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For the second consecutive year, NMH sent a delegation of twelve students to the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference (SECON). The two-day conference hosted by Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government gave us the opportunity to engage with a variety of people working in the social enterprise field, including professors, graduate and undergraduate students, and professionals. The four senior Rhodes Fellows and eight junior Rhodes Fellows were the only high school students in attendance. The conference served as an affirming experience for their work. As Connor Wall ‘19 wrote, “It felt eye opening to finally see others in action outside of the NMH bubble. Not only did I learn about how different entities may prioritize education. I also learned about different strategies of innovating and thinking creatively.”

From L-R( Connor Wall '19, Grace Eggleston '19, Mona Zhang '19, Mia Flowers '19, Leah Leslie '19, Tayhee Lee'19 Melvin Mercado Bulacia '19, Adrian Eastmond '18, Chloe Chen '18, Fardusi Uddin '18, Mikayla Gilliam '19)

The conference opened with a speech from Matt Forti, the U.S. managing director of One Acre Fund. Forti pushed us to consider the entire ecosystem that we work in, and asked us to remember the needs of those who we work with and for in our enterprises. In addition to the opening speech, we each were able to select seven sessions to attend across the two days.

Mia Flowers ‘19 appreciated the “Building a Movement” workshop, where she “made really close connections [with a] Teach for America executive,” and “talked a lot about what to do once you have established your social aim and are looking to become a business.”

Tayhee Lee ‘19 enjoyed the "Scaling: From Bad to Best" session. Tayhee noted that, “The presenter in the session gave the example of Henry Ford and spoke about how in order to have a successful enterprise one must be able to ‘own the ripple effect’ of their company.” Mikayla Gilliam ‘19 also found this session instructive, learning “how to think of your social enterprise in a way that could help prevent major issues in the future.”

Tayhee also noted how, “After each session, I took the initiative to speak to the panelists and other guests at SECON. Overall, I think that this part of the conference was also very useful to me. While waiting to talk to the leader of the first session I encountered someone named Gail Foster who is developing an enterprise in New York focused on early childhood Chinese learning for nursery students. Through conversing with her, I was able to learn more about her thought processes between actually starting an enterprise. Additionally, I asked her some questions about problems I saw in her model. Through these questions, she acknowledged them as true and therefore spoke about how she still needs to analyze the results of her pilot program to answer many unanswered questions.”

Grace Eggleston ‘19 found the session, “Creating Economic Opportunities for Women” beneficial and encouraging. Grace noted that, “It was really nice to hear from three such articulate, self-established, thoughtful female entrepreneurs. They set great examples in a variety of fields.”

For Gaelin Kingston ‘18 and Chloe Chen ‘18, it was their second time at SECON. Both are now in the midst of building their own enterprises. Gaelin found it helpful to hear from others in the field that “passion is not enough. Just because someone is invested in a worthy cause does not mean that the organization will work because there are so many other factors that go into it.” Chloe meanwhile, got a crash course in using data to help achieve greater social impact, with four professionals including the director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). Connor Wall ‘19 also attended that session. As Connor wrote, “I learned about the role of feedback in innovating an enterprise as well as scaling it. I believe the most important thing I learned was that a simple yet intimate survey is a powerful tool for collecting data, which is the core part of every aspect of an enterprise. Data is necessary for efficient research, successful pitching, and meaningful growth.”

Other sessions that we attended included, “Empowering Youth Through Social Enterprise,” “Art for Social Change,” and “Balancing Head and Heart: A Mindfulness Approach to Building Social Enterprises.”