The introduction of TFC Treks has been very exciting for all involved. We have gone on two Treks so far, first to Memphis, Tennessee, and then to Seattle, Washington. While both Treks focused on social enterprise and how business can work to alleviate poverty, each trip provided a very different experience and diverse learning opportunities.
In early December, 11 students travelled to Memphis, TN to explore how poverty and business are shaping the city. As many people know, despite a thriving music and arts scene, Memphis has been plagued by poverty for quite some time. Memphis is a city that is known for pulling itself up by the bootstraps, and we were able to see that firsthand through our visits to Crosstown Concourse, International Paper, and AutoZone. We concluded our trip with a panel conversation, featuring thought leaders and innovators including The RISE Foundation, Advance Memphis, College Initiative, New Memphis Institute, Epicenter, and BRIDGES. It was clear from the conversations we had that Memphis does not view poverty as plague, but rather as an opportunity to innovate business practices, grow, and create new opportunities for people and community to flourish.
Our second TFC Trek was to Seattle, Washington. For many of the students on the trip, this was their first trip to Seattle and/or the Pacific Northwest, which provided an exciting opportunity to immerse students not only in the subject matter of the Trek, but in a city that runs on the values that the TFC holds near and dear. Seattle is very much a tech city, and it was exciting to see how finance and technology can be leveraged together to create a better tomorrow. We had visits with The Threshold Group, Rover, The Gates Foundation, TONIIC, Echoing Green, Impact Hub Seattle, and Startup Hall. The Seattle Trek was a crash course in the opportunity of the sector, with conversations ranging from predictions about the future of impact investing to what it takes to thrive in a startup.
As a Programming Board member for the TFC, it is exciting to see the conversations and learning that occurred on both Treks. We work hard day in and day out to provide rich and meaningful learning opportunities for students, and the TFC Treks deliver on that mission in a truly unique way. Beyond the meetings and conversations that Treks afford with local businesses, both Treks provided an incredible opportunity for peer learning and student collaboration. One of the biggest value adds of the Treks for me personally was getting to witness firsthand the way practitioners from different disciplines engage in the social impact space. Many of the problems we seek to solve depend on bringing in individuals who do not speak the same jargon or have the same academic backgrounds that we have as graduate students from a particular discipline. Through the conversations and learning on both Treks, I was reminded of how important it is to be intentional in communication and to offer explanation as needed, even when unsolicited. The impact space is quite muddy when it comes to vernacular (what do we mean by impact, anyway?), and I believe that one of the easiest things we can do as we work toward change is to try to ensure that we are all communicating on the same page.
One of the incredible strengths of the interdisciplinary work of the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures is exactly that—interdisciplinary perspective and diverse expertise coming together around a common problem, interest, or goal. Treks create a unique environment where conversations can be started and then built upon and expanded for days on end, whenever a new thought or inspiration may strike. All too often in our busy lives we begin a meaningful conversation and then live sweeps us away and we don’t get to come back to it as often as we may like. Or we may intend to follow-up with someone on something and it just doesn’t happen. Both Treks created an environment where life didn’t get in the way, and students from across the University could continue digging into to questions and conversations that had deep relevance to the work we are doing and the direction we are travelling in our lives and careers. A huge perk of attending a University like Vanderbilt is the network you are able to cultivate, and both TFC Treks have been one of the best peer networking opportunities I have had during my two years. In order to move the needle on social progress, we all need to be paddling our boats in the same direction, and opportunities to engage across disciplines in a co-learning environment tremendously enriches that capacity.
Abigale Jasinsky, a second year in Peabody’s Masters of Public Policy program, serves as the Sponsorship Chair on the TFC’s Student Programming Board.