By Student Advisory Board Member: Ashley Lin 

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When you make purchases, develop business partners, even identify a new place to work at, you are unconsciously voting with your money. By engaging with a certain business, you’re unconsciously stating that you align with that business’ values—their supply chain, HR policies, environmental impact, and more. No one knows this better than Gen Z. According to a recent Forbes article, 67% of young people would stop purchasing, or consider doing so, from businesses that stood for or behaved in a way that didn’t align with their values. In the past, where business and social impact was as far apart on the spectrum as Apple and Android fans, today, business and social impact are one and the same.

In my own experience as the Founder & Executive Director of a youth-led 501c3 nonprofit, Project Exchange, I have realized it’s hard to fund nonprofits. Nonprofits rely so much on big donors and peer-to-peer fundraisers, and when those fluctuating channels are less than anticipated, nonprofits struggle with continuing their social impact. Even nonprofits need a sustainable cash flow, which is where the for-profit business model comes in.

There’s no person better to speak about this with than Elliot Connor, a 16-year old changemaker and conservationist from Sydney, Australia. The Diamond Challenge Student Advisory Board members received an email from Elliot about a couple of his team’s 2020 Diamond Challenge pitch concept ideas—and after reading about them and Elliot’s extensive experiences, I knew I had to reach out.

Elliot is the Founder & CEO of Human Nature Projects, an international NGO he founded in June 2019, which has so far empowered over 1000 people in 100 different countries to re-imagine conservation via community projects.

“Many people say that it is ‘human nature’ to destroy our planet out of greed, exploit other lifeforms to the point of extinction, and forget of their plight in our own myopic viewpoint. We say otherwise,” reads the Human Nature Projects website. “Human Nature should be a force for good—a story of connection, collaboration, and community which ends in a prosperous future for creatures great and small.”

For Elliot, human nature is a force for good. Human tendency to organize in markets and our ability to innovate doesn’t always have to lead to negative outcomes. With pitch concept ideas from an electric bike that recharges on hills while the biker is taking a break, to a sponsored three-day diet program raising money for environmental charities by eating like various zoo animals, Elliot has his mind and his heart set on using innovation and entrepreneurship not just for profit, but for people and the planet.

Lucky for Elliot and our socially-minded students from around the globe, the Diamond Challenge has a category for you: social innovation. According to the Diamond Challenge website, this track “focuses on the development of new, social innovation models that may include revenue-generating nonprofit organizations and mission-driven, for-profit ventures.” In 2019, team MatchMeds from New Jersey won the social innovation competition, with a venture to connect low-income, uninsured patients with clinics that offer affordable prices for brand-name medication.

As you start thinking about your Diamond Challenge venture, and about how your idea can better the people and the planet, Elliot has one big tip to share: Seek out team members with diverse experiences and identities, whether it be cultural, geographical, or ideological. 

In the Diamond Challenge, we’re often drawn to teaming with our friends, or students from our schools. Think bigger than that and connect with others outside your immediate sphere of work and study! If you’re at a loss for how to find these diverse team members, check out the Diamond Challenge community on Facebook.

“It’s great to see some of the stories of people who get involved in the network because this is a truly diverse group of people. And I think that’s crucial for conservation if we are to have any success,” says Elliot. “We can’t just keep it to these refined English gentleman networks which has been for the past 50 years. We need to diversify the conversations and involve a much larger audience if we intend to move forward, because we need people of different experiences to better understand the issues at hand.”

Even though Elliot talks through the lens of his conservation work, I believe the message can be applicable in any social impact sector. This is simply asking each of us to be more cognizant of who are on our teams. It doesn’t mean that those “refined English gentlemen” can’t be involved in social impact work, but it goes back to the idea of founder-market fit—of why am I/my team the best people to solve this problem? Do we have personal experience, or deep understanding of the problem this community faces? 

Furthermore, Elliot speaks to the importance of cross-disciplinary teams and the importance of reaching out to stakeholders already working in the space. “I’m trying to bring together a few of the organizations in the [conservation] youth space especially, which is great seeing as they all do different things quite well,” Elliot says. “So I’m trying to play to our strengths here, which combined, could be really powerful.”

When your team has diverse experiences and perspectives, it enhances social impact work by enabling you to better identify with the community you’re trying to serve. It enables you to better identify the spaces that require innovation and new ideas. It enables you to bring business and impact together, in a world where customers demand people and planet-conscious brand values.

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No matter where our Diamond Challenge alumni go, we are constantly amazed by how they continue to make an impact on the world for the better.

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Horn Entrepreneurship serves as the University of Delaware’s creative engine for entrepreneurship education and advancement. Built and actively supported by successful entrepreneurs and thought leaders, Horn Entrepreneurship empowers aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs as they pursue new ideas for a better world.

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