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Students reflect on once-in-a-lifetime global experience

Photo of Caitlin behind a camera

Fourth-year political science and international affairs major Caitlin Morelli reflects on her five-​​month mis­sion to build rela­tion­ships with the world’s most inno­v­a­tive social enter­prises.

Matt Bilotti, DMSB’15, and Caitlin Morelli, SSH’16, settle into the gray plastic chairs at a high-​​top table in after­HOURS, the pop­ular study space in the Curry Stu­dent Center. Time is short—their day is filled with meet­ings and interviews—but their col­lec­tive esprit is high, their desire to share per­sonal anec­dotes and life-​​defining lessons par­tic­u­larly strong.

It’s Wednesday, May 20, and Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun’s first two Global Offi­cers have returned to campus for a brief respite from trav­eling the world. By Friday, he will be in Texas and she Peru, two glo­be­trot­ters back on the road for their final month of this once-​​in-​​a-​​lifetime experience.

And they wouldn’t have it any other way. “The adren­a­line,” says Bilotti over the din of com­merce, “is still there.”

Where in the world were Bilotti and Morelli?

Bilotti’s journey—a five-​​month mis­sion to pio­neer new part­ner­ships with the world’s top entre­pre­neurial leaders—began in Jan­uary in London. The first 120-​​some-​​odd days of his adven­ture were marked by change, the only con­stants his single suit­case and his smartphone.

I didn’t have a normal form of cul­ture shock,” he says, “because I was forced to con­front a new lan­guage and a new way of doing things every week.”

Bilotti vis­ited 19 coun­tries, including Sin­ga­pore, Switzer­land, and South Africa, where he net­worked with the movers and shakers in the startup industry. His favorite startup in all of Europe, he says, is Wooga, a Berlin-​​based mobile-​​first game devel­oper. “They cel­e­brate failure as a true learning expe­ri­ence,” he wrote in his Global Officer blog, noting that the ven­ture employs one game design co-​​op per cycle. “When a game shuts down, team mem­bers go into a learning limbo where they learn new coding lan­guages, get men­tored by others in the com­pany, or build their own things.”

Morelli’s journey—a five-​​month mis­sion to build rela­tion­ships with the world’s most inno­v­a­tive social enter­prises—began in Mumbai, India, a city “packed with social entre­pre­neurs starting new ven­tures and others that are at the cusp of enor­mous growth.”

Her first four months on the road com­prised stops in 18 coun­tries, including Thai­land, Chile, and Brazil. One of her most vis­ceral expe­ri­ences took place in the kitchen of Akshaya Patra, a Bangalore-​​based non­profit that runs a daily school lunch pro­gram for some 1.4 mil­lion chil­dren in India.

The menu included rice and sambar, a lentil-​​based veg­etable stew. “This isn’t the kind of fac­tory food we get in the U.S.,” Morelli wrote in her Global Officer blog. “This is hygienic, healthy, deli­cious food cooked with the cus­tomer in mind—kids!”

 

All about that blog

Bilotti and Morelli have remained con­nected to the North­eastern com­mu­nity through social media, doc­u­menting their jour­neys on Twitter, Insta­gram, and their afore­men­tioned Global Officer blogs.

Morelli is par­tic­u­larly keen on inspiring stu­dents through her blog posts, many of which focus on the social entre­pre­neurs she’s met and the com­pa­nies they’ve founded.“I’ve posted photos, videos, and write-​​ups of these orga­ni­za­tions in order to moti­vate stu­dents to become more aware of what’s hap­pening in the world,” she says. “The blog,” she adds, “is focused on cre­ating con­tent that will out­last my stay at North­eastern and piquing the interest of stu­dents who want to do co-​​ops in these coun­tries and at these organizations.”

Her Feb. 4 blog post high­lighted the social entre­pre­neur­ship ecosystem in India, where human­i­tar­ians have been using busi­ness prin­ci­ples to solve prob­lems in fields ranging from organic farming to renew­able energy. A social entre­pre­neur named Nilima, Morelli noted, is but one of the many “cool people doing cool things” in Mumbai, where she is working to pro­mote gender equality and sex education.

If I’ve learned any­thing from these sto­ries,” Morelli blogged, fol­lowing her meeting with Nilima in a Mumbai coffee shop, “it’s that life some­times tells us where to go instead of the other way around.”

Bilotti, for his part, has focused on spot­lighting well-​​connected young alumni and telling the startup story, typing up post after post on new ven­tures in cities ranging from Dublin to Ams­terdam. But one of his most poignant write-​​ups derived from a more per­sonal expe­ri­ence. His April 29 entry, titled “Hit­ting the Pause Button,” delved into the recent death of his grand­mother, which forced him to cancel his trip to Cape Town, South Africa, in order to return home to New York to attend her funeral.

The expe­ri­ence, he says, has taught him a valu­able lesson: “It’s really easy to get wrapped up in some­thing that’s exciting and then forget what’s really impor­tant in life,” he explains. “I couldn’t be hap­pier that I did go home, because being there for my family showed me that some­times you have to put your own stuff aside.”

If you build it…

Bilotti and Morelli say that their global expe­di­tions have shaped their career paths. That pio­neering new oppor­tu­ni­ties in new places for cur­rent and future cohorts of North­eastern stu­dents has made it easier for them to foresee their own futures.

Bilotti—a fifth-​​year major in busi­ness admin­is­tra­tion with a con­cen­tra­tion in entre­pre­neur­ship and new ven­ture management—wants to build his own com­pany from the ground up. He plans to grad­uate in August and then stay in Boston, where he’ll have access to his new net­work of global men­tors, advisers, and investors.

A ven­ture cap­i­talist whom he met in Sydney, Aus­tralia, has already offered him a par­tic­u­larly per­ti­nent piece of career advice: “Don’t just focus on a spe­cific market,” Bill Bartee, the cofounder of Black­bird Ven­tures, told him. “If you build a com­pany, make it a global busi­ness from day 1.”

Morelli—a fourth-​​year com­bined major in polit­ical sci­ence and inter­na­tional affairs—is an aspiring social entre­pre­neur. And though she is unsure of her first career move, she is par­tic­u­larly cog­nizant of the com­mit­ment and ded­i­ca­tion it will take to effect global change.

After trav­eling from country to country, I now want to pick one place and get to know it well,” she says. “I’m very mindful of sus­tain­ability and I want to ground myself.”

She adds: “The most suc­cessful people who I’ve met on this journey are those who know how to take advan­tage of an oppor­tu­nity when it comes up. Hope­fully I’ll be able to rec­og­nize the oppor­tu­ni­ties that come my way and then act on them.”

-By Jason Kornwitz

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