Features

Live It Fund takes on new ties to Macalester entrepreneurship

Since 2010, the Institute for Global Citizenship has provided Macalester students with funding to actualize a vision they have for a community, whether local or international, through the Live It Fund. Taking place over J-term or the summer, dozens of students have been granted fully-funded opportunities to live out their dreams of peace, justice and civic engagement. From raising awareness about AIDS in the Midtown neighborhood to designing after-school arts curricula for Chilean students, the Live It Fund has come alongside many a visionary Macalester student to help them apply their work on campus to underprivileged communities.

Previously a student-run group, The Institute for Global Citizenship Student Council, worked together to write the application form, perform interviews and allocate the $35,000 to whichever projects they saw as the most potentially successful in terms of meeting the fund’s goal of helping students “enact social change” and “contribute to the common good.” The application began with the question: “What does Global Citizenship mean to you? If you could design a project to live out that definition, what would it look like?” Or, at least, that was the language of the fund until this year.

At the beginning of last summer, Live It Fund information and applications, accessible via Macalester’s IGC webpage, posed exactly the questions and motives spelled out above. Now the fund is filed under the category of “grants for entrepreneurship,” where a link redirects to the Entrepreneurship Office webpage, and the webpage begins with the question, “As a student entrepreneur, what does Global Citizenship mean to you?”

This change in language comes at a polemic juncture for the Macalester community, when entrepreneurship is the subject of much debate. While changes at the library have brought new attention to the issue, entrepreneurship has been a priority of Macalester, as laid out in the Strategic Plan, since at least 2014. For Maxine Freedman ’18, previous member of the now disbanded IGC Student Council (IGCSC), this entrepreneurial angle was contentious from the beginning. “When I was a first-year, the 2014 strategic plan had just come out, and in [it] there was a section devoted to entrepreneurship, and that section highlighted the Live It Fund in particular.” Until that point, no one had really referred to the fund as an entrepreneurial program.

“Everyone on the council,” Freedman reported, “was shocked that the Live It Fund was included in the Strategic Plan in this way. They had no idea that they were being classified as an entrepreneurship initiative. No one talked to them about their inclusion in the strategic plan, and they felt—I would say—upset about the fact that they had been categorized that way.”

This 2014 decision started a lot of conversation about the definition of entrepreneurship on Macalester’s campus, at least among the student council, Freedman said. “We did a lot of readings about the definition of social entrepreneurship and had meetings where we just discussed that, and eventually we came to the decision that we were sort of okay with being associated with social entrepreneurship, as long as we ourselves and our messaging made it very clear how open the grant was to things that might usually be considered totally outside of entrepreneurship and that that would be reflected in our decision making as well.”

With changes in deans and a drop-off in student commitment to the council, the IGCSC began to break apart in the fall of 2016. Various advisors had been resources in years before to help support students once their projects had been approved by the council, but with less of a coherent council to make the applications and handle the interview process, responsibilities began to shift to these advisors. Kate Ryan Reiling, Macalester’s Entrepreneur in Residence, recounted in an email: “I was asked by the former Dean of the IGC to manage the Live It Fund for her. Since her departure, I have been managing it and I have worked with a variety of individuals in the IGC on this fund.”

These shifts were unknown to many previous members of the IGCSC, including Freedman. Freedman returned from studying abroad in January to see a much different Live It Fund. She knew that the council had fallen apart, but was hoping to still play a role in the future of the fund. “I came back and saw advertising in the Daily Piper for the Live It Fund that said ‘calling entrepreneurs! Do you have an idea for an entrepreneurial project? Apply for the entrepreneurship grant, the Live it Fund.’ So I reached out to Kate Reiling just to find out the direction that the fund was going in, and in our meeting she explained to me that she and Jody Emmings of the entrepreneurship program have taken charge of all of the messaging around the Live It Fund.” Freedman wondered what role student voices had on the messaging and decision-making of the fund.

A different version of the council now exists, with a group of previous Live It Fund recipients weighing in on decisions regarding allocation. “We built a committee focused predominantly on former recipients of grants (current students and one alumna). The idea is to allow students who have received funding to be the ones who decide who to fund next,” Reiling wrote in an email.

Reiling, via email, discussed the association between the Live It Fund and entrepreneurship. “The fund has always been entrepreneurial – students saw an unmet need that they understood (they didn’t have funding to ‘live out’ their definition of global citizenship) and proposed a solution (support from the college) and found a source of funding (a fund supported by the college). That seems fairly entrepreneurial to me.”

Apart from the addition of the word “entrepreneur” to most of the messaging and the location of Live It Fund information on the Macalester website, the projects that receive funding remain fairly similar. Reiling emphasized that service-oriented projects are still eligible for and frequently receive funding.

The new website shows some of the “problem-solving” rhetoric of emerging entrepreneurial initiatives, a rhetoric that differs from the “common good” language of previous Live it branding. “We are looking for your creativity and innovation in solving emerging or prevailing problems,” the Live It Fund webpage reads.

“Based on what I’ve heard about the projects that have been done this year, and Live It Fund projects that have been done in the past, they’re incredible,” Freedman said. “Students are so creative and engaged out in the world.” However, she believes that student leadership is essential to the Live It Fund, as is asking how the program’s new categorization could exclude those who don’t consider themselves entrepreneurs.

“In the context of the rise of entrepreneurship at Macalester,” Freedman said, “which we see with the library space, and the addition of Funkathon and Macathon and Mac Nest, and knowing that the strategic plan calls for the creation of a business incubator at Macalester explicitly, how is this change of language in the Live It Fund reflecting Macalester’s effort to capitalize on student creativity to make the college more marketable?”

March 31, 2017

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *