By Emily O’Connor
Before coming to Boston to attend Northeastern University, Kayla O’Neill grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. Kayla is now in her senior year of college majoring in International Affairs and Business with a concentration in Marketing. On top of her double major, Kayla will also graduate in May with a minor in Global Social Entrepreneurship. Last week Kayla and I met in the Curry Student Center to talk more about how she became interested in social entrepreneurship during her time at Northeastern and how she envisions its role in her career after college.
As a freshman at Northeastern, Kayla was actively involved with the civic engagement program on campus which led her to participate in many community service activities. Through these volunteer experiences, she began to learn more about various types of nonprofits and different types of social impact work. Kayla volunteered regularly as a tutor at 826, which is a national nonprofit that provides access to free writing and tutor services to under-resourced children. She also interned for Greenpeace and participated in the Millennium Campus Network Conference when it was hosted at Northeastern in 2013. These experienced continued to fuel Kayla’s interest and passion for social impact.
As a business major, she was unsatisfied with the traditional profit seeking model in regards to enterprises. However, so far in her coursework Kayla had only learned about corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a means to utilize business for social impact work. Becoming more involved with the Social Enterprise Institute (SEI) opened up a whole new world of possibility for Kayla in regards to how business could be used for social impact. During her community service and volunteering experiences, Kayla observed that although many nonprofits are well-intentioned, they often operate inefficiently or lack the proper resources to scale. In her sophomore year of college Kayla took SEI’s 2206 course and saw how traditional business practices could be combined with good intentions to create impactful models for change. She began working with a student led venture called Lan Academy, which worked in the educational sector in India. This sparked her interest in the region and led Kayla to travel on a Dialogue of Civilizations program to India directed by SEI professor Sarah Minard. While learning about social enterprise work in India, Kayla recalls that one of the most important lessons she learned there was about listening. “In order to be an effective consultant, you have to be able to listen first,” Kayla says. She goes on to explain how working with the Center for Social Innovation Management in India taught her the importance of collaborating with the community when you are trying to think of how best to create social impact. Working with what already exists and with what the community is already doing is essential to creating lasting, sustainable change.
Since that trip to India, Kayla has become more formally involved with SEI. She currently manages communications for the SEI Student Association and works with various student led projects. This has been a way to combine what she has learned from her classes in business and marketing with her passion for community development. In addition to being a leader on campus through SEI, Kayla is currently finishing her third and final co-op with the charitable foundation at TripAdvisor where she is expanding her knowledge regarding corporate philanthropy.
As she looks to her future with her graduation drawing near, Kayla hopes to pursue a career after college that will provide her the opportunity to continue working in social enterprise. She is particularly interested working to bridge the gap between social impact organizations and the investors, donors, and clients they work with through improved and strategic communication, branding, and marketing.
When she is not working with students at Northeastern to help change the world, Kayla enjoys doing yoga and is an avid podcast listener. She has rounded out her experience at Northeastern by also completing co-ops at Bose and Amazon. As Kayla and I wrapped up our conversation in Curry, her closing words were a call to action to encourage students to become connected with the SEI network. If you are a fellow social entrepreneur on campus, Kayla would love to get to know you and connect you to the broader network of resources and community at Northeastern. Or if you are in need of a good podcast recommendation, she a great person to talk to about that too!