For the latest installment of our series about the “Origin Stories” of social entrepreneurs, we talked to Caitlin Koury, a Compass Fellowship alumna and the entrepreneur behind Healthy Leaders, a program to educate young people in the DC area about health issues.
What does the word ‘social’ in social entrepreneurship mean to you?
The word ‘social’ can be defined in a broad sense of the word when applied to entrepreneurship. I believe the term ‘social’ means the entrepreneurial venture is formatted to address a societal concern, i.e. a current problem, conflict or issue within a community. The ‘social’ aspect must be evident in that the venture impacts people for the better. Above all, social implies that the venture is concentrated on people working with people, in order to help each other. The main driver in the typical social entrepreneur is to alleviate a social problem – that is, change society for the better.
If you could recommend one activity that every aspiring entrepreneur take up, what would that activity be and why?
If I could recommend one activity for aspiring entrepreneurs to take up it would have to be to read the local paper for their surrounding area. I think most people are surprised to find local problems that can then transcend globally. For instance, my interest in health disparities within Washington, D.C. was sparked by much of what was written in the Washington Post Health and Science section in conjunction with my classes. Connecting local health issues to global ones has been a major foundation in both my entrepreneurial and academic concentrations and I think reading the paper really influenced these interests. Plus, local papers are always apt to identifying problems persisting in the community. It’s a great way to identify what an area needs.
I think the biggest struggle I’ve faced as a young entrepreneur has been deciding exactly what I want to accomplish in conjunction with raising capital. Establishing a form of sustainability for an organization dedicated to serving others without revenue is a very difficult thing to figure out and has been a big learning process for me. Sustainability is a must for any start-up and I’d recommend thoroughly thrashing out a plan with people who have already started ventures to get the best results.
We speak about the ‘entrepreneurial mindset’, and we feel like you are a good example of someone with that mindset. What do you think makes you an entrepreneur?
I’m flattered to hear I have the “entrepreneurial mindset”! I think it really stems from a drive to address pressing societal concerns. The entrepreneurs I’ve met have really rooted themselves in helping others as their career. I know that has always been one of my driving factors in pursuing a career in health. I also like to think entrepreneurs are innovative and push the boundaries. You don’t always have to play by the rules and some of the best entrepreneurs have broken down major barriers by perhaps not following directions. You have to be willing to set your own path, but be knowledgeable about your pursuit. I feel like I’ve been given a lot more credibility when discussing my venture because I study health disparities and I can speak intelligently about them.
What are you working on these days?
These days, I’m currently in Ghana working in a clinic that focuses on HIV/AIDS. I’ve been helping them a lot with planning events for World AIDS Day, applying for grants, and writing a book on the medical staff’s experiences. I’m also designing prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs for pregnant mothers that come to the clinic. It is very rewarding work and I feel very fortunate to get such a global perspective on a disease that is very pervasive in the DC area as well.
For the past year, I have been working with a small team on starting a program called Healthy Leaders. Healthy Leaders will address major health problems occurring in Washington, D.C., focusing on HIV/AIDS. The program is geared to high school students in high disparity wards. They can participate in weekend long conferences that interweave health problems prominent in their communities and how they can help resolve them. In addition, Georgetown students will be able to be counselors throughout the programs and potentially earn Community Based Learning credit. After high school participants complete the program, they can start their own small-scale version of Healthy Leaders at their local school or in their neighborhood.
What got you interested in healthcare management and policy?
I attended a small high school in Neptune, NJ named the Academy of Allied Health and Science. The academics at Allied are centered around the medical field, so students are required to take courses focused in the science and health realms. We also volunteered at the local hospital and participated in senior year mentorships focused in the healthcare field. I have always wanted to stay in the healthcare sector because it is a direct way to help people and make positive change. I believe health is a necessary foundation for anything in life, so if I can impact the level of health and increase the standard of living for others, I will be very satisfied with my career.
How can people connect with you and help your venture move forward?
Anyone interested in the healthcare sector can feel free to connect with me to discuss more about different topics currently facing the Washington, D.C. area. I am very open to any advice anyone is willing to offer, especially on making Healthy Leaders sustainable. Any school interested in the program is also welcome to contact me, and I would be happy to explain more about any potential partnerships! Thanks!