By Brooke O’Connell
All of us who eventually become interested in social enterprise have different paths to getting here, but we ultimately share the passion of doing good work for others. Ellen McNeill’s path would eventually lead her to social enterprise, but at the beginning she didn’t even known what it was.
Though co-op brought McNeill to Northeastern, Professor Shaughnessy’s global social enterprise class and a trip to South Africa for a field research program solidified her interest in working in the social space, something she had fostered since performing volunteer work in high school.
Spurred to find impactful work, McNeill applied and was then accepted for a position in TripAdvisor’s Charitable Foundation as a Charitable Foundation Intern. She started January 2016 in TripAdvisor’s Needham, MA headquarters. The foundation’s aims, as explained by McNeill, is to “alleviate human suffering” and since 2010 TripAdvisor has donated over $20 million to nonprofits around the world who address this mission.
While there, McNeill worked on several projects, including composing a presentation on employee volunteer paid time off, planning the company’s first global volunteer day, and other smaller volunteer opportunities for employees. However, she found organizing the global volunteer day the most fulfilling during her co-op, as it was a project she got to see all the way through. Perhaps what it taught her most was the sheer amount of work that goes into planning such an event. McNeill reflected, “seeing all of the intricacies of that was definitely eye opening.” Plus, as the main contact for employees regarding the event, McNeill dealt daily with motivating people to participate, which was surprisingly more challenging than she would have thought.
Regardless, according to McNeill, TripAdvisor is one of the companies “pioneering the way for technological companies and corporations who have a responsibility but just aren’t really doing anything” to practice corporate social responsibility and its foundation continues to grow; it tripled in just the six months she worked there. Leading the charge for the foundation’s mission was McNeill’s boss who single-handedly ran all of the operations of the foundation. McNeill described how she was inspired seeing “how [her boss] manages and how she responds to different problems” running the multimillion dollar foundation.
Despite this co-op being a more indirect relationship to the beneficiaries of the foundation’s money compared to some of her previous social enterprise experiences, it continued to solidify McNeill’s feeling that the social space is where she needs to be. For her, it’s not even a question. “There’s no point in being in this world if you’re not going to make a positive change,” she stated.
For those who are looking for ways to get involved in the social space, McNeill advises to get involved in school or the local community. For Northeastern students, consider working with a social enterprise or nonprofit for your next co-op, as it’s only a six-month commitment; whether you enjoy it or not, McNeill reminds us to “look at everything as a learning experience.” The beauty of social enterprise is that it’s a humanizing field. Going into the field, meeting people who are affected by the suffering you are helping to alleviate, and doing work puts things into perspective. McNeill encourages those who are overwhelmed by the idea of where to start to know that “social change doesn’t have to be so structured.” Instead let it permeate our attitudes and the way we go about our daily lives. As she explains in simple words, “Be kind.”