A Retrospective Letter | Amna Aslam, Leadership and Organizational Performance ’19

The Experience of TFC Board Member/Peabody Student/Full-time Professional

As you eased into the TFC Board Role as the Director for Social Enterprise Consulting a year ago, you thought to yourself every day, the role you got was nowhere close to what you applied for. Sounds familiar? Don’t worry. You’ll feel better by the end of this post. Or much, much worse.

You thought to yourself that you’ll be working in Nashville during the summer, so you’ll have SO much time to prepare and plan for the upcoming year, and stay connected with the TFC staff, of course. Intellectually stimulating conversations about who you are and why you want to be here, over coffee chats on sunny mornings, well-thought out plans and ideas shared over emails, no deadlines to worry about.

Did you do any of that? Maybe once. You were barely able to stay afloat as far as your work and social life over summer was concerned, and then almost disappeared for a month to visit your familywho live 8000 miles away (if you are an international student, you have the benefit of trudging across multiple continents for that). Meanwhile one of your peers took over the SEc reigns in order to make sure key decisions don’t get delayed. Key decisions like, who will teach the course, what will the content look like, who will the partners be.

Fast forward two months, a million emails, meetings with potential partners/students and many difficult conversations, what was a volunteer-based discussion and project group for three years (led by Mario Avila), became a for-credit course! New professor, new content, new class, and six partners working in the local social enterprise sphere. Did I mention you don’t have any background in social enterprise? Passion and a willingness to learn go a long way! That, and a kickass team that will hold down the fort as you struggle to put two and two together- that’s what TFC student leaders are all about.

Don’t forget you were working almost full-time, were a full-time student, and a peer career mentor with a social life that is not ready to be compromised on. You make it work to the point that you are stretched thin (you wish you were literally- but all this work made you eat more comfort food than you’d like to admit), and you end up sending emails at 11pm, which your peers put up with. Maybe there were moments when the swamped schedules and running between campuses led to hair-pulling – but that’s the first step of diversity and inclusion– finding times to meet that work for most people, if not all. You do it with a smile. Again, TFC folks!

What kept you going? The energy, willingness and ability to push oneself- you saw it all around. From a board chair who was almost always found in the TFC office- supporting you in between trying to get some coursework done, to students who were willing to gamble on two entire credit hours, because they really wanted exposure to challenges of local Social Enterprises, to a staff that is as brilliant as it is diverse. There was inspiration for those who wanted to be inspired, every day.

What did you learn out of your experience?

  • Strategic thinking and direction setting – every decision you make is not reflective of a short-term need, it impacts every cycle of SEc to come – it impacts your relationships with the partners, as well as the brand value of the course.
  • Curriculum design and evaluation- you had never done that, never could imagine doing that, but somehow still got into it. You ended up working with a multi-skilled professor whose expertise lies in e-commerce, but he was willing to stretch himself, and so were you. Did you have a choice? Not really.
  • Leadership – despite very different schedules, they showed up at 7pm meetings hungry and exhausted, because they were willing to compromise with your full-time work. They ran around and did everything that needed to get done, took on responsibility, gave constructive feedback (and sometimes brutal too). 50% of your committee is now on the board for next year, and you don’t even know how to express your pride – except tell them.
  • Integrating tenets of better diversity and inclusion in your working style – it wasn’t just working with people who were from a different Vanderbilt school or had a different career path, not just people from a different country, speaking a different language, it was also people who were different in other ways, had different ways of thinking and expressing themselves. Sometimes the diversity was as plain as a clash of schedules. But that’s what made your learning trajectory steeper.

You must admit it was intimidating in the start – coming in and being inundated with emails and newsletters about on-going events and opportunities. There were so many ways you could get involved, so you had to make choices. But here you are now. More than a year later, heading into your corporate career, not willing to let go of your intention to be a responsible citizen and a community leader. You know, that you have learned more than is visible, you have grown more, too – and every thought provoking conversation you had in Project Pyramid will remind you to ask the difficult questions, and worry not just about the dialogue, but the metrics, the impact, the evaluation, the bigger picture.

If you have managed to read all the way through till this line, you are one of the committed ones. Now go get packed for your Project Pyramid Spring Break trip!