Attention social entrepreneurs: ‘Start small but think big’

March 28, 2014 11:00 AM

Hannah Dean

Aspiring social entrepreneurs should “be humble, embrace failure, reframe problems and start small but dream big,” Liz Ogbu told an audience at Tulane University during her lecture for the NewDay Social Entrepreneurship Distinguished Speakers Series on Wednesday (March 26).

Social innovation strategist Liz Ogbu

Trained as an architect, Liz Ogbu describes having four roles in her day-to-day work: expert citizen, storyteller, translator and systems thinker. (Photo from Liz Ogbu)

A self-described designer, urbanist and social innovation strategist, Ogbu talked about design thinking and its various manifestations in her career. She spoke in the Freeman Auditorium at the Woldenberg Art Center.

Ogbu has worked internationally on multiple projects related to social innovation, design and international development, partnering with clients ranging from Nike to Unilever to PG&E. Trained as an architect, she said that she fulfills four roles in her day-to-day work: that of the expert citizen, storyteller, translator and systems thinker.

The best way to summarize her work, she said, is “synthesizing different types of knowledge to create disruptive innovations.”

Ogbu worked for several years at, a consultancy that helps foundations and nonprofits create innovative solutions to global problems. In one project, Ogbu and a team worked with Unilever and two United Nations-based organizations to address the lack of access to clean water in Nairobi, Kenya.

The team conducted interviews with more than 50 community members to understand the problem and build an effective plan. They eventually created a business model called SmartLife that continues to provide clean water to that community.

Ogbu, who is on the faculty of the University of California–Berkeley and Stanford University, has worked on projects related to public health, community rebuilding and education in Nigeria and Tanzania, as well as in Oakland, Calif., and San Francisco.

She said that many people interested in design thinking ask her where they should begin, as the field can seem overwhelmingly broad.

“There isn’t one true path — choose work based on what your passion is,” Ogbu said.

Hannah Dean is a first-year Newcomb-Tulane College student.

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000