This week we’re kicking off Designs2Learn’s series of interviews with social edupreneurs whose work we respect for how it uses technology and learning design for social impact goals. Our first interview is with Naina Boveja, founder and CEO of e-collaborate. Naina and e-collaborate are doing some great work in using technology to bring kids together globally and introduce kids to the concept of service and hands-on education.
Designs2Learn: Can you provide a quick snapshot of e-collaborate for our audience?
Naina Boveja: e-collaborate started in 2010 with the idea of connecting classrooms and communities globally. We developed programs in clean drinking water for the K-12 audience. Since then, we have spent a lot of time working on a Virtual Internship Program that connects high school students to non-profits across the globe for the purposes of learning empathy, career readiness skills and social entrepreneurship.
How did you get into the world of edupreneurism? What initially inspired you?
I had always been involved in the non-profit world as an intern or volunteer, but never really thought I could start one on my own. Since I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated from college, I thought it would be valuable to offer programs to teens that could help them make that difficult decision and help them choose a path.
What were some of your initial challenges? How did you overcome them?
Since I was new to the education space, I learned a lot about the “system” and the way things are done in schools. I also realized that we need to provide dynamic and engaging programs that students can do on their own, instead of requiring a teacher to spend class time to try our programs. Teachers have so many things on their plates and our intention was to help provide programs that would be meaningful and add to a student’s life, not burden a teacher’s. We have started reaching out to other avenues, including PTAs, career centers, global studies programs, private schools, and schools with a focus on global education for a better fit.
Can you tell us about the Virtual Internship program you are currently working on?
The Virtual Internship program (http://vip.e-collaborate.org), as I mentioned above, connects students to NGOs across the globe for a “virtual internship experience.” They fill out an application based on their interests and are matched to one of our partnered NGOs. We introduce a Mentor/ Teacher component to help support students and provide feedback. Teachers can chose to fulfill the mentor role by having a class of students who are virtual interns, and they can follow their students and give meaningful feedback before the work is submitted to the NGOs..
The platform is engaging and dynamic with videos, interviews, presentations, and activities for the students to complete. We are also introducing the idea of a “social resume” to the program, where students can highlight the work they are proud of, keep track of their volunteer hours, and share the link in their resumes, cover letters, and college applications.
What type of responses are you getting from your current participants?
Current participants and people in general are impressed with the platform and the idea. We are trying to strike the right balance between interactions with the non-profits, and provide a meaningful experience for the students. The virtual internship program is being launched this year, and we are still looking for students to sign up to get more feedback.
What are your plans for growing the program?
Currently, we are reaching out to schools and teachers within our network. I have also recently started my M.A. at Georgetown University, and am working to spread the word through that community and reaching out to different groups. I am already impressed with the resources Georgetown has, such as the Center for Public and Non-Profit Leadership, Hoya Entrepreneurs, and the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation. I plan to utilize as many resources so I can continue to help spread the word.
What are some projects on your roadmap?
Right now, we are focusing on getting more students signed up for the Virtual Internship Program. In the future, I hope to continue to provide programs that help young adults learn valuable skills that they can carry with them throughout their lives.
What advice do you have for others who are interested in focusing on educational projects for social impact?
I think ideas are best realized in a supportive, collaborative environment. I always feel talking to people about my ideas and getting their feedback helps create a better project. I can’t stress how important feedback is, because sometimes you have an idea about something and it could be so much better when you take into consideration different perspectives.
Stay tuned for updates on learning design for social impact and more from Designs2Learn.