The dream of making the world a better place is often an elusive one. Many of us want to spend our hours and days not simply spinning our wheels but on work that feels meaningful. We want our lives to produce positive impact. Finding such work can often be difficult and seemingly non-existent. A career that both fills us with passion and drives practical social change may be career that we must create for ourselves. What if we took the initiative to create our own solutions to the problems we saw and the ways to help others?
Social entrepreneurship, the practice of creating ventures or products designed to help others or tackle social issues, is a term unfamiliar to most. Entrepreneurship is something often equated with cutthroat competition and chasing profits, when in reality it is simply the act of turning ideas to improve the world into reality. Social entrepreneurship takes a further step and focuses ideas on helping others and create positive change.
Kennedy Patlan, a 2018 graduate from Syracuse University, is an individual whose passion for social entrepreneurship has shaped her work after Syracuse. Patlan, who received bachelor’s degrees in three different fields- Advertising, Women’s & Gender Studies, and Civic Engagement- has always held passion for understanding the world around her and using herself to impact it positively, but she hasn’t always known how to intersect her breadth of skill and studies. She sought how to combine her marketing and business skills from advertising, her understanding of the world from women’s and gender studies, and her hopes of working with communities from civic engagement.
In her junior year, Patlan took a social entrepreneurship course through Whitman, where she discovered how business could create impact. She then went on to take an experiential credit course through her Civic Engagement major that partnered her with the Blackstone LaunchPad, where she discovered for herself the how she could fuse her business-savvy expertise and dreams of doing good in the realm of entrepreneurship. She had the innovative boldness to start social change and the business mind to scale and sustain it. “All of these things really formed my curiosity and burgeoned interest and passion- understanding how you use business and ideas to come up with ways to create impact in the world. “
Patlan’s newfound passion for social entrepreneurship transformed her path in college. As someone constantly focused on bettering the community around her, she jumped into making social entrepreneurship an available and accessible field for the campus community. In her senior year, named as an Engagement Scholar with the LaunchPad, she helped create The Impact Prize, one of the LaunchPad’s business competitions specifically focused on ventures with a social impact. The prize, which she and Linda Hartsock developed together with generous support from donors such as Gisela vonDran to SU Libraries continues today to fund students who create companies to better the world.
Helping young entrepreneurs develop their social enterprises became so meaningful to Patlan that she chased it long after she graduated from Syracuse University and LaunchPad. She started her career at a well known national non-profit advertising company, but nothing came close to the experience of working with those invested in social impact and entrepreneurship that she had experienced through her work as an Engagement Scholar at the LaunchPad.
Just this past year, Patlan took a job as a U.S. Venture Operations Associate at Ashoka, a global company dedicated to funding budding non-profits and social entrepreneurs. The work of enabling others to chase their dreams and drive change through social issues such as economic disparity and public health is work that Patlan finds incredible because she’s a part of an ecosystem aimed at improving conditions in the United States.
This work which has become so important to her that she formed her career around it, was a possibility discovered through the LaunchPad. “Blackstone Launchpad was the spark of interest in social entrepreneurship. Business is great but business with impact is even better.”.
Patlan’s enduring commitment to social impact is one that perfectly illustrates the far-reaching impact of involvement in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is not reserved for those starting their own business but is open to anyone who dreams of improvement.
The term ‘intrapreneur,’ as Patlan says, is someone with the skills to initiate or re-imagine existing structures to continually advance the work and world around them. Patlan’s journey through entrepreneurship opened possibilities for her and inspired work for her that she hadn’t known existed and provided her with the invaluable skills and knowledge that goes into creating positive change. Today, she spends the hours and days of her life on work that she finds meaningful and contributes to significant social change.
Story by LaunchPad Global Fellow Claire Howard ’23; photo supplied