Reflections on the Finger Lakes Social Entrepreneurship Institute: Or, How to Get Into a Conference for Free

Sankriti and I worked with other individuals on this systems thinking activity.

Last weekend I attended the Finger Lakes Social Entrepreneurship Institute in Ithaca, NY. I made the 6 hour trip with Patricelli Center Fellow, Sankriti Malik ‘20, and my sister who goes to UConn Stamford, Nina Drozdenko ’19. I knew that I wanted to attend a conference this semester; but it was important to me that I find one that best fit my professional and personal interests. I’m passionate about community-led social change, alternatives to capitalism, and systems thinking. So when I learned that the FLSEI featured all of those topics and more, I knew I had to go.

Going to a conference is a commitment, especially as a student. Three full days of activities means that you’re not going to get any work done that weekend. Between the ticket, travel, food, and lodging…the cost of your weekend can add up. If you’re quick and ahead of the game, you can get a PCSE Conference Grant (which is now depleted for this year). Or, you can try to do things a little bit differently. As soon as I committed to going, I emailed the director of the institute and asked if there were any volunteer opportunities that I could take in exchange for a reduced ticket price. Much to my excitement, the wonderful Anke Wessels gave us all free admission as long as we did some volunteer hours. She also connected us with Aleta, another participant who was willing to let Nina and I stay at her house for the weekend.

Esteban Kelly spoke about Emergent Strategy, which brings radical change informed by nature.

Naturally, I had an incredible time. I connected with great people who do innovative and transformative things for the Ithaca community. I serendipitously met my Hamilton College counterpart.  Volunteering was a lot of fun, and got us more connected to the organizers and presenters than if we had just been participants. Nina and I spent hours chatting with Aleta about travel and life, and got to hang out with her cat (so much better than a hotel room). The food was fantastic. I got to hang out in one of my favorite cities. And of course, I learned so many valuable skills and got connected with resources from the amazing speakers they had. Matthew Stinchcomb, cofounder of Etsy, and Founder of the Good Work Institute, stressed the importance of valuing greatness over bigness (and warned of the dangers of selling out because I could tell he’s still punk-rock at heart). Esteban Kelly, Exec. Director of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, inspired us all to think about ways we can transform systems instead of just fix them. And Megan Odenthal, of the Social System Design Lab worked us through systems thinking, and helped us recognize how interconnected and intersectional issues are.

Ithaca is Gorges!

There were a lot of things that I learned that I am excited to put in my ever-growing Civic Engagement toolbox. (Collaboration is so important folks!) But my experience was also so impactful for my personal growth and professional development. Especially as I graduate in a few weeks (!!!), and I have to start thinking about what’s next after this Fellowship. So a lot of questions were answered for me last weekend. But some new questions popped up. Namely, do I move somewhere where these conversations about cooperatives and transformative justice are already taking place (with all the implications that come with that), or do I stick to my roots in CT and help bring that culture here? Do I continue down my path of working in the nonprofit sector, or do I find a way to make a difference outside of that? How do we transform the systems we’re in now, and how can I make sure that I always work with and not for?

It’s a lot. So if you are interested in having a conversation about these topics, have generalized life advice for me, want more advice on how to go to conferences/travel on a budget, or want someone to brainstorm with, my door is always open. You can find me behind the bookshelf in Allbritton 318.