Rana Dajani’s advice to her audience at the University of Richmond on March 3 was to act on their ideas, even if these ideas seem impossible.
Dajani, a visiting scholar at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, spoke in the second part of the three-part Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) lecture series that the Office of the Provost put together as a part of the broader campus CIE initiative.
Dajani, a social entrepreneur and molecular biologist, founded a non-governmental organization, We Love Reading, when she lived in Jordan because she noticed children didn’t read for fun — only when it was required for school, she said.
Through Dajani’s research, Dajani said she had learned that a love for reading would begin when parents read to their children when they were young. The habit develops stronger language skills, better academic performance and greater emotional intelligence, she said. Knowing this, Dajani decided to act.
Dajani began to read to children in her community for an hour once a week at the neighborhood mosque, she said. Immediately, she saw the excitement it brought to children, and more of them showed up each week, she said.
From there, “the idea of We Love Reading transformed into a grassroots movement,” according to the organization’s website.
Now, We Love Reading has expanded to over 55 countries and founded over 4,400 libraries in a wide variety of communities, according to their website.
“[The CIE initiative] is about helping our faculty, staff and students think about how to take their projects and ideas and make a difference in the world, to have an impact beyond academics,” said Carol Parish, associate provost of academic integration and a chemistry professor.
The CIE initiative was started by UR’s five schools in 2017 to ”foster creativity, entrepreneurial ingenuity, willingness to take risks, resilience, and competence in addressing problems and challenges from multiple perspectives,” according to the UR website.
“CIE is about identifying important global problems and coming up with solutions that will work and meet the needs of the people who are experiencing the problem,” said Parish, who organized the series this semester.
Parish described the initiative as a resource to better understand creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship and provide examples of how to develop ideas. The result could be a non-profit organization or a new product, among many possibilities, she said.
The CIE lecture series opened on Feb. 25 with Bala Mulloth, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Virginia who specializes in social entrepreneurship.
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Mulloth and his colleagues developed a textile fabric that filters air pollutants. The fabric serves as an inexpensive way for people who live in urban areas to protect themselves from pollutants, Parish said.
The first two speakers in the series were intended to spark ideas and interest within students, Parish said.
“Both of these two people were great examples of the kinds of entrepreneurial work that might come out of the University of Richmond,” Parish said.
Geofrey Hammond was scheduled to speak on March 17, but his visit was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and will be rescheduled for the fall semester, Parish said. Hammond is a senior consultant at Allison Partners and an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s da Vinci Center for Innovation.
Hammond intended his lecture to be practical and show students and faculty members how to develop and act on their ideas, Parish said.
“He’s an expert in helping businesses think about how to take ideas to impact,” Parish said. “We could certainly arrange for him to continue to provide mentoring to anybody who might have ideas in the space.”
Parish said students had said they wanted more training and experience related to creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship and this initiative was in response to student demand.
“It’s directly related to the things students will be doing in their subsequent careers,” Parish said. “Whether they’re a classics major, leadership major or business major, all majors, when you’re out in the world you’re going to have to take ideas and hopefully turn them into something impactful.”
Sophomore Diana Torralba said she found just that in Dajani’s talk.
“It was really cool to see what she’s done with this idea,” said Torralba. “It’s really impacting communities around the world.”
There is another dimension to We Love Reading, Dajani said. A simple concept like reading to children can change the children’s lives but also those of the volunteers, she said.
“Suddenly these people have a purpose in life,” Dajani said.
Contact contributor Olivia Tripodi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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