Archive for Academics

Professor Sarah Holloway on Social Entrepreneurship: “Empathy is the number one skill needed to be a successful social entrepreneur.”

We’re resharing this piece on Professor Sarah Holloway from Columbia News.

Having worked in the public and nonprofit sector for 25 years, Sarah Holloway, a member of the SIPA faculty and Social Entrepreneur in Residence at the Columbia Startup Lab, understands what it takes to make a difference in the fast-changing world of socially responsible businesses. She teaches knowledge and skills essential for non-profit, for-profit and social enterprise management at Columbia and is often seen around the Lab at WeWork Soho West, answering questions and giving feedback to teams from the more than 70 alumni entrepreneurs.

Professor Holloway mentors students competing for the SIPA’s Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant, which awards a total of $50,000 annually to two or three innovative projects that use digital technology and data to improve the global urban environment. She has also helped launch a number of social enterprise startups in the New York metro area that focus on education and urban technology, including MOUSE.org and Computer Science for All (CSforALL).

Q. What is social entrepreneurship?

A. Social entrepreneurship is the practice of solving global social problems through market-based strategies. Social entrepreneurs are empathetic, adaptable, patient and “build with, not for.” They know and listen to their customer. Technology is a tool that can be used to support growth, scale and transparency.

Q. How does entrepreneurship work in different cultural settings?

The key is that the entrepreneur be authentic and, as a result, really know their customer. The most successful social entrepreneurs either come from the geography they are supporting or have experienced the challenge they are trying to solve. The skills are the same no matter where you are starting out. That said, I believe, it is slightly easier perhaps to be an entrepreneur in the United States as the ecosystem of support is broader and, at the moment, there are more sources of capital available.

Q. What are some of the critical social entrepreneurial skills essential for today’s business environment?

As mentioned, empathy is the No. 1 skill needed to be a successful social entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs also need to be passionate about their work, scrappy, resilient, open to change, and they should be able to wear many hats as social enterprises are often under resourced. It’s quite common in a startup environment for the CEO to play the role of COO, CFO, CIO and Chief Everything Officer.

Q. Share with us some of the best social entrepreneurship examples that make business sense.

I think Warby Parker, the glasses company and lifestyle brand, and their give one get one campaign is an example of a for profit social enterprise that is doing it almost perfectly. Warby is a multimillion dollar company that has built giving back into everything they do. They have successfully hacked the glasses industry by producing equal quality for a fraction of the cost and, in turn, have left room to be able to give back –to date over 5 million glasses have been distributed and for free. In terms of a nonprofit social enterprise, I love the work that Five One Labs is doing in Iraq. Founded by two SIPA alumni Alice Bosley and Patricia Letayf, Five One Labs is now a massive support network and incubator for refugee entrepreneurs living in Iraq. In less than two years, they have developed such a tight, well-oiled model that continues to pivot and pilot new ideas. As a result, they keep getting it right. They are so hands on and holistic in their service model that they are impacting every single person they serve. I think they are amazing!

Q. What are the biggest misconceptions about social entrepreneurship?

That it is easy to get something off the ground. It takes years and years. You have to be persistent and patient. Another myth is that if you have an amazing, unique and innovative idea, it is easy to sell and raise money. Sometimes the best ideas never get funded. Those that know best how to market themselves and tell the best stories usually have their ideas get funded.

Why I Chose SIPA

I remember receiving the email on my decision like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my undergraduate institution’s computer lab, lazily scrolling through my email account, looking for a message a professor sent me earlier that week. Then I saw the subject line from SIPA Admissions; I froze for a second and then clicked on it. I had trouble remembering my account password and after a few anti-climatic minutes of picking my brain for my password, I eventually got into the system. I was greeted by streaming confetti down my screen and an audio clip of Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York”. I had been accepted.

If I said that letter didn’t factor into my decision I would be lying! But in reality, Columbia was one of my top choices, if not my top. By the end of the admissions cycle, I was debating between two programs. One, an elite urban studies school located in the heart of one of America’s great cities. The other was SIPA. I went back and forth. I made charts and attempted to map my decision, listing pros and cons to every program and institution. I thought about how my degree would be perceived and the name recognition for both. I considered the reach of both programs alumni networks and looked over the biographies of dozens of professors I was interested in taking classes with.

After many days of deliberation, I ultimately decided on SIPA because of something I touched on in an earlier post; that is, out of all my options, SIPA seemed like it would provide the most comprehensive and interdisciplinary education I could find. Both programs are comparable in terms of reputation and both have very strong urban studies programs. However, I felt like SIPA’s ‘global’ and international curriculum provided me with more opportunities to take classes outside of my comfort zone, and to find synergies between my own areas of interest and entirely new subjects. I appreciated that the majority of my peers would be international; I knew that their perspectives in the classroom and outside would be invaluable as a future diplomat. I also liked that SIPA offered numerous opportunities to take classes at many of Columbia’s prestigious graduate schools, including the Journalism School and Teachers College. On a personal level, I relished the opportunity to attend events at these elite institutions and to be able to interact with a range of professors, like Sunil Gulati, the ex head of the U.S. Soccer Federation, to former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Relative to other locations, I knew that access to NYC and its immense social and cultural offerings would also further my education, and my personal growth.

When I fully realized that by attending SIPA I was really gaining access to all that Columbia offers, from its world class libraries to its world class faculty, I came to a decision very quickly. Before I accepted it officially, I played “New York, New York” once more on the acceptance letter portal just for fun and then I made one of the best decisions ever; I clicked the button to begin the enrollment process!

Math Camp 101

I’m sure by now you’ve heard that economics and other quantitative coursework are key components of international and public affairs. One of the ways SIPA tries to prepare incoming students for the quantitative courses they’ll be taking is Math Camp. But, what is Math Camp? Do students go camping in the woods and recite the multiplication table around a fire? Not exactly. But, it’s almost just as fun!

What is Math Camp?

Math Camp is held in during orientation week for incoming students starting the fall semester. Starting on the second day of orientation, you and your classmates will be participating in Math Camp and learning from one of our great Microeconomics or Macroeconomics professors. It is strongly recommended for all first-year students attend. You start off reviewing algebra and eventually move to calculus. Math Camp culminates in a mandatory take-home Math Quiz that helps determine the student’s proficiency. The scores don’t count towards your GPA, but does determine if you’re eligible for Math Lab, which are Saturday courses to continue reviewing math skills, or a private tutor to help you master the skills.

What’s the point of Math Camp?

Don’t remember how to do derivatives or what a log is? For the students who are not comfortable in math or have not taken a math course in a while, Math Camp is a great refresher course. Some of our core classes do require some math skills and so to be successful in Microeconomics and Quantitative Analysis I, feeling confident in doing algebra and calculus is crucial.

Perspective from students who just took Math Camp

Steven Reid, IFEP concentration, said that “It was useful. I took pre-Calculus and Calculus in undergrad, so it was good to do a refresher. It kind of helps for 6400, but the pace of 6400 is super fast so it gives a little bit of a foundation but doing some micro and macro theory or intro will probably prepare you better. [Math Camp] might do more for 6300.”

Note: There are two levels of Microeconomics and Macroeconomics. They’re referred to as “6300” and “6400” by students. Both cover the basics of economic theory, but “6400” is considered to be more math-heavy and “6300” is more theoretical.

Marta Aparicio, USP concentration, said that “Prior to SIPA, I only did math in high school, which was up to pre-calc. I’ve tutored high school students in algebra, so some of the concepts were fresh in my mind. … Math camp was helpful in terms of the material that we were provided with the explanations, examples, and practice problems.” Marta recommends students to spend time reviewing the materials given – watch online videos, do the practice problems, and review the concepts herself — in order to prepare for the math quiz and upcoming courses.

Pride Month at Columbia University, at SIPA, and in NYC

Pride Month is still going strong as we head into mid-June, and New York City has a strong connection to Pride. June was chosen for LGBTQ Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots in June 1969, where black, brown and trans members of the LGBTQ community protested against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn. Today, the Stonewall Inn is a National Historic Landmark; back in 1969, it was the target of an anti-gay legal system and rampant homophobia.

Being a policy and international affairs graduate school in the center of New York, LGBTQ rights in law and policy is a course that Adjunct Professor Jessica Stern teaches here. She describes the course as “life-changing,” not just for LGBTQ students, but also for straight allies.

This is something that is a beautiful part of a large school of critical thinkers (and do-ers) in the diverse and dense city of New York: you have every opportunity to learn about the intersection of LGBTQ rights, race, policy, and law – as well as the history of the LGBTQ movement.

That being said, I am writing this post from my own perspective as a straight person and generally average New Yorker.* I used to live in Hell’s Kitchen, an extremely gay-friendly neighborhood. I worked closely with many Broadway workers, and every single one had lost close friends and loved ones during the AIDS crisis. I’ve gotten out of the subway countless times at the Christopher St. stop, right in Greenwich Village where the Stonewall Inn is located. Even if you’re not in New York City, being on the internet exposes us to countless words and phrases that were invented and coined by the gay community, with users enthusiastically commenting “yas queen!” without knowing where it came from.

Being at SIPA will cause you to think about your place in the world, and what your work in policy and international affairs will mean for others. What does it mean to have inclusive policy? What work needs to be done to shift rhetoric and policies in my country? What do I need to learn to be more effective in creating sustainable change?

Pride Month is a celebration: of the LGBTQ community, of dignity and equality – and honestly, the marches and parties in NYC are really fun.

This month, I’m also thinking about what it means to be a straight ally. I was once told by a friend that he didn’t want an ally in this movement; he wanted an accomplice. He wanted someone to conspire with him, to protest with him, to actively change the status quo with him.

Professor Stern says that it’s essential to incorporate LGBTQ studies into curriculum. Perhaps this is something you’re intimately familiar with, and perhaps this is something that you’ve never thought about because of your environment and upbringing.

At Columbia SIPA, you have the opportunity to learn things, that you didn’t even know you didn’t know. Tomorrow we’ll share a post from a SIPA student about his perspective on Pride Month in New York City as a policy student. Until then, some resources:

*I ran a first draft of this blog post past a SIPA student who pointed out that I was missing the intersection of race within the LGBTQ movement. I include this as an anecdote of the SIPA community being a supportive environment in the collective quest to do better!

What I Wish I Knew About Taking a Language

Thanks to Amanda Schmitt MIA ’19 for this guest blog post! Amanda’s concentration is Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy with a regional specialization in the Middle East.

When I started at SIPA, I knew that my goal was to reach a proficient level of Modern Standard Arabic by the time I graduated so thereafter I could spend time working in the Middle East or in an intensive Arabic program to convert that knowledge into working level proficiency. But I also knew that taking four semesters of Arabic, at 5 units/class, with daily homework and four sessions each week, would mean giving up other SIPA opportunities. Besides the language courses that SIPA offers, most other language courses are offered through Columbia University with both undergraduates and graduate students from other Columbia programs. When deciding between the MIA or MPA degree and before deciding on your course schedule, I strongly suggest considering the tangible cost-benefit of taking language courses during SIPA for your career upon graduation. 

Due to the format of MIA vs MPA and our very international program, most students come in already speaking multiple languages and can pass out of the MIA language requirement, or they choose an MPA (though a concentration in EPD still has a foreign language component). But for Seeples who feel they need the international emphasis of the MIA degree and have certain language requirements yet to fulfill, I have some advice.

Questions to ask yourself about learning another language in graduate school:

  • Is it necessary for your job aspirations and anticipated job applications to leave SIPA at the intermediate etc. level of language proficiency? I knew that my short-term career goals required these language skills, but for peers that anticipate language needs in the long-term, there may be more inexpensive ways to learn the language after SIPA. This consideration should also take into account the skills you perceive as most necessary for job applications after SIPA and which courses would most effectively fulfill those needs, language or otherwise. 
  • If you are starting from Year I, Level I and plan to take 4 semesters of language courses, are you willing to give up 4-7 SIPA/policy courses for your language coursework? Language courses range from 3-5 units. Since Arabic is 5 units each semester, I put 20 units toward Arabic, giving up potentially 6+ SIPA courses. 
  • Are you prepared to take on a heavy course load each semester to complete the language courses required and your SIPA requirements? For me, this meant taking about 18 units three of four semesters. (If you want to take over 18 units in a semester, the additional cost for me was $1100/credit.)
  • What other priorities do you have for your time at SIPA? I did not get as involved in student organizations, campus jobs, or internships because I had 16-18 units most semesters with daily language homework. However, this varies by individual and what you feel comfortable taking on. 
  • Is it necessary for you to take Columbia language courses? Or could there be another way you could study the language (external language courses, summer courses, Language Resource Center tutoring, group language practice sessions, etc.)? This consideration varies by language and individual learning style. Since Columbia emphasizes Modern Standard Arabic as a baseline for beginning to study Arabic, I will still need to learn colloquial Arabic afterward, which (inshallah) should be easier because of this background. For people learning a language that does not significantly distinguish in form between formal and colloquial, the courses may allow you to reach a working level proficiency if starting from scratch, or be unnecessarily formal if starting from some base of understanding. I highly recommend assessing which format of study would be your most efficient, cost-effective, and timely to your goals. 

The main takeaway: before taking a language at graduate school, consider how critical it is to your short-term career goals and whether you are willing to take the tradeoff of the other potential policy coursework that it would necessarily replace. The Admissions Committee looks for clarity of vision among applicants, regardless of language determinations, so I recommend focusing on how to most effectively enjoy your learning opportunity while converting your time at SIPA into tangible growth for your career.

I think language skills are extremely important, both for professional application and personal cross-cultural understanding and growth, so this piece is not at all intended to discourage Seeples from learning additional languages! I just hope to help incoming students more pragmatically assess the most effective use of your two years at SIPA. As you decide MPA vs MIA and whether to take language courses, please consider these components so you can maximize your time at SIPA.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

Boiler Image