Entrepreneurship as a catalyst for social change

How storytelling helps innovative founders inspire, empower, and educate a new generation.

Our blog series on issues in entrepreneurship features 36|86 insiders exploring topics including self-care, the importance of women’s voices in the startup economy, and why community is critical.

Today, a chat about entrepreneurship as a catalyst for social change. Meet Ahmed Badr, founder and CEO of Narratio; and Courtney Hale, founder, executive director, and Chief Hope Dealer of Knowledge Bank.

Courtney Hale, Knowledge Bank

What inspired you to take the path you’ve chosen as an entrepreneur and change agent?

Ahmed
My journey started in high school — not that long ago — when I got an invitation to go to a journalism conference in Washington, DC. It was absolutely life-changing. At the same time I was struggling with identity — what does it mean to be Iraqi, American, a refugee, Muslim?

My writing became an outlet for me on a personal level, and then I thought, ‘This is nice but it’s just for me,’ and that’s how a year and a half later I ended up starting Narratio — an online global platform for young people to publish their work.

Courtney
I’m somewhat of an unlikely entrepreneur. I wasn’t one of those people who always had a hustle — some people are born with the entrepreneurial bug and grow up selling snacks or cutting grass. That wasn’t me.

I reached a juncture in my career, coming out of the financial services industry during the recession and transitioning to healthcare. I thought a lot about the important role financial literacy plays in people’s lives, and wanted to figure out how to leverage my expertise plus my personal experience with money issues earlier in my life.

So I started a nonprofit and began hosting youth workshops on financial literacy during the summer. That was my introduction into anything entrepreneurial, and we just took off from there.

How do you view your role in identifying and solving societal and economic issues in your community?

Ahmed
My role is storyteller and someone who can create different spaces for expression through stories — platforms for people to express themselves. I am a former refugee, so that is a group that I feel deeply connected to.

As a young person it’s really important to express yourself to the world. And it’s not just so you can figure out personally what you’re going through, but to more fully understand the world and to gain a deeper understanding of the people all around you.

Courtney
I’ve challenged myself throughout my life with a mandate: Fix it — for yourself, your world, your community. I believe that someone in my circumstances, with the opportunities I’ve enjoyed, has a responsibility to create a path for those coming up behind me.

I’m an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Tennessee State. I teach from a passionate place, far beyond just the concepts in the textbooks. I bring in other entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders to talk to my class, and I introduce my students to the programs, organizations, and mentors I’ve had access to like LaunchTN and the Nashville Entrepreneur Center.

Entrepreneurship isn’t on the radar for a lot of people from black and brown communities. I believe that part of my role is changing that reality, and making entrepreneurship more available to all.

Why is storytelling critical to creating a platform for progress?

Ahmed
I think it comes down to creating different spaces for young people to claim as their own. Especially with refugees, the narrative has been co-opted by institutions and media outlets. But when you give young people a chance to tell their stories on their own terms, it becomes much more genuine to the individual’s future and to the communities they’re working with and they represent.

Courtney
Stories connect us. Most of us have a story or experience that resonates with others. In my case, I messed up at one time in my life financially because I was not taught as a child how to deal with money. Sharing that reality with others makes them more comfortable to address what may feel like insurmountable challenges or to be honest about their own circumstances and need for guidance.

Our work is to inspire, empower, and educate at an early age, and that helps address issues related to poverty, such as underemployment, excessive indebtedness, and poor health. When people connect their story to our mission, there are deep implications.

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