Ashoka: Tulane hosts social entrepreneurship Conference

Tess Riley, Staff Reporter

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Tulane University will host the Ashoka U Exchange this week, a program designed to promote higher education institutions as vehicles for positive social impact and innovation.

More than 700 faculty, staff and students from campuses across the country will come together from Thursday to Sunday at the Tulane campus and the Sheraton Hotel in New Orleans to engage in discussions about creating change in their communities. The agenda boasts networking opportunities, site visits, and workshops for educators and students, aiming to bring awareness, motivation and resources for social change to higher education institutions.

“It’s really the only convening of its kind, in terms of bringing in faculty from many different disciplines who are interested in sort of the structural architecture of a university and how to really transform it to make change happen,” Exchange Manager of Ashoka U Emily Lamb said.

According to Lamb, only about one-fifth of the participants are students. Most participants are faculty who will take what they have learned at the exchange and put these ideas into practice through students at Changemaker Campuses.

Ashoka U has designated Tulane as a Changemaker Campus. As an institution invested in social change, Tulane boasts programs such as TEDxTU, the Changemaker Institute — which facilitates student-planned entrepreneurial ventures — and a minor in Social Innovation & Social Entrepreneurship. Last year, Tulane also opened the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking, which promotes collaboration between students, faculty and community members to enact plans for social innovation in New Orleans and houses the SISE program.

“As a result of our designation, many individuals at universities interested in launching similar programs reach out to learn more about how our work has evolved and what advice we have for campuses developing programs in social innovation and changemaking,” said Rebecca Otten, assistant director of student programming at the Taylor Center.

As Tulane is the host of this year’s Ashoka U Exchange, President Michael Fitts will be giving a keynote speech. According to Fitts, this is an opportunity for Tulane to showcase some of its highest values and strengths.

“It is a perfect fit for New Orleans, which has become a focal point for people seeking innovative approaches to societal needs,” Fitts said.

Tulane junior Amanda Tun will be a student presenter at the exchange. Tun will facilitate an icebreaker that aims to help participants gain a deeper understanding of identity and the meanings behind each other’s names, as well as serving on a panel to answer questions about her service-learning experience at Grow Dat Youth Farm.

“I hope to enlighten people about how this curriculum and partnership between Grow Dat and Tulane has enhanced my learning and community work while also spreading awareness about multiculturalism,” Tun said.

According to its website, Grow Dat Youth Farm’s mission is to “work collaboratively to produce healthy food for local residents and to inspire youth and adults to create personal, social and environmental change in their own communities.” Grow Dat also aims to bring together people from various backgrounds and disciplines, promoting multicultural awareness.

Tulane offers a variety of resources and opportunities to facilitate experiences such as Tun’s, including service-learning, the Center for Public Service, staff and faculty mentors, co-curricular programs, funding options and partnerships with community-based organizations. Otten encourages students to reflect on who they want to be and what they can contribute to the world to discover their “changemaker path.”

“Each of us have a unique way to combine our academic interests and career aspirations with a commitment to make positive social change throughout life,” Otten said.