What experience made you realize that you wanted to create positive impact?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to make a positive impact on the world. That feeling was greatly intensified in college, when I was fortunate to attend a university (Brown University) where the community put a huge emphasis on philanthropy and altruism. That experience and its continued influence had a large effect on me and my priorities.
Please describe your history and relationship with social innovation, highlighting your most transformative experience(s) in the social impact sector.
Resolution was my introduction to the social impact sector! I got involved in 2013 as a volunteer on the Development team, helping to review published materials and taking a leading role in forming and developing the athletic fundraising team, Team Resolution. It’s been wonderful working with so many inspiring Resolution Fellows, including being a judge at Social Venture Challenges where I saw ventures at their most raw stages and heard the stories of what inspired each Fellow to take action and get involved.
Elaborate on a challenging situation that made you question whether you were headed in the right direction. What resources did you leverage and how did you keep pushing forward?
Leading the Resolution Institute – the new program within The Resolution Project to develop a Social Entrepreneurship Curriculum for our Fellows – has often been challenging (despite how enjoyable it has been). There are countless ideas and opinions on how to best deliver content to our students, and it’s easy to get lost in the different viewpoints and miss the bigger picture. What ended up being crucial was simply picking a reasonable starting point and moving forward, so we could start teaching courses and collecting feedback from the Fellows themselves. It’s always possible to revisit old topics of conversation, but if you get paralyzed by a decision you’ll never move past the idea stage.
What do you envision are some of the challenges facing education? How can social enterprise help address them?
Many people aren’t fortunate enough to live in environments with access to even the most basic educational materials, and thankfully there are many social ventures aimed at helping those communities grow. However, for a very different subset of students, there is a separate and unique problem: an overabundance of resources. While our parents and grandparents only had a few sources of knowledge available to them, today many of us have access to an endlessly vast array of books, articles, and resources to learn about any topic and no real idea of how to navigate this landscape. Our goal with the Resolution Institute has always been to provide windows into new and relevant skill areas while narrowing down the information to simple, key lessons, focusing on the easiest and most impactful points rather than trying to cover too much too quickly.
Who is a social innovator in the education sector that inspires you?
I have a huge amount of respect for the internet education pioneers like Salman Khan (Khan Academy) and Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), who were guided by a desire to make information easily accessible to everyone regardless of location or socioeconomic status. I’m also very much inspired by George, Oliver, and Howard for creating The Resolution Project with the belief that we can create and empower a new generation of skilled social entrepreneurs with a little bit of mentorship and support.
Some individuals use metrics to evaluate themselves while others rely on intangibles such as reflection. How do you measure your impact and how does that inform your work?
I’m a huge believer in metrics and quantitative impact evaluation, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to the story than the numbers. Data is important because it tells an unbiased truth, and it can guide you towards both the weaknesses and strengths of your program. But I find it helpful to fill in the details of the story by following up with people, asking probing questions, and trying to get a better sense of the context from which these answers came. That said, ignoring the warnings that data provides, because they’re inconvenient or disappointing to think about, is a surefire way to find yourself with a failed venture.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
I don’t remember the exact words, but it was the first time that someone really showed me what it means to have a sense of perspective. Having perspective doesn’t mean ignoring or putting off today’s problems, but it does mean understanding the role that today’s challenges play within the larger picture of your project, your mission, and your life. It means not trying to win an argument at the cost of a relationship, being willing to try something new even when you’ve put loads of effort into the old way, and not letting disappointment and adversity keep you from feeling happy and accomplished.
What is the single most important piece of advice you would give to a budding social entrepreneur?
Not a single successful person we admire got to where they are today without first experiencing failure, sometimes even catastrophic, soul-crushing failure. While we tend to look up to these people for their creativity and ambition, often the real distinguishing factor that made the difference was persistence. The world-ending defeat keeping you awake right now will someday be a part of your story, but it won’t be the last chapter and it probably won’t even be something you think about often.
Eric Sporkin is a quantitative trader and developer at Jane Street Capital by profession. He helped establish the Resolution Institute, serves as the Director of the Entrepreneurship Curriculum, and advises Resolution Fellows in his capacity as a Guide. Eric is a graduate of Brown University where he studied mathematics.