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A Day in the Life of a Social Entrepreneur and First-Year HBS Student: Jerren Chang (MBA/MPP 2021)

By: Jerren Chang 24 Mar 2020
The GenUnity team

This post is part of our “Day in the Life” series, which features HBS students engaged in social enterprise activities on campus. In this post, Jerren Chang (MBA/MPP 2021), a joint degree student and social entrepreneur, describes a typical day that includes academics, community involvement, and working on his startup, GenUnity.

7:00 a.m.: Alarm rings. Each day I get started with a yoga and meditation practice that gives me time to reflect on two questions: “Who am I trying to serve?” and “How can I make progress today?” My mind eventually drifts to GenUnity, my civic engagement startup that seeks to empower the next generation of community leaders, and in turn strengthen democracy and our local communities. I run through our theory of change: “Civic engagement has been declining for decades, contributing to social isolation, distrust, and partisanship. Young people demonstrate a record high desire to get engaged but this energy hasn’t translated into action because we feel disempowered by options that feel siloed, menial, and low impact. We need to create a civic leadership experience that young people want to participate in – that fosters learning through proximity and practice, builds community among diverse peers, and provides an opportunity for broader impact”

8:00 a.m.: I run down to the Adams House dining hall – where I am a resident tutor for Harvard undergraduate students – to grab breakfast. I hop on the phone with my mentor, David Birnbach – a social entrepreneur and MIT lecturer who we matched with through the Harvard Innovation Labs’ Mentor Match program. We talk through the week’s immediate next steps and short-term priorities as I walk across the footbridge to HBS.

9:00 a.m.: I get to class and catch up with my seatmates and other friends. Today’s class is The Entrepreneurial Manager (TEM) and we are covering the case of two HBS co-founders who are deciding whether and how to pivot their business model. I remember the pivots I’ve made over the last year and ponder how GenUnity will continue to evolve.

10:30 a.m.: During the break between classes I catch up with my ‘accountability buddy’ and fellow entrepreneur Anthony Valente. We check in on how we’ve spent our time and whether it’s driving forward our start-up goals.

10:50 a.m.: Today’s second class is Business, Government, and International Economy (BGIE) and the case is on the 2017 French Election. As we discuss the rise of populism globally, my mind inevitably draws connections to GenUnity, our mission to strengthen civil society, and the trends that we need to overcome to succeed. While not every class is so applicable, today’s case has me inspired going into the afternoon.

12:10 p.m.: Today, I am lucky enough to have lunch with Kam Phillips-Sadler, one of my section mates and a veteran social entrepreneur. I pepper Kam with questions ranging from managing a team to fundraising to constructing a board as she patiently shares her wisdom and experience.

1:15 p.m.: I walk over to the Harvard Innovation Labs to hunker down for the afternoon. We’ve got six months to setup our pilot civic leadership program including recruiting a cohort of 30 young leaders, partnering with local community organizations to deliver the transformational curriculum, and confirming the corporate sponsors necessary for the unit economics to work. Between in-person meetings, calls, emails, and of course catching up with the other entrepreneurs working in the i-Lab’s shared space, the afternoon flies by.

4:00 p.m.: My team, comprised of three incredible HBS first-year students – Nimisha Ganesh, Casey McGinley, and Florian Schalliol – gathers for our weekly check-in meeting. After sharing our personal highs and lows of the week, we each run through our workstreams, flagging topics for discussion.

5:30 p.m.: There is almost always a happy hour event at HBS and today it’s being hosted by my Section, G. I run over to Grafton Pub in Harvard Square to join the crew and catch up over a beer.

7:00 p.m.: I duck out of the happy hour to grab dinner with a few of my students in Adams House. Truly, one of the highlights of my day, the students are a constant source of inspiration and energy.

8:30 p.m.: I start reading the cases for class the next day as I video-chat with my fiancée. Tomorrow’s cases are on an entrepreneur choosing between two accelerators (TEM) and Brexit (BGIE). I dive eagerly into the material, actively applying the learnings to GenUnity and my future goals as a social entrepreneur.