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"Lead from a place of humility”- Advice from young alumni in social impact careers

ILSI kicked off the fall semester with a candid conversation with three alumni as part of our Impact Series. They may be young, but they certainly are not lacking in experience in the social impact realm. Over the course of an hour, we listened as the stories of these three driven women unfolded across various continents and societal issues. We leaned in as their stories intersected at the most critical point, which was their passion for social impact that drove their entrepreneurial endeavorsFinally, we left with a sense of responsibility to co-labor in their efforts to hold the door open for others.  

Maithili Appalwar was raised by her two hard-working entrepreneurial parents in India. She joked that although she was an only child, the business felt like her younger brother that she was taught to work hard for and to protect. This sense of ownership and grit stuck with Maithili and is now manifested in her work as a social entrepreneur in the agribusiness sector. Maithili knew that she didn’t want to sell just any product for the sake of having a business. She wanted to solve real problems, which is exactly what she is doing now. Maithili has developed the world’s most affordable way to store water. The Jalasanchay - which means storing water in Sanskrit, costs just $1/2000 gallons per year. This enables rural farmers to irrigate their land more affordably. How did Maithili accomplish this? She started by simply being present in the water conversation in India. She started in her home state and has now reached 6 other states. As her organization grows, Maithili runs every decision through the filter of the following question. “Does this decision accomplish what we originally set out to do?” By doing this, she can sift through what is simply goodwill, and what will make a difference.  

Lubna Rashid began her career in corporate America but had a lingering desire to make a social impact in other ways. She shifted her efforts to volunteering overseas with non-profits and grassroots organizations to support refugees and doctors. Lubna, a former refugee herself, understood the complexity of the challenges this group faces. Resolve didn’t come simply from investing endless hours of altruism, however. After experiencing burnout, Lubna began to view humanitarian work with a more critical eye. She wondered what would happen if we could combine the best intentions of non-profits with for-profits’ ability to study the market, test a product, and streamline the process. There appeared to be a disconnect between how to understand the experience faced by people going through a crisis and how they were supported.  

Jazmine Burton caught her parents by surprise her freshman year at Georgia Tech when she declared that she wanted to design toilets. This decision came after learning that 2 billion people don’t have access to sufficient sanitation, disproportionately affecting the livelihood of women and girls. Even at a young age, Jaz realized that she could leverage her technical training in industrial design to combat a global crisisUpon winning InVenture Prize and the People’s Choice Award at Georgia Tech’s Ideas2Serve, Jaz founded Wish for Wash, a human-centered organization that brings empathy to the sanitation space. Like Lubna, Jaz saw the benefits of working in both the no-profit and for-profit sectors when creating systems that will reach people where they are in their needs. Wish for Wash aims to maintain a sensitivity to culture and socioeconomic status when offering solutions.  

“It's not about you or your end goal, it's about the users, where they're coming from, and walking that journey alongside them," Jaz stated.  

Jaz exercised humility when she paused to listen and hear some communities express that they did not want the toilets she hoped to provide them with. Sometimes leading out of a place of humility means waiting outside of the room while community members make decisions about their plan of action to resolve the Sanitation Crisis. Jaz has learned when to speak out and when to humbly lend an ear to those speaking with the most sensitivity to the subject.  

What if change doesn’t come from the loudest mouth or most well-intended plan? What if it doesn’t even come from the largest organizations? What our three panelists have all discovered is that giving a platform to those going through a crisis is the greatest way to promote lasting change. As Lubna stated, “People are the experts in their own conditions.” Jaz explained that we can have the best intentions, but our biases or even physical presence can tent our impact.  We must tread with humility and a willingness to co-create with those who have the most at stake 

In closing, we asked panelists for their advice to students with a passion for social change. Their collective advice was to listen well, act out of empathy, and go forward with the willingness to hand the reigns over to those who are most informed in their own situation.  

The Institute for Leadership and Social Impact is an interdisciplinary institute that promotes servant leadership and organizational practices that contribute to a more just, caring, and equitable world. Learn more about our work!

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Nicole Little
Assistant Director of Operations