UWindsor Environmental Engineering Student Helps Fund Educational Initiatives in India Through Social Enterprise

Dylan Verburg is a second year graduate studies student in Environment Engineering.  He is also the co-founder of INpact COLLECTIVE, a social enterprise aimed at importing artisan products from India and reselling them in Canada. The profits gained help promote educational empowerment in India. We had a chance to sit down with Dylan and ask him a few questions about his venture. 

How did I get into the social entrepreneurship space and why?
 
I think I have always been a bit curious and someone who thinks outside the box. My parents encouraged me to pursue my passions and follow through on my commitments. While living in India I quickly built a connection with three kids who lived near the site where I was working. Unlike other parts of India, these kids and others in this area weren’t receiving the education they needed in order to excel and have a good life.  In an attempt to help change their fate, I reached out to friends and colleagues (my founding partner, Aditi, being the most responsive and supportive) and quickly realized that this problem is common in that area and there are difficulties involved in trying to register undocumented citizens in school. I also learned that the cost of sending these kids to school was reasonable. I realized it would be possible to change the lives of these kids and many like them at a relatively low cost per child. After weeks of contemplating if I would have the time and ability to help connect these kids with an education, I realized it was feasible. I sent off an email to the EPICentre to ask if they could help bring my vision to life. Not having a business background — my formal education is in environmental engineering — starting my own business was very intimidating. I knew once I sent that email though, that in my mind I wouldn’t let myself turn back. From there we have had a lot of difficulties and growing pains, but it has been well worth all the time and effort.
 
Briefly describe what you do?
 
I have always found the best ideas to be ones that are relatively simple. What we do definitely falls into that category. We import beautiful Indian artisan products: shawls, pashminas, leather weekender and messenger bags, and decor — India has a very proud tradition and deep history of artistry. We resell these products in Canada and use the profits to promote educational initiatives in India. We hope to be part of the change that helps bring education and drive social change. 
 
What advice do you have for individuals who want to go into social entrepreneurship but don’t know where to start?
 
If you are really committed to doing it I would recommend reading as much as you can about the issue you want to fight for and seek advice from inspiring individuals. I have always been a huge fan of Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX, PayPal), Ed Catmull (Pixar), Bill Gates (Microsoft) to mention a few. Many of them are interested in helping out aspiring innovators and difference makers and frequently share reading lists as well as books about their life, vision, struggles and successes. This is a direct lens into their life and has been huge in shaping the person I am today.
 
Do you have any suggested books, podcasts, or articles people can refer to so they can learn more about social innovation?
 
For most of high school and undergrad, I stopped reading. I rationalized that I didn’t have enough time, that I was already busy enough with school and sports, etc. Once I committed to actively reading again, I started one of the biggest growth periods of my professional life. Although it’s hard to choose a favourite book, the following have been great for influencing and molding my thought process:
  • Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration – Ed Catmull
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harrari
  • Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE – Phil Knight
  • Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
 
I have always really liked Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. Although I don’t agree with a lot of his business practices, I think he is a great speaker and offers some great advice in this speech. 
 
Finally, I also really find the pale blue dot speech by Carl Sagan to be great for really putting things into perspective.