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Who Says You Can’t Change the World? An Interview with Edson Student Initiative Social Entrepreneurs

April 23, 2006

Rasheedah Mullings, Project Associate, Office of University Initiatives

Ben Dumbauld, Research Analyst, Office of University Initiatives


Edson Student Entrepreneurs:

Courtney Klein, Youth Re:Action Corps

Hieu Tran, The Brightest Crayon 

The work of Arizona State University students represents a large percentage of the university’s involvement in the community. Through the Edson Student Entrepreneurs Initiative operating out of the Office of Economic Affairs, ASU students participate in a highly competitive business plan competition and submit ideas with the potential to stimulate social development and economic competitiveness. In an effort to learn more about the process and experience of students starting innovative social ventures, we sat down with two young social entrepreneurs, Courtney Klein, coordinator of Youth Re:Action Corps in its second year of Edson funding, and Hieu Tran, coordinator of The Brightest Crayon in its first year of participation in the initiative.

RM: Courtney and Hieu, thank you for meeting with us today. I’d like you to tell me a little bit about yourselves, your association with your projects, and your projects’ names.

HT: My name is Hieu Tran, I’m a junior at ASU majoring in accounting. Our project is called The Brightest Crayon, and The Brightest Crayon provides recreational and social activities for children with disabilities. What we do is take kids with disabilities out to the community to movies, to sporting events, just to incorporate them into the community.

CK: My name is Courtney Klein, I graduated from ASU in the spring of ’05 in non-profit leadership and management. I’m now a graduate student pursuing non-profit leadership and management. I started Youth Re:Action Corps as a non-profit that educates, empowers, and invests in young people to change the world. And we provide a high school program that engages students in the community, developing initiatives that they feel will solve the problems in their community. So we have a wide range of projects we are running, and I’m sure we’ll go into more depth later.

RM: Can you tell me a little bit about how your background or your educational experience contributed to the development of the youth projects?

CK: I’ve been involved in social issues for as long as I can remember, and traveled as a volunteer internationally quite a bit, served as a translator in medical clinics in Rocky Point, worked in hospitals, again serving as a translator, and traveled internationally as a volunteer, rebuilding communities, working with youth. Three years ago I was a volunteer in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico - lived in a hut, slept in a hammock, showered in the rain, we didn’t have running water, and helped rebuild the community. I was 18 at the time, and realized the impact young people could have on communities given the opportunity, while also understanding that the high school system from which I just graduated had not prepared me in any way to know where this community was, let alone how I as a young person could affect change in that. Youth Re:Action Corps was born from that.

HT: Well my younger brother has Down Syndrome, so I’ve always been involved in the community with disabilities. I’ve worked for the City of Tempe in the Adapted Recreation Program, and have volunteered with the Special Olympics. So, I have very good [first hand] knowledge of what the children in this community need. There aren’t any activities for kids with disabilities and that’s the void that I wanted to fill with The Brightest Crayon. In terms of education, I’m an accounting major so that really helped with the business aspect of The Brightest Crayon, as well as the rest of my team - we have marketing major, a special education major, as well as others. Everything just kind of comes together for The Brightest Crayon.

RM: And were both of your projects in existence before you applied for the Edson Grant?

HT: No.

CK: No. In our heads. 

RM: So it’s always something you’ve wanted to do and the Edson program provided that vehicle to make it happen?

CK: Right 

RM: As social initiatives, what do you think makes your projects particularly entrepreneurial or innovative?

CK: Edson, and the story of how we came about. We were given $1,000 from the Edson Initiative last year. But, we have received $85,000 in-kind support from the community - legal services, accounting services, you name it and we haven’t paid for it. And we’re running our pilot program successfully in the largest school district in Arizona ( Mesa Unified School District). And now we’re expanding state-wide this fall.

RM: How did you go about making some of those partnerships?

CK: The connections from being out talking with the community, meeting after meeting, and contact after contact, and following leads, and we had the incredible mentorship of Dr. Lattie Coor, former president of ASU. He helped us make a lot of connections. But really it was my team just looking for where we know people and who we can contact.

HT: With me, Edson is just a huge learning experience. This is my first time pursuing a business and so I’m learning every single step - how to incorporate; how to file your taxes; all of that stuff. And I think that Edson really helps because you have such a strong support base. I’ve received a lot of help from Courtney. We sent out an email to all of our friends and we started networking, and you don’t expect to network, but you end up doing it anyway. I think Edson’s huge!

RM: So you two (CK and HT) have worked together quite a bit as well?

HT: She’s (Courtney) kind of like our mentor.

CK: I didn’t know that. I’m helping out where I can.