Federico Mele, WG’20, received the Jacobs Impact Entrepreneur Prize last year. He reflects on how the opportunity allowed him to scale his organization and build a powerful network all over the world.

Picture a castle on Lake Zurich, a chocolate factory, and a week in London meeting over 2,000 young leaders from around the world. These images come to mind as I think about the highlights of my last six months as a Jacobs Impact Entrepreneur Fellow, an opportunity granted by the Jacobs Foundation in Zurich and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative. This fellowship and prize allows recipients to expand their education-focused social impact startup through funding and networking.

I ventured into social entrepreneurship in 2015, when I founded the Global Economic Awareness Project (GEA Project), an education and leadership development nonprofit. Inspired by my own learnings adjusting to life in the U.S., where I moved from my native Rome five years earlier, I felt that others could benefit from the developmental skills I acquired. With my team in New York, London, and Mumbai, we have been running the GEA Project alongside our full-time careers ever since.

Developing Leadership

Through GEA’s five-day interactive workshop, we analyze real-world economic issues. We guide underserved high school and college students in Asia and Africa through team-building activities and games. Ultimately, we help them develop critical thinking and decision making skills and help guide perspectives for their future, whether it’s about what career path to pursue or which public policy to support.

For the volunteers leading the workshops, GEA is also a full immersion in a local culture that allows them to enhance leadership skills outside of their comfort zone. In four years, the GEA Project has completed workshops in India, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Kenya, Botswana, and South Africa, helping over one hundred young professionals from all over the world impact more than one thousand students.

Scaling GEA Project with the help of the Jacobs Prize

One of my goals at Wharton was to take GEA to the next level, and I was looking to partner with leading corporations and organizations to impact even more socially-minded young leaders and motivated students. I decided to apply for the Jacobs Impact Entrepreneur Prize so I could scale my venture and build my network. I was thrilled to be selected as one of the first-year awardees. As a Jacobs Fellow, I progressed toward my goals while building long-lasting memories and meeting truly inspiring individuals.

At the inaugural fellowship event, for example, Jacobs Fellows from leading business schools traveled to the Jacobs Foundation in Zurich to spend a week sharing their work as social entrepreneurs. There, in a magnificent setting overlooking Lake Zurich, I met incredible individuals from Congolese startup founders to German neuroscientists working on early childhood development. We shared ideas and even went on a scavenger hunt across the medieval alleyways of Old Zurich and attended a chocolate-making session!

Meeting the other Jacobs Fellows inspired me to further pursue corporate partnerships to scale the GEA Project, and also allowed me to build solid friendships with other Fellows, some of whom will be joining GEA Project workshops in the summer of 2020.

Federico at the One Young World Summit in London

After Zurich, the Jacobs Foundation invited me to attend the One Young World Summit in London this past October. There, over 2,000 delegates from all over the world met to address issues like climate change, human rights, and education. This high-profile event, which included prominent guests like Richard Branson, Meghan Markle, J.K. Rowling, and Muhammad Yunus as well as activists and global CEOs, was a powerful opportunity to meet a diverse group of changemakers.

The Summit was also an incredibly rewarding experience for the GEA Project, as I met education leaders from Colombia who will help bring the GEA Project to Bogota in June 2020 for our first (and certainly not last) GEA workshop in Latin America.

Joining a Community

Looking back on my time as a Jacobs Fellow — and preparing for the upcoming Jacobs Foundation Global Summit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast in April — I could not be more grateful to the Foundation and to WSII, which has been incredibly supportive through mentorship from staff leaders Sherryl Kuhlman and Sandra Maro Hunt.

Join this thriving community! I encourage all first-year MBA social entrepreneurs with a focus on education to apply for the 2020 Jacobs Prize, as becoming part of this cohort will bring long-lasting value to your organizations and ever-lasting memories to your Wharton experience.

Learn more about the Jacobs Impact Entrepreneur Prize and apply by February 1.

— Federico Mele

Posted: January 17, 2020

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