It is hard to remain indifferent to Teju Ravilochan’s enthusiasm for the work of the young entrepreneurs attending the Unreasonable Institute. Ravilochan, a 24 year-old American, is part of a team of three young start-up entrepreneurs who decided to use entrepreneurship as a catalyst for social change. This ‘unreasonable’ idea led to the creation of the Unreasonable Institute in 2009.
As a young university graduate from the University of Colorado, Ravilochan joined the ‘Unreasonable’ project following a trip to India where he conducted field research on the success of non-profit organizations in tackling poverty in India. There, he became aware of the “miserable job” these organizations were doing, often relying on charity-based methods and hence perpetuating dependency. They tended to avoid considering solutions and insights given by the community, excluding the local actors and not enabling local ownership of the projects. In sum, there was little return to the local community and projects did not last beyond the presence of NGOs in the field. Ravilochan understood the need to build sustainable organizations and projects.
The Unreasonable Institute was founded by Daniel Epstein with Ravilochan and Tyler Hartung alongside as co-founders. Epstein came up with the initial idea after attending a global youth leadership program in Czech Republic and subsequently establishing a 5-week program on leadership in Boulder, Colorado, back in 2008. This inspired a new initiative combining social entrepreneurship, mentorship and leadership, and creating an incubator for early-stage social ventures. Call it a hothouse for young social entrepreneurs, an MBA crash course or a network of young leaders, in the end, the Unreasonable Institute encompasses all of these dimensions.
One thing is certain - it has developed an interesting and innovative approach towards guiding young entrepreneurs in the first steps of their social venture. The idea behind the project is simple: ‘giving wings to new ideas.’ By creating this community- oriented initiative, Daniel Epstein aspired to design an environment where young leaders gathered to create solutions for current pressing problems.
The Unreasonable Institute offers its students “not just speakers but actual hands-on, aggressive guidance, mentorship and access to hard-core resources like capital and expertise,” as Teju Ravilochan, VP Partnerships and Communication, explained to The Global Journal. The initiative focuses on building relationships among the participants and their mentors, and creating an environment that is conducive to learning. It aims to support entrepreneurial solutions that are financially self-sustainable and eventually scalable to other communities. The Unreasonable Institute’s purpose is to “build a community, a movement of entrepreneurs working in different industries but supporting each other and working together. Working collectively is the only way to achieve social change” said Ravilochan.
Mentorship is a key element of this project. Every year, 50 world-class mentors join 25 ‘Unreasonable’ entrepreneurs from all over the world for a six-week intensive program in Boulder. Among the high profile and experienced members of the mentor network are Lisa Waits, Director of Business Development at Nokia, and Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders USA. The mentors accompany the selected candidates for periods of three days to two weeks, sharing valuable insights, access to networks and funding opportunities.
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By Annya Schneider