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Acumen Fund @ University of Michigan – Leadership through Social Enterprise

This fall, Acumen Fund partnered with the University of Michigan to teach a class on our work. All students in the course completed a leadership project focused on an issue of their choosing. One of the students, Gabby Park, chose to explore lack of access to healthcare with her project team.

I am one of 45 million Americans without health insurance today. Three summers ago, I was in a car accident that left me with a swelling bump on the back of my head. My church group was driving to visit a mosque when a huge van rear-ended us, sending contents from the trunk flying into the car, causing my head injury.

For close to three hours, I agonized over going to the ER to get treated.

And I began to think—how is this fair? How is it fair that millions of Americans and billions around the world have to make this same choice every day, often in potentially life or death situations?

After this experience, a passion alighted within me and I realized my purpose: to better understand the healthcare system and what I could do to change it. I saw social enterprise as one route to bringing innovative, community-focused ideas to an ailing, flawed system in need of greater reform.

But I had never seriously thought of myself as a social entrepreneur until signing up for the Acumen Fund class at the University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship on leading innovation through social enterprise.

Upon enrolling, I was filled with doubt: Will I learn anything?  As a leader in several student organizations and an active member in church, I felt I knew how to work in groups to achieve goals.  What would this class contribute to my knowledge that my experience had not already taught me?

Well… it turns out, a lot.

In addition to the in-class content on leadership, patient capital, and social enterprise, we also applied lessons learned in the classroom to a leadership project. The leadership project pushed us to interact with our community and taught us to put people at the center of any idea or design.  This is how my team decided to focus on lack of access to healthcare. We spoke with many different people, from the uninsured to those who had always taken insurance for granted, and learned that one of the biggest barriers to healthcare access in the U.S. is lack of knowledge.

After listening to public health professionals who spoke of the need for a comprehensive information center and reflecting on our personal experiences, my team decided to design a comprehensive call center the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area.  Anyone could call the center at any hour with questions ranging from where to find the nearest urgent care center or affordable clinics for the uninsured to health insurance policy questions.

We are now looking at how we would want to structure this organization—would it be for profit, a non-profit or a hybrid?  Focusing on funding is critical as well, and we are envisioning how patient capital could contribute to its initial development and long-term sustainability.  In addition, we are exploring how we can possibly measure its overall impact.  Our vision is to have a successful call center that has wide reach and is consistently used by the public.

If there is one thing I have learned from this class, over and over and over again, it is that people have so much to give– if we only ask.

I learned just how passionate I am about my calling, too.  And I learned how difficult it will be in the future to convince people that this issue is worthy, that it is just, and that it is in need of changing.

I may not be certain of what my future holds, but my vision is to be part of an organization that is able to provide the affordable, quality, and equal access to healthcare that I believe this country can and should provide.   This class has shown me that as long as I’m willing walk the long journey to affecting change and build systems that focus on sustainability, then, I, too, can be a social entrepreneur.

Gabby Park is a senior at the University of Michigan.

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