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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

How I Got Here: My Journey from the Kroc School to MAKE Projects

Written by Kroc School

The following blog post was contributed by MA in Social Innovation alumna Alexandra Steinhaus.

On the first day of the Master of Arts in Social Innovation (MASI) program, I thought to myself, “How did I get here?” I sat amongst some of the brightest, most passionate people I’ve ever met while the professor, Dr. Paula Cordeiro, dove right into the world of Social Entrepreneurship. I was immediately ecstatic and terrified – I knew a little about social innovation and entrepreneurship from books, articles and movies, but never had I gotten the chance to learn firsthand from experts. I felt like I knew nothing, yet I knew I was exactly where I wanted to be.

Before I entered MASI full-time, I was invested in the world of sales, marketing, and corporate social responsibility. I’d seen time and time again well-intentioned efforts by businesses and charities creating more problems than solutions. Many organizations, consumers, and volunteers were focusing on the “good” they were sending out to the world without truly understanding the needs of the people they were trying to help. As a result, contributions were bringing unintended, negative consequences to the communities affected. I knew how easy it is to over-simplify the act of helping others, because I, too, spent time and money on efforts I didn’t know enough about.

Alexandra and her fellow MASI students

I came to MASI to learn how to change the way we help people and our planet. I wanted to develop the necessary tools to empower the communities around me and work alongside them to design measurable and scalable solutions. I wanted to better analyze complex problems and collaborate with empathy. And, wow, did the Kroc School deliver!

In one year, I collaborated with some of the best social entrepreneurs in San Diego and Los Angeles; I worked on a consulting project that addressed homelessness in San Diego, and I learned firsthand from social innovators in Colombia and Uganda. On campus, I dived into everything I could – I attended networking events, movie screenings, presentations and panels.

On one particularly busy day, I decided last-minute to attend the Social Innovation FoodFest, an event hosted by the Center for Peace and Commerce. I mingled with leaders of organizations tackling food insecurity and food waste while discovering delicious food (note: Kroc School events often include this type of win-win scenario). At this event, I met the Executive Director of MAKE Projects, a social enterprise incubated at the International Rescue Committee San Diego, that prepares refugees and immigrants to gain employment and achieve their dreams through hands-on, real-world job readiness programs. I immediately fell in love with their vision and became a Social Enterprise Intern in the Spring. Not only did I learn from an organization that is revolutionizing the way we help refugee and low-income communities, but it was my first step in combining the peacebuilding work of my Master’s degree with my professional experience in business. I found my home in a place where I could utilize business strategy to grow a non-profit mission. In fact, my internship inspired me to write my capstone project, “Bringing Profitability to the Non-Profit World,” where I analyzed MAKE Projects’ challenges and proposed opportunities for greater financial success and social impact.

MAKE Projects garden in North Park, San Diego

Now that I am a full-time employee at MAKE Projects, my capstone is coming to life. By 2025, MAKE Projects aims to quadruple the number of refugees and immigrants we serve while being primarily supported by sales revenues – and I am on the team that strategizes, executes, and analyzes these goals. We recently announced that in July 2021, MAKE Projects will officially become a fiscally-sponsored project of Mission Edge in San Diego – and I am on the team that defines who we are as a blooming social enterprise. I am constantly reaching back out to USD faculty, sharing past readings from my Kroc School courses with my team, and referencing past projects. I am living and breathing every MASI class and I couldn’t be happier.

Explore MAKE Projects' globally-inspired menu for brunch on Saturdays 10am - 1pm. Enjoy delicious dishes that highlight the seasonal herbs and veggies grown in the urban garden.

They say social entrepreneurs are optimists – that when problems are too daunting for some, we are the ones that see hope and opportunity. I have no doubt that the innovators, peacebuilders, and changemakers I met at the Kroc School are the leaders our world needs to imagine and develop a brighter future. And even after reflecting on my MASI journey, I’m still asking myself in complete awe, “How did I get here?”

Kroc School

About the Author

Kroc School

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies' mission is to equip and empower innovative changemakers to shape more peaceful and just societies.