Ashoka U has named Brigham Young University as a Changemaker school. Brigham Young University, often referred to as BYU, is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes nicknamed Mormons.
Changemaker campuses must meet a strict set of criteria. Campuses must make social entrepreneurship a priority and be able to show they understand how this will impact and benefit their students and programs. The programs must require students to work in effective teams, putting the team and the program before the needs of the individual team members. Students must be trained to have empathy for others, to be ethical in bringing about change, and to be trustworthy. They must be taught that changing the world will be their mission in life and students must be given the skills and attitudes that will make that a realistic goal.
The process for becoming a Changemaker campus is intense. Campuses must complete an in-depth application which involves evaluating your campus and making changes as necessary, using criteria developed by the organization. The campus then interviews with the organization and again makes changes based on the recommendations. Ashoka next visits the campus and provides coaching to help the school prepare for the final evaluation and decision. In the past four years, only nineteen schools have qualified for the designation. Once chosen, the schools receive mentoring and partnership opportunities.
Brigham Young University was chosen because it has proven the ability to create social entrepreneurs who are changing the world both locally and internationally. The sign at the entrance to the university says, “Enter to learn. Go forth to serve.” The school hosts the Peery Social Entrepreneurship program.
Many of the students at this university have served religious missions for the Mormons. Often, they’ve served in developing nations and have seen for themselves the impact of great poverty. Because they serve when they are as young as eighteen years old, they return home to go to college, often anxious to find ways to serve a country they have learned to love. Through the Peery program at the Ballard Center, about 100 students per year serve on-campus internships, working with local non-profit organizations on specific problems. Graduate students spend three weeks in the summer consulting with social entrepreneurship organizations making a difference and gaining insights into potential careers. These consultancies happen around the world. Competitions held each year on campus allow students to submit business plans that will solve problems in areas such as health care, environmental challenges, education, energy, and agriculture. Students are connected to professional social entrepreneurs who can teach them how to make their plans a reality.
The media has explored the experiences of many BYU students who have gone on to change the world. Justin King, owner of Talapiana, says the program sent him to an internship in Ghana. There he saw firsthand the poverty many faced and learned that fishing was declining due to environmental issues and sustainability. He felt that fish farming could solve that problem. Partnering with another student who was doing an internship in Nicaragua, they began to research the concept by meeting with fish farmers and government officials and a company was born.
Michael O’Day’s social project emerged from his Mormon mission in Madagascar. There, rent can be half a month’s salary, so even those with jobs often can’t afford to send their children to school or even to feed them. He and partner Lacee Curtis came up with Lego-like bricks and new technologies that allow them to build homes at about half the cost and in a tenth of the time. They won first place in the competition mentioned above, which gave them funding for their business. Their project also won the student choice award, giving them additional funding. The second place winner creates microbusinesses for raising snails in Ghana, which are in high demand. The third place winner created a Facebook app that connects volunteers and non-profits.
The mission of the Church, which includes caring for those in need, meshes nicely with the concept of starting businesses that change the world. The Mormons believe in education, but hope their graduates will go on to do things that make a difference, no matter what career they ultimately choose.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.