[box] Author Bio: My name is Aishwarya Khanduja. I am the founder of First Generations Organization (1GO) which is a start-up that bridges the accessibility gap between high school and university, providing access to existing resources via affordable educational consultations, and personalized action plans to marginalized youth. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to put my venture through TCF’s A.S.E.S.S. program this summer! [/box]
The Trico Charitable Foundation (TCF) Summer Student program is the first of its kind that I have ever come across – something that lets me pursue my own dreams and financially support me as a full-time employee. This unique opportunity truly gave me the time and space to first realize, and later actualize my vision, which is funny because my start-up essentially helps high school students realize and actualize their potentials.
1. “Are you staying true to your ‘why’?”
Somebody at TCF says this at least once every day (I’m not exaggerating). This is the biggest lesson I have learned, which I know I will carry every single day of my life, not just in my social entrepreneurial initiatives. Every single time I ask myself something, make a decision, or even consider different possibilities, I ask myself “Am I staying true to my Why?”
My ‘Why’ is to increase access to existing resources/opportunities, so marginalized high school students can get closer to an equitable quality education. As I consider anything for 1GO now, I make sure that the ‘Why’ always comes first. I ask my team the same question every time they present an idea.
2. “What do I want to learn from this?”
This is something I was asked at one of my meetings with the TCF team early on in my summer studentship. At first, I did not have an answer to this question as I thought I always knew all of the answers. Yes, having lived experience in the area where I wanted to make an impact was good, but again, I didn’t know everything. I didn’t know how others were going to respond to my offering. I didn’t know how much they were willing to pay. I didn’t even know the value of my service/product.
Testing my hypotheses is something that I was able to formulate and execute with the help of the A.S.E.S.S. TLC program this summer. The game-changer, however, was not just testing the hypothesis and seeing what we get as the result, it was actually outlining clearly “What do I want to learn from this” BEFORE testing. Asking myself: “What do I hope to learn from this event? What exactly are we testing? Is what we are experimenting confirming our thinking or teaching us something new about how to execute (cheaply, efficiently, and quickly)? What is my prediction with regards to the results? Based on my prediction, how is that going to affect our future steps? If the result is not what I predicted, how is that going to dictate our future steps/what will our future steps be?”
Outlining and answering these types of questions before the testing is essential in not falling into the trap of “goal grooming” – making goals fit whatever the outcome of the testing ends up being.
3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
The A.S.E.S.S. TLC program is what changed everything for me. Not being a business major or taken any business-related classes, I did not have a background in the social entrepreneurship terminology or the thought process required while approaching certain issues. The program really helped me realize exactly what key mindsets I need to have, allowed me to marinate on my decisions (more on that below), and taught me that simply having a social goal isn’t enough. To make it truly sustainable, I was able to formulate and execute a revenue model and visualize and map out each and every step in detail of how a consumer would navigate our product. I was able to assign costs to every single one of those steps, and pushed to think beyond my comfort zone. Visualizing my startup in its “steady state” was something I could not have fathomed. Seeing those big numbers was intimidating, but it also pushed me to dream bigger and higher, allowed me to get uncomfortable, and plan out short term goals that would help me to reach my big long term goals.
4. “You do not need to have all the answers”
Being a woman of colour, imposter syndrome is something that hits us extra hard, especially in a space that is heavily white, and male-dominated. In the beginning, I felt like I always needed to have all the answers, to perhaps prove myself. This ended up being a huge barrier as I became stressed and unfocused. In a weekly check-in with the TCF team, someone said “you do not need to have all the answers” and slowly, everything started falling into place. I began doing organic market research by using social media, interviewing students from diverse backgrounds, formulating a service/product that brings value to students, and testing different versions of said service/product. I went from thinking I needed all the answers and not having anything substantial to offer, to not having all the answers but having something substantial that provides value to my customer.
The idea of marinating on thoughts, letting something soak in, leaving time for reflection, is something that is heavily encouraged at TCF, which was a huge shocker to me at first. I thought at “real” adult jobs, everyone had to act upon things quickly and efficiently.
I later realized that marinating (both actively and passively) is actually the most efficient thing one can do. I was the most efficient this summer when I was actually away in Hong Kong. Right before my trip, I had finally come up with a valuable product to offer, a set of key steps leading to the product, costs assigned to said key steps. My trip gave me time to passively marinate on everything, and when I got back with a fresh set of eyes, my key steps entirely changed! I was able to fill in the holes in consumer key steps, which included a customer service and follow-up plan with students. I was even able to make the whole system of my key steps more efficient (and found ways to reduce costs!).
The power in marinating on thoughts is huge. Taking the time, and not rushing things can give an individual hidden insight.
Ultimately, this unique summer experience is shaping me into the social entrepreneur I always wanted to be. The lessons I learned are forming the foundation of my career. I could not be more thankful to the entire TCF team for the wonderful summer!