I came to Fordham University in the Fall of 2011 dreaming big. “I now have four years,” I remember telling myself, “to do what I want to do, and build something special.” Within weeks of classes starting I had already jotted down a range of radical and ambitious ideas: crowd funding offshore wind and solar farms, a combine harvester sharing scheme for 3rd world farmers, and even removing all the cars in New York City and reimbursing owners with an unlimited public transit pass & Zipcar membership. My enthusiasm was contagious, and I would stay up until the early hours discussing with my roommate the potential for these ideas to make the world a more efficient, affordable and sustainable place to live. The only problem? I hadn’t the slightest clue about how to turn these visions into a reality. Enter The Compass Fellowship, the prestigious Social Entrepreneurship fellowship which selects 15 passionate and ambitious college freshmen, and gives them the tools to build a socially-impactful venture over the duration of their first year at college.
Having undertaken the fellowship as a Freshman (the result of which can be seen at www.furirental.com), and led the Fordham chapter as a mentor (which resulted in the emergence of www.thesmartgirlsgroup.com as a thriving business rather than simply a blog), I am now the Co-Regional Director of Compass for the NYC ‘Super’ Region, encompassing the chapters at Fordham, UPenn, Fairfield, Yale and The College of New Jersey. I am extremely excited at helping build the NYC hub into the foremost region for emerging social entrepreneurs, just as NYC itself is emerging as a world-class home for entrepreneurs of all sectors and persuasions.
My role as the Regional Director is to host some kick-ass events for the NYC Compass community, expand the Compass presence in NYC to neighboring colleges, and form strategic partnerships with institutions and individuals who will stand to benefit from Compass’ success. In order to accomplish these goals, I believe it is necessary to understand the fundamental factors that have made Compass the success it has been to date, in order to build on this foundation and help make Compass’ value proposition even easier to sell. With roughly 60 of the brightest and most ambitious college Freshmen working to build the next Warby Parker or Change.org, my job is actually rather easy, but I will not be satisfied until I have successfully secured resources for the NYC fellows, ranging from startup legal advice and web design consulting to perks such as Premium Evernote accounts!
So what makes the Compass Fellowship special? While there are a plethora of factors that have contributed to its success, I have identified 3 aspects of the experience that make Compass unique, and fundamentally different to any other entrepreneurial program:
- I think the single most special aspect of The Compass Fellowship is the mental attitude they have managed to instill in all fellows: yes you, a college freshman, can do it; there will never be a better time in your life to take risks and create something amazing. This empowering vision is supported by the Fellowship’s organizational structure: The Compass Fellowship is entirely student-run, with upperclassmen acting as mentors to the Freshmen fellows, which breaks down any notion that Compass is a “class”, and instead fosters an open, engaged and collaborative community. Furthermore, the concept of building a socially impactful business during the first year of college seems much more attainable when the mentors are student-entrepreneurs themselves, barely a year or two older than the Freshmen.
- Compass made the decision to be selective, and its exclusivity actually serves as a magnet for passionate and driven students who understand that their peers within Compass will inspire them and contribute to the experience. During my period as a fellow I quickly discovered that other fellows were studying Mandarin Chinese, working for fashion designers, publishing poetry, organizing film festivals in Cleveland, assisting series A fundraising for New York startups and more. Remember, these are Freshmen. Furthermore, being selected for the Fellowship places the onus on the fellow to justify that selection. While this is usually the secondary or tertiary motivation for these passionate Freshmen, it does increase their accountability when it comes to attendance or completing work outside of the various modules.
- By following the fraternity model of being a national community with local chapters on each campus, Compass offers aspiring Social Entrepreneurs immediate points-of-contact on their campus for support and collaboration, but also helps fellows break free of the college bubble which holds back not only their resources and network but also reins in their ambitions. Many Universities run their own, localized entrepreneurship groups; similarly, many institutions such as the Young Entrepreneur Foundation, The Kairos Society and Ashoka offer national and global communities of entrepreneurs, without an on-campus community presence; only the Compass Fellowship offers both a highly localized and national community. The national Compass conference held in Washington D.C. each year, Shift Series, highlights why this model is so successful: fellows from different campuses come together to collaborate and provide feedback on each other’s ventures, learning from and inspiring each other in the process. These fellows become friends, and the Compass network has proven invaluable for many fellows (myself included) as a sounding board for new ideas, and an easy entry-point for conducting business in 20+ of the most prestigious colleges throughout the country.
The Compass model has helped to spawn scores of socially-impactful businesses, from the aforementioned Smart Girls Group to Zeeba Group llc, an emerging markets investment fund which recycles its returns into scholarships for students at Georgetown University. More than the successful ventures, however, is the fact that Compass has empowered nearly 1,000 college Freshmen to leverage their passions and take action. Many of the ideas and ventures fail, but by failing as a freshmen, the fellows gain invaluable experience at a time of their lives when they can afford to take risks.
Compass was the highlight of my Freshman year. It is now up to me to ensure the fellows in the ‘Super’ Region are able to say the same come next May.
Until next time!
P.S. If you are interested in working with Compass as a strategic partner, please feel free to reach out to myself. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the contact box below!