Defining Social Innovation and How to Get Paid to Do It

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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a dear friend of mine, Brian Bergman, the Assistant Director for the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Miami University. As an alumnus of Miami University, Brian explored his interests in international politics through course work as well as an immersion experience in Geneva, Switzerland. After discovering that he was more interested in issues regarding poverty, Brian began the move away from “big table” politics and toward international development issues. Obtaining his Master’s in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh allowed him to do just that. Approaching graduation, one of Brian’s professors from Miami, who had been a mentor to him since his senior year, had him join his team.

Brian Bergman

For the past two years Brian has contributed to Miami’s training, curriculum development, and three academic studies on social entrepreneurship. Brian’s experience so far has allowed him to develop several great nuggets of wisdom for anyone wanting to pursue a meaningful life.

On Brian’s Career Path

I always went after personal growth opportunities. Going to Geneva was an opportunity for me to take my first international flight, going to Kenya was an opportunity for me to live in a mud hut. Those experiences allowed me to grow as a person and learn more about my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve also been lucky enough to have people who encouraged me to always have a couple of things lined up just in case the plan fell like dominoes.

On What You Need to be Successful in Social Innovation

First, a functional business background, not like “the man” type of business, but having a strong understanding of how a business works because everything needs have money to operate, even non-profits. Lean Startup Canvas is the bedrock of our curriculum. Second, not being afraid of numbers. Understanding how to use the right test for the right things is critical for conducting research. Third, knowing how technology works is crucial, you’ve got understand how the whole system works because technology is literally in everything that we do. Fourth, know what you are good at and keep developing those skills. When you go to work somewhere, there’s going to be a guy who loves doing the things that you may not be as good at so focus on just being you.

Top Tips for Any Social Entrepreneur

First, ask yourself what you are most passionate about. Then find out, what is the market? Who are the non-profits? What is the government doing? Are there gaps?  If there’s a gap, that’s where you opportunity lies.

Second, burnout is real. Everyone wants to be around positive people so you have to find ways to disconnect from the work. For example, I like to play ice hockey. When you are playing ice hockey you can’t think of anything else or you’ll get seriously injured.

Third, and possibly most important, is learn how to network. For every 100 contacts you have, you will have 2 to 3 really close contacts that can help guide you as you are developing your idea. For me, those close contacts have had the greatest impact and I wouldn’t be here without them.

Pursuing a career in social innovation is particularly challenging as it is a relatively newer field. In addition to following Brian’s advice, check out The Stanford Social Innovation Review to keep up to date with current trends. Are you working in Social Innovation? Share your wisdom below in the comments.

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