Advice from Courtney Spence on Starting Career in Social Entrepreneurship

In Chapter 19 of 19 in her 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, non-profit executive Courtney Spence answers "What is Your Advice to Aspiring Social Entrepreneurs on How to Start a Career?"  Spence details the importance of curiosity and cultivating it through research and conversations.  After gaining enough inputs Spence notes how aspiring social entrepreneurs will be better prepared to take action on the knowledge gained.  Courtney Spence returns to CYF for her Year 3 interview.  As Founder and Executive Director, Spence leads non-profit Students of the World to empower college students to use film, photography, and journalism to tell stories of global issues and the organizations working to address them.  Spence graduated with a BA in History from Duke University.


Erik Michielsen: What is your advice to aspiring social entrepreneurs and how to start a career?

Courtney Spence: One of the essential qualities of really great entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs – the essential characteristic is that of curiosity. I think that we are all curious human beings but I think entrepreneurs, in general, are -- tend to be more curious than others, and so really understanding how to cultivate that curiosity and how to encourage that curiosity, and I think the ways to do that are by reading, and by meeting with new people, and going to new places, and really – as you’re trying to incubate your idea, really seeking out advice from as many people as you can, from as many diverse fields as you can.

I mean if you’re gonna go create a non-profit, don’t just go talk to people that run non-profits, you know? That’s why I think, you know, South by Southwest is such a great conference and a time to be in Austin irregardless of whether or not you’re in tech or communications or music or film, I think that you come here and you’re emotionally and intellectually stimulated in so many different ways and if you are an entrepreneur, and you’re coming up with an idea or a plan to change the world, you need to be stimulated in a lot of different ways, and in ways that you’re not anticipating right now. Because if you only cultivate that one aspect of what you’re trying to do, you put blinders on and you limit not only what you could really go out and do but how effective you can be in your mission and what you’re trying to achieve.

So really cultivating that curiosity and really soaking up as much information and knowledge and reading and conversations, and then knowing when to stop. Because at some point you will find that everybody has an opinion and everybody is giving you advice and some people say go right and some people say go left, and some will say go up, and then others will say go down. You will always get conflicting advice, and at some point you have to know, okay, I’ve taken in a lot, I need to retreat and really reflect on the advice I’ve been given, on the articles that I’ve read, on the books I’ve been reading, and figure out where is the right direction for me to go with this idea, this organization or for myself.