On a Friday afternoon at Babson College, a group of brainstormers, idea generators, and generous thinkers looking to lend a hand gathers in Park Manor West.
The occasion is Ideas in Motion, an exercise in which attendees help an organization, one facing a challenge and looking for next steps, become unstuck and move forward. The help the attendees provide isn’t meant to be an exhaustive, definitive, be-all-end-all solution. Rather, the help they offer is simple yet specific: a connection, a resource, a piece of advice.
“We are not here to solve the problem. That’s not what this is about,” Cheryl Kiser, the executive director of Babson’s Institute for Social Innovation, tells those in Park Manor West. “We are here to help them take the next step in the direction of what they want to achieve. We are here helping them think about the challenge and move them along.”
The guest at this particular Ideas in Motion is Ashley Calabrese, the vice president of health and life sciences at Family Reach, a Boston-based nonprofit dedicated to removing the financial barriers standing between cancer patients and their treatment.
Hearing from the Babson community, a group not only outside the healthcare sector but also one filled with the entrepreneurial mindset, appeals to Calabrese. “I’m looking for solutions outside our industry,” she says. “That is the type of creativity we don’t have access to.”
Making up the attendees at Park Manor West are Babson students, staff, and alumni, and after Kiser and Calabrese make introductions, the group goes to work. Ideas in Motion events move quickly, with attendees having roughly 20 minutes to come up with their suggestions. There is no time to waste.
The roots of Ideas in Motion go back a decade or more, when Babson would host brainstorming sessions focused on food entrepreneurs and the issues they were facing. Those sessions eventually evolved to include businesses of all types, and they have occurred on campus and in places far from Babson Park. Kiser has witnessed attendees offer all sorts of help through the years. “You never know what people will come up with,” she says.
Attendees have offered internships and connections that ultimately led to jobs. In one memorable session, an entrepreneur needing to travel to China received an offer of a flight on a private jet.
Sometimes individuals present personal challenges they are facing at sessions. Once, someone confessed they always wanted a walk-on part in a movie, and an attendee offered a connection to an agent in Hollywood. Another knew someone in director Steven Spielberg’s organization.
In another session, an entrepreneur was trying to build her budding brand of tote bags, so Kiser offered to buy one and then show it to five other people. That spread the word about the bags and resulted in others buying more of them. The entrepreneur was grateful. “She named the bag after me,” Kiser says.
Typically, most offers of help, or “gifts” as they’re known at Ideas in Motion events, aren’t so dramatic. An attendee may just pass along a helpful article to read, or a new sales approach that might be worth trying. Those gifts may be small, but they are actionable and can help an organization take on whatever issue confronts them. “We won’t solve the whole puzzle,” Kiser says. “We’ll give them pieces to the puzzle.”
Participating in sessions doesn’t require doing any homework or having any special knowledge. Attendees just need to be positive and willing to help. “There is no preparation whatsoever,” Kiser says. “You don’t have to know anything. We use our resources at hand. It’s about who you are and what you know.”
At the Ideas in Motion event at Park Manor West, which took place as part of Global Entrepreneurial Leadership Week, a celebration of the power of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial leadership, Calabrese outlines the challenge Family Reach is facing. The nonprofit, she says, is looking to create relationships with for-profit companies that yield new and innovative revenue streams.
“We are here to help them take the next step in the direction of what they want to achieve. We are here helping them think about the challenge and move them along.”
Cheryl Kiser, executive director of Babson’s Institute for Social Innovation
Those in attendance break into groups and get busy, thinking up ideas. Some of the attendees have come to Ideas in Motion because they’re interested in health care, while others attend because they are simply curious. Others are there because Family Reach’s mission, of helping people with cancer, is important to them.
“In my family, all the women have been survivors and warriors of breast cancer,” says Shashwat Khemani MBA’24. “I thought this was a place I could help and learn.”
One by one, the teams report their ideas, talking of people to contact and partnerships to pursue. Calabrese is impressed. “I love the out-of-the-box thinking,” she says. “I am very appreciative of all these ideas.”
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