Courtney Spence on How to Make Student Filmmakers Non-Profit Advocates

In Chapter 13 of 16 in her 2011 Capture Your Flag interview, non-profit founder and executive Courtney Spence shares how to leverage the passion of college student program participants to help non-profits non-governmental organizations (NGOs) thrive. Spence notes how student energy and enthusiasm complements a sense of mission and purpose working with the NGOs, ultimately becoming a champion or advocate of the cause. Spence is founder and executive director of Students of the World, a non-profit that partners with passionate college students to create new media to highlight global issues and the organizations working to address them. Spence graduated with a BA in History from Duke University.


Erik Michielsen:  How has the college student perspective advanced the cause of your NGO program partners?

Courtney Spence:  I think one of the really wonderful things about working with college students is this ‘can do’ spirit and this sense of optimism and a real desire to contribute. You know, college is a time where you are being inspired consistently through courses, through new friendships, through professors, through internships.  At its best college is, you know, it’s four years of incredible inspiration and stimulation in ways that – and challenging you to think in ways that you haven’t thought before. 

So when you take people that are in this moment in time, in their growth as a person that we’re they’re, you know, they’re able to apply things that they learned in theater class to what they’re, you know, learning in their public policy class, in ways that they wouldn’t have seen overlap, they’re seeing it, and when you apply that kind of person and throw them into a program where their whole purpose is to go listen, partake in stories, and then kind of regurgitate those in ways that can make a difference.  It’s a perfect match because what happens is these students come in, they are willing to rough it.  Will sleep in barns.  Will sleep on floors.  I wanna work with the family.  I wanna plant beans.  Just throw me, I will do anything.  I wanna learn.  I wanna be a part of this.  And there is just this sheer enthusiasm and energy, and then yet, there’s a real sense of like mission and purpose, and here is what we’re here to do. 

But what happens is, you know, the relationships that I have seen that our students have forged with the organizations and the individuals on the ground are really, really profound because, you know, they’re not worried about a gazillion other things that they have to do.  More often than not, they know more about the organizations than a lot of the volunteers and staff that they’ll meet on the ground because, for three months, they have been so excited in preparing and reading everything that they can get their hands on. 

So what we’re able to do for our organization is to say we’re not just sending you a team to come in for a week and do, you know, a five-minute video for you, we’re sending you seven, very optimistic, very energetic, very talented creative young people that wanna come in and more or less dedicate a year of their life to your organization, to understanding it, to telling your stories, and then being a champion and advocate for your cause, and that’s not found many other places, and, you know, we’re lucky that we’re able to do that because, you know, this is how Students of the World started.  It has been a very organic growth as an organization, but that, I think, is something that we’re able to give to our organizations that I really only in the past year have started to really appreciate.