Impact At Scale

The Beeck Center engages global leaders to drive social change at scale.

GU Impacts Innovation Leaders Social Impact Beeck Center

On the Move: Building the Social Innovation Leaders of Tomorrow

By Matt Fortier, Program Manager for GU Impacts

May 23, 2016

Throughout its history, Georgetown has produced some impressive leaders, from Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton to Patrick Ewing. To continue this tradition, the Beeck Center established GU Impacts to shape emerging leaders through a transformative fellowship experience. The fellowship, which features experiential learning through a 10-week summer internship with select client partners, has sent 59 student fellows around the world since 2013. Now in its third cohort, we just sent 16 more incredible students around the world to begin the on-the-ground component of their fellowship, working with for-profits, non-profits, and government initiatives in Colombia, India, Nicaragua, Peru, and the US, including Atlanta and DC.

What is it about GU Impacts that makes it a program that truly shapes leaders? For one, the program embodies the Jesuit and Georgetown principles of Cura Personalis, or care of the whole person. Our application and interview process take a holistic approach that goes beyond GPA, club titles, and resume bullets, delving into more impactful questions: Will this program be transformative for the individual students? Have they had these types of opportunities in the past? And how will the students integrate and build from this experience upon their return to campus? A defining moment for me occurred during one of our interviews when a student, anticipating concerns about her mediocre GPA, stopped to say, “Thank you. I typically don’t qualify for the majority of programs like this at Georgetown, and I’m just thrilled to have the opportunity to be considered.” 

Similar to the “double bottom line” social innovation enterprises with which we partner, GU Impacts created impact on two levels: shaping the undergraduate student fellows as individual leaders and simultaneously contributing to the client partners and their beneficiaries. This year, students participate in a range of projects, from working on financial inclusion and women’s empowerment in rural India, to actualizing peace processes in Colombia and building a civic impact fund in Atlanta. This diverse range of projects requires a diverse set of skills and knowledge, and while we select for students with appropriate academic and professional backgrounds, we also provide a robust orientation, which serves to equip and prepare students for success.

While their work with our partner organizations may have just begun, their fellowship experience actually began several months ago. Each fellow underwent a comprehensive six week leadership “bootcamp” from March 18 to April 29. This extensive leadership training is one of the hallmarks of the program, setting it apart from more traditional fellowship programs. During the six week training session, Fellows participated in courses that covered program logistics, specific subject areas ranging from microfinance to digital communications, Spanish discussion groups, and cultural orientation. The training involved collaboration across the University, including program facilitators from the McDonough School of Business, School of Continuing Studies Center for Social Impact Communications, Office of Global Services, Center for Social Justice, School of Nursing and Health Studies, and the Beeck Center’s own staff. While students learned about these various topics, they also engaged in conversations with their client partners, often through Skype, taking a closer look at their upcoming summer internship projects.

Fellows are also encouraged to connect with Georgetown faculty whose own work and expertise relate to the issues and regions of our projects. The opportunity to engage faculty presents a mutually beneficial opportunity, as fellows obtain critical guidance on their projects and destination countries while faculty can leverage the on-the-ground presence of fellows to further their own research goals. As fellows prepare for project implementation, their confidence has been buoyed by the support of their professors.

Another key element of the GU Impacts fellowship occurs upon Fellows’ return, as they will each participate in reflection sessions while showcasing a client-partner based capstone project during the GU Impacts fall research symposium. This is an important opportunity for students to share their experience with their peers and with other key program stakeholders, while also providing a forum for reflection as fellows think critically about how this experience has impacted them personally, academically, and professionally. Fellows are also encouraged to enroll in the Center for Social Justice’s summer Intersections course, an opportunity to connect and learn alongside students engaged in experiential learning globally, while developing skills and earning credit.

Looking to the future of GU Impacts, our goal is to continue investing in and developing these young leaders by nurturing their emotional and professional development through a holistic approach. Moreover, we hope to continue integrating this program within Georgetown and the greater community while continuing to push students to challenge themselves as they go outside the classroom and their comfort zones. We are in the process of working with The Red House and the Designing Future(s) Initiative, as well as the Center for Social Justice, to explore ways in which this can become a credit-bearing program. Furthermore, we are working closely with the Office of Global Engagement and the African Studies Department to explore partnerships in Sub-Saharan Africa as we continue to diversify the geographic areas in which we work.

The social impact of our fellows and our program has only just begun, with program alumni already entering the workforce and carrying their experience into their personal and professional lives. We look forward to an incredible summer with our current class, to further evolving the Beeck Center’s flagship student engagement program, and most importantly, to continuing our investment in the new generation of truly transformative leaders.

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