Student Changemaker at the 2017 Ashoka U Conference

Written by: Jodie Waite, Vice President , Glasgow School for Business and Society

When I was invited to present at the 2017 Ashoka U Conference in Miami, I jumped at the chance. As Vice President of GCU’s Glasgow School for Business and Society, a GCU Business graduate, and as policy lead for our new Social Innovation Project at GCU Students’ Association, social innovation is something that I am always interested in finding out more about. Moreover, I was excited about the networks that I would make with other likeminded student representatives from across the world.

I was extremely lucky to be staying on Miami South Beach, which was just twenty minutes away from the conference venue in the Miami Hilton Hotel. By 8am, the temperature would already be over five times hotter than at home in Glasgow, and the cafes and restaurants were bursting at the seams with people eating their breakfast before hitting the beach or the swimming pool.

So – what did I take part in at the Ashoka U Conference? I have detailed the sessions that I attended below.

Journey of a Changemaker: Student Peer to Peer Allies

My first workshop was interactive, and was attended by students from across the globe. In my group alone, I was joined by students from Utah, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Amherst.

We were first introduced to research that Ashoka U’s Youth Venture had conducted on young social entrepreneurs. Significant patterns of the journey of social entrepreneurs had emerged, and it was found that the majority of change makers experience six stages. These six stages were:

  1. Spark: the initial spark that interests a student in social innovation
  2. Prototype: an opportunity for that student to put their social innovation into practice
  3. Validate: recognition of the students work, such as a mention of the work on their personal record
  4. Venture: securing sustainable resources for the students’ social innovation work
  5. Accelerate: the social innovation work taking shape
  6. Grow: the number of people getting involved in the social innovation work growing in numbers

Within my group, we came up with tangible examples of how we could implement this model on our campuses. For example, we discussed how we could initially engage students in social innovation creating the ‘spark’ at an early age, and I explained that this could be done at GCU through the Caledonian Club. Thinking of how we could engage students with the model gave us tangible examples of how we could encourage students to partake in social innovation on our campuses, and it also allowed me to build networks with students from across the globe.

Little Havana: Culture as a Catalyst for Change

As part of the conference, I was able to take a trip to Little Havana, which is an area of Miami that is a notable centre of social, cultural and political activities for many immigrant communities that have come to call it home. Little Havana was originally recognised for Cuban exiles from around the world, however today it is populated with more residents from Central and South America.

Whilst in Little Havana, I met with a youth worker and a young woman who had been working together to create social change within the community. We were taken to a park that is located at the heart of their community, however un
fortunately it had also become a place where gang violence, drugs and shootings were a common occurrence. Most notably, a 15 year old had been arrested in April 2016 for shooting a young teen after a basketball match, and this had spurred locals within the community to come together in an attempt to end the violence.

The youth worker and young teen had started to engage with locals who offered activities for young people, such as dance teachers and football coaches, and asked them to put events on in the park to make use of the space. They felt that it was important to make the community feel safe when attending the park, and that this could be achieved through creating a positive environment within this area. Their work in the community has increased the number of people who use the park, and has decreased the number of criminal activities taking part in the area.

A Taste of Social Entrepreneurship: using food as a platform to do well while doing good

My second site visit was to Florida International University, where they are running a project called StartUP FIU Food. They are running a project in partnership with Citi Foundation and the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management to provide a platform for food entrepreneurs. Chaplin School, within the FIU campus, has opened its commercial kitchens and baking facilities to entrepreneurs from out with the university to use the space and develop their businesses. I met with entrepreneurs from a range of areas within the food industry, and we had the opportunity to sit and speak with them over lunch. The project is both beneficial for FIU, who are charging a small fee to the entrepreneurs for using their facilities, and for the entrepreneurs, who can use a space whilst building up their businesses.

Shared Vision, Collaborative Action: The Power of Networks in Social Change Work

Last but not least, I presented as part of a panel in ‘The Power of Networks in Social Change Work’ session alongside Julie Adair from GCU, and two delegates from Chile. The purpose of my session was to discuss how we were developing networks within higher education to connect groups from across the globe in social innovation, in an attempt to develop global solutions to create impact.

Within GCU Students’ Association, I am policy lead for the Social Innovation Project, which is a project that students who have taken part in the Student Leaders Programme can complete. The project is one day of training to develop the competencies students need to become effective changemakers within their communities. The project is in partnership with other institutions from around the EU, therefore I presented on the importance of creating networks across the globe to engage students in social innovation. With both staff and students in attendance, we were met with a diverse range of questions and opinions from those who came along to the session, and it was useful to hear others’ opinions on how networks could be used to create a culture of social innovation.

The Ashoka U Conference was an outstanding experience, and I have certainly met people who are so beneficial to what we do at GCU Students’ Association. If you are interested in taking part in our Social Innovation Project, you can sign up for free at:


Thanks to Jodie for sharing her experience at this year’s Ashoka U Exchange, for more information about the event or Ashoka U more widely – visit their website here

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