Jivika Rajani ’17 has been a social entrepreneur since her teenage years and didn’t even know it.
While attending high school in Dubai, she started a photography competition. Charging a small fee for every entry and using her lunch breaks to gather and tally votes, Rajani raised close to $1,000 dollars for the Dubai Autism Center in just over a month.
Driven by her project’s success, she went on to organize a second-hand book sale to raise money for charity and sent the unsold contributions to refugee children in Syria.
Following these entrepreneurial steps, Rajani continued to blaze trails at Pomona, becoming a founding member of Claremont Splash, an organization that brings low-income high school students to college campuses to experience a weekend of inventive co-curricular programming. She also co-founded Pomona’s Kathak Club, an organization dedicated to Indian classical dance.
These experiences gave Rajani the confidence to trust in her ideas and ability to execute them, but she still wondered why more students didn’t take such risks when the payoff of helping their communities was so rewarding.
Now in her senior year at Pomona, the environmental analysis and media studies major has plans to channel her drive for social entrepreneurship and mentor others in cities in the United Arab Emirates and in India.
“‘Social entrepreneurship,’ I learnt, is a method of action that uses simple, yet innovative and often scalable methods to empower people to tackle large and seemingly intractable social problems such as poverty, access to education and even climate change,” says Rajani.
As one of the recipients of the 2017 Napier Award, she has been awarded $15,000 for a project that advances endeavors for peace, social justice and environmental sustainability.
Started in 2011, the Napier Fellows program matches Claremont Colleges students with mentors at Pilgrim Place, a senior community in Claremont that is home to individuals who spent their careers in religious and charitable nonprofit work. At Pomona, students with project proposals are selected through the Draper Center for Community Partnerships and a faculty panel, led by Professor of Sociology and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies Gilda Ochoa. At the end of the year, select Napier fellows are awarded a prize to pursue their projects. The other Pomona fellows whose projects were finalists for the prize were Maria Rose Pettis ’17 and Andikan Archibong ’17.
Thanks to her funding from the Napier Initiative, Rajani will create and run social innovation and entrepreneurship boot camps for almost 250 high school students in Dubai and Pune, India.
Through these boot camps, Rajani anticipates students will gain in-depth exposure to principles of social entrepreneurship, learn lessons from successes as well as failures of social initiatives started by other young entrepreneurs, and also have the opportunity to form teams and pitch their own ideas for projects that can make a difference in their schools and/or wider communities.
She’ll develop the camp curriculum with renowned social entrepreneur Scott Sherman of the Transformative Action Institute (who is at the Kravis Leadership Institute at Claremont McKenna College). She also is partnering with Teach For India in Pune and a network of international schools in Dubai to recruit student participants.
The reason for choosing the UAE and India as her boot camp locations is personal. She spent most of her childhood in Dubai and has worked in and visits Pune every year, where her grandparents live.
Even though Dubai and Pune are quite different in socioeconomic terms, Rajani’s personal experience leads her to believe that the program would be successful and beneficial for students in both cities.
The current attitude among many young Indians is that the country is too bureaucratic to effect change from within, and Rajani wants to change this through entrepreneurship training. In Dubai, where there is a significant population of Indian expatriate families, she’d like to equip them with social innovation ideas that will allow them to effectively give back to the UAE as well as connect them with their roots and make a difference in their hometowns in India.
She hopes to lead three social entrepreneurship sessions of one week each in December of this year in Dubai, and another couple of sessions during next year’s summer break in Pune.
Her ultimate goal is to use Napier funding to fully establish her project and then incorporate its programs into a non-profit that is both youth-focused and youth-led.
When asked about her career goals, Rajani says she’s interested in the intersections of media, marketing, sustainability and social impact. Currently she is an intern at OddLot Entertainment – the production company behind the Oscar-nominated film "Hell or High Water"– where she provides feedback on the writing quality of screenplay submissions and also pitches original stories for further development.
“There may not be a ready-made path for me to follow, but I think it’s clear I have no problem creating my own!”