by Alex Hong, United States of America

We’ve been in Bologna less than one week for the IPSI Symposium but it feels like we’ve been here two or three. We had the honor of hearing Roshan Paul, Senior Change Manager at Ashoka, and Jerry White, an Ashoka fellow and Nobel Prize Laureate for his work on landmines. One of the most memorable points of Roshan’s social entrepreneurship talk was on the use of buzzwords. Often found in the world of business, Roshan warned against using this non-language when describing our goals for social change. He said that even if intergovernmental or non-governmental organizations still communicate with buzzwords such as “capacity-building, community-based, youth empowerment” and “consensus”, we were still obliged to go the extra step and create meaningful descriptions. Roshan asked us to avoid these mental shortcuts to better communicate our own ideas for effecting change. Precision is especially important in an area like social entrepreneurship where change has no readily visible metric.

Telecast from his office in Washington, D.C., Jerry talked about surviving life. He explained how he channelled a traumatic experience he had in order to change the larger world. Answering a question afterwards, he said it was possible to develop empathy with others and work for a more peaceful world, whatever our own life experiences may be. Jerry also talked about the practical matter of engaging with and managing people from all walks of life for the purpose of creating social change. Stories of working within the establishment are often discouraging, but Jerry was able to explain his method and philosophy in an uplifting way.

The weekend is a welcome break from the intense schedule. It’s a good time to think on what I’ve learned so far, to reflect on all the new relationships I’ve made, and to look ahead to the rest of my time here in beautiful Bologna. At the IPSI Symposium, we’ve been given the chance to learn from people in the field as well as to express our own voices. In the coming weeks, I look forward to hearing everyone’s stories.