Michigan Business School Honors Social Entrepreneur Lee Shainis
Alumnus shares joys, struggles of founding nonprofit organization to reduce barriers that prevent native Spanish speakers from becoming part of the community.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. When social entrepreneur Lee Shainis, BBA '99, talks about the founding of the nonprofit organization Intercambio de Comunidades in Boulder, Colorado, in 2000, his is a classic start-up story: no cash, a low-tech home office and a creative idea to meet an unmet social need.
Intercambio's mission is to reduce the language and cultural barriers that prevent native Spanish speakers from becoming part of the community. Today, more than 300 volunteers teach free evening and weekend English classes attended by more than 600 Latino adults, ages 17 to 70, and conduct field trips to familiarize students with the Boulder County community. Intercambio also holds workshops and provides resources to help Latinos meet medical, educational, residential and other social needs.
"Intercambio has become my life," Shainis told students, faculty and others who gathered to honor him at a March 16 lecture and dinner, where he received the Michigan Business School's Entrepreneur Award.
Securing initial funding is a huge hurdle when starting a nonprofit, Shainis said.
During Intercambio's first year, he worked 35 hours a week at a before-and-after-school program in addition to 60 hours a week without pay at Intercambio. The nonprofit, which raised $200,000 last year, has two full-time and three half-time employees and an 11-member board of directors.
"We failed a lot during the first couple of years," Shainis admitted. "We lost information and relied on unreliable people." Still, Shainis said, he encourages staff to take risks and make mistakes because that is how the organization learns and grows.
To be a successful social entrepreneur, Shainis said, it is important to develop plans and timelines and to be efficient, honest and humble. Intercambio volunteers and staff are encouraged to follow the platinum rule: "Treat others as they want to be treated."
Shainis already is thinking about his next project: A more effective way to measure how business schools and companies contribute to communities and to make that information accessible and transparent.
For more information, contact:
Mary Jo Frank