Lessons from StartingBloc


What happens when you take 100 young professionals with a passion for social innovation, place them in a room for 8 hours each day for 5 days, and end each night at nearby bars? 

Magic happens. 

At least that’s what I took away after attending StartingBloc’s New York 2012 Institute for Social Innovation. StartingBloc is a people incubator that provides social innovators the skills, tools, and community they need to succeed in addressing the most pressing global challenges. I had heard a lot about StartingBloc from friends and colleagues, so I felt comfortable knowing what I was getting myself into. While I found the lectures helpful, what I’ll remember most were the aspects of the institute that I did not expect. For me, they were:

Being Incredibly Vulnerable
What truly makes the StartingBloc experience unique, in my opinion, is its ability to quickly create an environment of openness and vulnerability. On the first day, candidates find themselves sharing with others (i.e., strangers still at this point) their hopes and dreams. By day two, they’re pitching the projects they find personally soul-moving to a crowd of more than 100. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout the whole experience, I kept thinking back to Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on the Power of Vulnerability. The following quote from the talk really captures the role vulnerability played, at least for me, during the Institute:

“Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

Confronting My  Public Speaking Anxiety
I’ve always hated public speaking. Since moving to the East Coast, public speaking and presenting (whether through phone or in-person) has increasingly been a big weakness. During the conference, I purposefully forced myself to take center stage: the first time to share my idea on Reducing Hopelessness, the second for my team’s pitch during the social innovation case competition.  Although I was well aware that my pitch was a little shaky and hinted at my nervousness, I was surprised by how calm I felt when presenting (re: doing improv) for the case competition. Doing improv really showed me that public speaking comes in different forms. Perhaps this might be a new way for me to reframe and tackle my struggles with public speaking.

The Power of the Network
One of the more eye-opening exercises we did during the institute was to group together and discuss our needs and wants. I went into the exercise thinking I’d be unable to help much.  As a newbie in the world of social innovation and entrepreneurship, I thought to myself, “How could I possibly have access to resources of interest to others?” Wrong. I discovered that I actually had a lot to offer. The exercise taught me an unexpected lesson: don’t underestimate what you know and who you know — just share!

Closing Thoughts
I still can’t believe that my Institute experience is already offer. It was without a doubt one of the most exhausting experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Learning and sharing with a community of like-minded individuals was absolutely amazing. Speaking with everyone and hearing about their passions really infused me with newfound motivation to continue working on the things that I’m most passionate about: technology, foreign policy and mental health. Time to start (or rather, continue) getting work done!