No Blues Monday by Erwin A. Lizarondo, M.A., M.P.P

The last client I had as an organization development consultant was with an architecture firm expanding their operations to become a real estate development company. That was seven years ago. My consulting practice was focused on organization alignment, leadership development, team building, and organization development. My clientele mainly were large companies mostly seeking to have their processes assessed or have their organization structure revamped, and those were bloody but lucrative at the same time. However, after my last client I made a conscious decision to focus my energies in consulting and mentoring young social entrepreneurs and SME startups, including those in their ideation stage. While this may sound like an irrational decision, and trust me it was financial wise, I still went through with it simply because I knew there were other consultants out there who can take on the job and was settling in the academe by then. What triggered the choice? In a sentence, a trip to the province and realizing the stark contrast with development and life between rural and urban living especially with farmers.

Current education system is limited

I have been in academe for more than 10 years, and when I talk about creativity and innovation in my organization behavior class, I realized that no matter what I say, being stuck 3 to 9 hours in a room with four corners and walls around you, will not make you creative. I do various SLEs to make it interesting but in the end they’re still in the classroom. So I decided to take them as much as I can and let join competition in lieu of classes. Then I noticed there’s a stark difference in my student’s performance when grades are involved and when they’re able to create freely preparing for competitions.

In 2014, I challenged my students to join a business planning competition within the college and they were pitted against the entrepreneurship classes because initially it was exclusive to them until I requested my class to come in. I waved all their requirements if they joined the competition and I assured them that I’ll be guiding them through the process. As extra incentives, I also promised them that I’ll pay for them to attend a digital marketing conference if they get into top three, since no really invest in them. The outputs of my students were amazing from creating ideas ranging from a micro financing platform to creating app for those in the gig economy. I had to leave two weeks before the semester ended for my graduate school studies in Korea, before the finals. I was happy to hear two weeks after that they had won first and third place. Proving that the program on social innovation and ideation, which I mostly picked up during my time as a Fellow at Global Social Impact House in UPenn, worked. My approach has been the same since then with a few tweaks every year because I have to update my approach and go with the times. So every time there was an opportunity to join a competition, I would do the same thing for my students because the learning outweighs any learning they get in the classroom.

I can see their hunger to learn outside the classroom. To go beyond the theories. I go the extra mile with them to expose them and challenge them by allowing them to apply what they learned in the classroom by giving them opportunities outside.

Well-spring of creativity

Traveling around Asia facilitating and mentoring programs in Thailand, Taiwan, and Korea, I realized that these young creative minds given the right opportunity, they can let their minds go and come up with innovation solutions to social and environmental issues. Whether is it is a bootcamp or a leadership program I facilitated, I know what these young minds are capable of, given the right environment for learning and challenge.

Give them a good 5-day bootcamp or a 12-day leadership program with local immersion, they can create social business proposal or project proposal that’s within UN standards, albeit it would still need more development but good enough for an initial pitch. However, I realized how much of an advantage they have over the previous generation, their access to information is within reach at the touch of a finger literally. And they are very much in touch with the issues because they are the ones closest to it so they think of solutions that are out of the box and probably needed. They just need someone to guide them and facilitate the process.

They get bored in class and just go through the motion because anything they want to learn, they can learn online. School is just a means for them to get grade because the grade gives them a piece of paper that tell them they are a functioning member of society with a degree. I’m not saying degrees are not important but not everyone needs to get them and the conveyor belt factory style of education doesn’t guarantee you a job anymore (I got this from Ken Robinson). Aside from the fact that I know our educational system is way behind and hasn’t adapted to changes in society.

 Looking for mentors

Finally, they are looking for someone who will see them beyond the grades because they have ideas, yes even the difficult ones in the class that probably were written off countless times. Never write anyone off because of poor grades and attitude because, more often than not, they are the ones that will surprise you. Be real to them. If their proposal is bad, I tell them straight out but I guide them in solving the problem.

Right now, I know the program they go through with me works. I am mentoring four groups of student for a competition right now. I am consulting two startups in Taiwan. I continue to be rebel in the classroom with them. And I’ve never been more fulfilled in my life.

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