Iscol speaker: 'Thrive' by making a difference

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Syl Kacapyr

Feeling like you have to opt either for a career to foster social change by being a martyr or make money is a false choice, said Josh Tetrick '04, delivering as the 10th annual Iscol Family Program for Leadership Development in Public Service Lecture, Sept. 26 in Call Auditorium, Kennedy Hall.

A third path is what he called "thriving" -- which "encompasses the whole spectrum of living an integrated life," said Tetrick, the founding CEO of 33needs, a project that facilitates micro-credit investment by ordinary people in social enterprises worldwide.

This alternate route means figuring out how to use your skills and apply your passions to make a difference and a living, he said.

"Today as a Cornell family, as a community, as a group of young people who care about living a life of purpose ... it's really important to do two things: Recognize the truth of who you are and, more importantly, recognize the truth about what is out there," Tetrick said.

His experiences as a Fulbright scholar, teaching street children in Nigeria and South Africa, opened his eyes, he said. One of his students was Lauren, a 12-year-old South African orphaned by AIDS, who boldly took over Tetrick's multiplication lesson, creatively using an example from the street to communicate to the other children. To survive, Lauren, an imaginative and fiery student, prostitutes herself to European tourists.

Tetrick encouraged the audience to move beyond feigning ignorance or getting angry to getting involved with companies that work toward change, like Hello Rewind, BetterWorldBooks, Edun and OneWorld Health, to name a few. Big name corporations also have many social enterprise initiatives, Tetrick assured a student asking about social enterprises activities in consulting, finance or real estate. Tetrick mentioned the clean energy programs of General Electric and Goldman Sachs.

"This is not a story at all about being a martyr," said Tetrick. "This is a way for you to personally thrive."

Another student expressed fears about the inevitable uncertainty in a nontraditional career path, like founding a startup. Although risks are inherent in choosing a career, responded Tetrick, "the bigger risk is taking a soul-sucking job." When asked about his own personal journey, Tetrick responded: "It was ... a long winding path to find that alignment between who I am and what the world needs."

He encouraged students to take action for the world and for themselves: "We as a planet cannot afford a passionate ... group of young people to take an apathetic pass and sit on the sidelines. We need young people on fire -- on fire for the world. And you need to be on fire for yourself."

Jill Iscol, co-founder of the Iscol Family Program and author of the book "Hearts on Fire: 12 Stories of Today's Visionaries Igniting Idealism into Action," also spoke at the event. "With a little luck, we'll start to connect the dots, and all of us together can start to have a huge impact on the quality of human life around the globe," she said.

While on campus, Tetrick, who majored in government and sociology at Cornell, also met with 15 invited students majoring in global health and entrepreneurship and visited several classes, including Social Entrepreneurs, Innovators, Problem Solvers; and Introduction to Entrepreneurship.

Erica Rhodin '12 is a student writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.


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