How many 19 year olds have you met who started a non-profit organization and raised close to $1 million, all before graduating from college? Meet Cosmo Fujiyama. Her social entrepreneurial career took off in 2006 when she co-founded, Students Helping Honduras (SHH), which instigated a movement of youth across the US and Honduras aimed at combating extreme poverty. Since its inception, SHH has orchestrated service-learning opportunities for thousands of college students.
Cosmo has channeled her passion for fostering the next generation of socially responsible change makers through global leadership development initiatives. Since co-founding SHH, she joined the Ashoka team, where she identified key global partnerships and spearheaded the Ashoka Youth Venture Dream It, Do It Challenge. In 2012, Cosmo designed and orchestrated the inaugural Dell Social Innovation Challenge (DSIC) Summer Institute, a three-week program aimed at training and supporting the next generation of social entrepreneurs. We caught up with this recent graduate of New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service to find out more about her previous and future work.
EXCLUSIVE NEW LEARNING TIMES INTERVIEW
Question: How has your educational trajectory affected your current work?
Answer: I think my educational background deeply affects the way I see the world and the way I interact with it today. I was an interdisciplinary major in my undergraduate studies, studying American studies and Women’s studies. For me, having that opportunity to take classes in all disciplines allowed me to train myself to think about different practices and approaches. I was also able to be in classrooms with people with such different backgrounds and I think that was really invaluable for me in terms of hearing unconventional ideas and piecing them together in ways to solve problems.
I also learned a lot by going places and being in spaces that inspired me, challenged me and gave me new perspectives. So volunteering in high school, traveling abroad in undergrad, and being able to travel and work abroad after my undergrad experience. Those moments of being in different places that were not familiar to me taught me to be entrepreneurial.
Question: What professional experiences have been most formative to your current work?
Answer: I started a non-profit when I was 19 years old with my older brother, and we were on a mission to empower and engage communities around education in Honduras. That was so powerful for me as a young person who saw a need and didn’t necessarily know how to solve the problem, but knew instinctually that I could figure out how to engage a lot of different stakeholders and create a community aimed at improving educational access for youth in Honduras. And I think having the support of my academic institution while leading this nonprofit, and others who came along the way, was life changing.
I also think having that professional experience of building a non-profit from scratch taught me what it meant to fundraise – what it means to communicate the mission you have and to get others to buy into it and to back you financially or give you their time, and for them to dive in with you to be a co-creator is an incredibly powerful experience.
Question: How do you hope your work will change the learning landscape?
Answer: I think about how can we engage young people around the world in learning inside and outside the classroom. Learning out loud and doing active exploratory initiatives. Doing things that make a difference and learning through these experiences. I want to encourage young people to take bold steps and to have mentors and support networks surrounding them to enable this kind of entrepreneurialism. And I don’t mean everyone should be a CEO and in fact that probably is the wrong way to go. I think the key is to think about what a collaborative problem solving community looks like.
Question: What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
Answer: Framing the conversation around relevance is the way I see the learning movement going. I think there is a hunger for relevant learning and I see lots of people making connections between what they learn (in formal learning settings) and what their lives are about in everyday ways… I see that educational institutions are thinking about why and how to make learning relevant and I think it is about getting students to become practitioners and really learn by doing.
Question: What are you currently working on and what is your next big project?
Answer: One of the projects that I am currently working on is called the Penn Social Impact House. It is a two-week retreat program, supported by the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Policy and Practice. We will select 22 fellows from the Penn community to participate in this initiative. We are bringing students, alumni and faculty all across Penn together, and creating a network of entrepreneurs. I am really excited to have the opportunity to work and meet with the next generation of change makers, and to be able to invest in these incredible entrepreneurs who are hungry for support.
Image : Courtesy of Cosmo Fujiyama