For Dartmouth Undergraduates, a Lesson on Social Entrepreneurship

Hanover-based nonprofit Positive Tracks' mission is to help young people “get active and give back.” This year’s Paganucci Fellows made it their mission to help.

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Dartmouth undergraduates Kelly Chen D’18, Kelly Moore D’18, Alexa Sonnenfeld D’17, Steffen Eriksen D’17 and Bobby Crawford D’19.

Hanover-based nonprofit Positive Tracks' mission is to help young people “get active and give back.” This year’s Paganucci Fellows made it their mission to help.

On July 16, two days before Nelson Mandela International Day, Dartmouth undergraduates Kelly Chen D’18, Bobby Crawford D’19, Steffen Eriksen D’17, Kelly Moore D’18, and Alexa Sonnenfeld D’17 found themselves on Constitution Hill, in the South African township of Alexandra, doing yoga with about 100 local children. They performed 27 yoga poses for 67 seconds each, to commemorate Mandela’s 27 years in prison and 67 years of public service. The event was organized by the nonprofit group Yoga For Alex, and was designed to teach local youth the transformative power of yoga and raise money to train yoga instructors in the township.

The Dartmouth students were there as participants and observers. In June, they began their work as Paganucci Fellows, and their main task was to consult with the Hanover-based nonprofit Positive Tracks on creating an internet portal for young people to design and run their own athletic events for charity. The Yoga Challenge in South Africa was a chance for the team to see first-hand how youth-run charity events take place, and glean lessons on organizing such fundraisers in the developing world. Later in the week they traveled to Cape Town to visit 12 nonprofits including Grassroot Soccer, a charity partner to Positive Tracks.

Directed by Tuck’s Center for Leadership, the Paganucci Fellows Program offers select Dartmouth undergraduates an intensive education in global experiential learning, personal leadership development, and social entrepreneurship. The program is named in honor of the late Paul Paganucci D’53, T’54— a former director of the Sherman Fairchild Foundation who taught for many years at Tuck and also served as associate dean at Tuck and as vice president of finance and treasurer for Dartmouth—and has received continuous support from the foundation since 2006 as well as a $3 million endowment earlier this year. As noted by Richard McNulty, faculty director of the Paganucci Fellows Program, “The program will reinforce Paul’s legacy in perpetuity, bearing his name as it serves to prepare our next generation of leaders.”

Positive Tracks was a natural choice for the type of experiential learning the Paganucci Fellows Program fosters. Founded in 2009 in partnership with the CHaD HERO Half Marathon, a fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, Positive Tracks is “a national sports-based youth development organization that helps young people get active and give back.” By the end of this year, Positive Tracks predicts that it will have engaged more than 40,000 youth participants in 244,617 miles of athletic activity to raise $7.8 million for multiple charities. The organization’s work encompasses business activity for social good, and facilitates social entrepreneurship, two themes that were important to Paul Paganucci and thus a natural place to focus the energy of the Paganucci Fellows Program.

Before embarking for South Africa, the fellows worked to acquaint themselves with the mission and business model of Positive Tracks, and learned how the subject of their consulting project—the U23 Challenges Program—fits into the organization’s broader work. Then they zeroed-in on gathering data that would inform their recommendations for a digital platform. The team interviewed people who had been involved with Positive Tracks, along with young people who had never heard of Positive Tracks, and supplemented those interviews with question-and-answer sessions with other nonprofits, digital platform providers, and educators. “We wanted to round out what we thought a digital platform could do to deliver a sport-and-education-based curriculum,” said Sonnenfeld, a history major from Golden, Colorado.

Throughout the eight-week program, the fellows participated in a series of personal and professional development activities. To start, they attended sessions with Tuck faculty on leadership and team building, identifying personal and behavioral factors that impact how the group collaborates. The fellows sat in on a two-part learning session on strategy taught by Constance Helfat, the J. Brian Quinn Professor in Technology and Strategy, which was part of the Tuck Bridge program. And they had lunch with business leaders in the Tuck Executive Program, Tuck’s flagship three-week executive education offering. “That was a wonderful leaning and networking opportunity,” said Moore, a native of Ottawa, Canada who is majoring in economics and geography.

They pushed us to think about another angle ... and provided inspiration as we moved forward.

The fellows also attended numerous lunch-and-learn events with Tuck professors who could provide insight on the team’s consulting project and their trip to South Africa. Among others, they met with Curt Welling D’71, T’77, a senior fellow at the Tuck Center for Global Business and Government who was the CEO of AmeriCares for 11 years; accounting professor and South Africa native Phillip Stocken; entrepreneurship professor Steven Kahl D’91; and strategy professor Sydney Finkelstein. “Part of those conversations centered around what we were doing for Positive Tracks,” said Sonnenfeld, “and they pushed us to think about another angle. It was an opportunity to hear from some really interesting people about how they got to where they are today, and provide inspiration as we moved forward.”

As the program neared its end, the fellows prepared for their preliminary final presentation of their report on the digital platform for the U23 Challenges Program. They expected the team from Positive Tracks to ask for changes and revisions to the report. But to the fellows’ surprise, the client was thrilled with their presentation, even in its draft form. Afterward, Nini Meyer, President and founder of Positive Tracks, commented: “The Paganucci Fellows met our expectations and far beyond—this was a rigorous program that delivered outstanding value, not only to the Positive Tracks U23 Challenges Program, but to our organization as a whole. We were continually impressed by the team’s ability to listen to our needs, think critically about our situation, and respond with resourceful and creative solutions. We've already implemented many of their recommendations!”

“It was a great feeling when Positive Tracks was satisfied with our work,” said Eriksen, a history and economics major, “so now we’re thinking through their funding model, and how to communicate that clearly as we wrap up the project.” That final request was a shrewd move by Positive Tracks. After all, who better to advise on a program for young adults than a group of socially conscious and motivated Dartmouth students?