Two University alumni, Julie Meyer ’79 and Lee Bodner ’91, came together on Thursday, Nov. 12 to share their experiences with students and faculty in a presentation called “Major Trends in the Non-Profit World.” Their lunchtime presentation, sponsored by Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship (PCSE), discussed the work that they have accomplished since graduating from the University.
Meyer currently serves as the Executive Director of The Next Step Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Her 30 years spent working in the nonprofit sector include volunteer, staff, and management positions. Her interest in social change, which she began cultivating even before her time at the University, has driven her throughout her career.
“I think even pre-Wesleyan I’ve kind of been interested in radical change routes,” Meyer said. “When I was a young child, a war was going on and my parents were always criticizing the war and social policy.”
This first sparked her interest in social change, and it was only reinforced upon attending the University.
“I do think a liberal arts education on a campus like Wesleyan causes you to develop a critical attitude towards society—I mean how could you not?” Meyer said. “It is probably embedded in a majority of courses here. Campuses like this do a good job of cultivating that critical view.”
Bodner currently serves as President of the New Venture Fund, a foundation that supports over 100 projects connected to global health, conservation, human rights, education, and civic participation.
While at the University, Bodner was actively connected to Middletown; his work with the Big Brother Big Sister program is part of what got him started on his current career path.
“I wanted to be connected to Middletown,” Bodner said. ”It felt like Middletown was not this other world, and I wanted that to be a part of my experience.”
The relationship that University students have with the outer world is something that Bodner feels is so unique and special about this campus.
“Wesleyan was always a place that was connected to the outside world,” he said. “One of the years I was here was the year Wesleyan got firebombed, but people here always cared not just [about what] was happening on campus but what was happening in the world around them, and I know that’s still true.”
Perhaps this strong affiliation with the outside world is one of the reasons that so many University students are so drawn to the social sector. Meyer, however, believes that chance is not purely a result of social change.
“My view is that if you are interested in social change, radical change, [or] movement building, that may or may not involve starting a nonprofit or working in a nonprofit,” she said. “I think a lot of people see nonprofits as the place where change is going to happen, but I do not think that’s necessarily true.”
According to Meyer, the fight for social change ultimately comes down to a conflict between the pre-existing powers.
“I am a big believer in organizing and organization,” she said. “When you are trying to make social change you are up against powers, but what are the powers that you are up against? You need to analyze how you can make impact, how you can change the balance of power.”
Both Bodner and Meyer feel that two of the biggest issues the social sector is facing involve income inequality and the environment.
“The issue of income inequality is one that affects all aspects of life around the world,” Bodner said. “It is affecting the social sector, too.”
Fortunately, this battle of power has not prevented many graduating students from continuing to battle larger forces. PCSE often hosts talks and panels about students interested in creating public good after graduating from the University.
“Even though there is a rise in double-bottom-line for-profit social enterprises, B Corps, innovative public sector programs, and hybrid business structures, nonprofits remain a critical component of the social sector,” said Makaela Kingsley ’98, Director of The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. “I think it is invaluable for undergrads to learn about how nonprofits work and how they are remaining nimble in support of their missions.”
There is going to be a workshop hosted by The Patricelli Center called “Ownership Matters: Legal Structures for Social Enterprise,” on Dec. 1, and another on Dec. 8 called, “Education & Career ‘Next Steps’ for Entrepreneurs.” This will continue to examine prevalent questions related to careers in the social sector.
These talks are only part of the reason that the community of University alumni in the nonprofit sector is constantly growing.
“There are tons of people that go into the social sector model, and that is not a coincidence,” Bodner said.