in East Harlem. Over two years, more than 200 participants volunteered a total of 3,500 hours. And Pozniak helped foster lasting relationships between Governors Ball, its community, and its fans.
Through this entrepreneurial experience, Pozniak learned a lesson in persistence. “I had to talk to a lot of companies before luckily finding one as generous and trusting to both me, the communities, and the idea,” she says. Pozniak also faced struggles with getting organizations on board and finding accountable and passionate volunteers. “We had to delay starting the program a few times due to technical issues. But ultimately, continuous persistence created a meaningful program.” Yet the most important lesson, she says, was how to form a forever-bond with someone through genuinely caring and listening. “I learned to share my passions with others, to learn their passions, and that simple sharing can open worlds of opportunity.”
Small Connections, Big Impact
During her time in Josh Spodek’s class, Nahima Uddin worked to solve a significant unmet need in underdeveloped communities in Bangladesh: a lack of female financial literacy. Uddin recognized that many women who grow up in these villages don’t have the resources to attend school and often marry young to support their families. “They grow up with limited language skills, cannot go to the doctor by themselves, and struggle to support their households, even after marriage,” she explains. While microfinance banks have helped many women start their own businesses, they’ve also disadvantaged those unable to repay their loans. More important, many women grow up discouraged, not knowing how to manage their finances. “It’s important to teach women about loans,” says Uddin, “so they are not stuck in the cycle of poverty. I believe promoting financial literacy in these communities is the first step to solving this problem.”
When Uddin visited Bangladesh last year, she spoke with household maids between the ages of ten and twenty-years-old, who shared their stories and dreams. They came from rural, underdeveloped villages, often treated disrespectfully, and were paid less than 50 cents per day or, in some cases, not at all. “Zoshna, a maid I spoke to a few years younger than me, shared her anxiety taking on a risk that could lead her to a bigger financial burden,” says Uddin. “Meanwhile, staying a maid would keep her secure even if she still struggled to put food on the table. Another maid mentioned how running a business wouldn't come to mind because her family would never support her.” Uddin’s solution was to build a local mentorship program at a community center to teach women financial literacy and the skills for starting a business.
This venture taught Uddin a lesson in focusing on community-based programs and creating connections with others. “My favorite moments were speaking to these women,” she says, “I’m thankful to them for trusting me, sharing their stories with me, and building a connection.”
Carrie Kerpen is the CEO of Likeable Media, a social media agency. She is passionate about social media, and connecting women in digital via her podcast, All The Social Ladies. Tweet her @carriekerpen.
This post originally appear on Forbes.