Social Innovation—a popular course taught by Matt Nash, Managing Director for Social Entrepreneurship at Duke I&E—was where Ruthie Kesri ’24 learned one of the most valuable lessons for any Duke student.

“I’m really, really scared of failure, and one of the things [Nash] taught us was that failure is the first step to success,” Kesri said. “We got to talk with a lot of different [social entrepreneurs], and it was really nice hearing their honest reflections on failure and leadership and how they were able to fail, time and time again, and yet create something amazing.”

Kesri, an I&E Certificate student, was also inspired by the course to take action. “We learned how to work towards tangible solutions that we can use to address really scary real-world problems,” she said.

Kesri joined the Duke-UNICEF Club, which was founded in early 2020 with the goal of “bringing UNICEF to Duke.” She added, “Our main mission is to get students more involved with different community outreach programs in Durham—to help create very tangible good in the lives of people in Durham.”

Ruthie Kesri with boxes of supplies for refugees in Durham
Ruthie Kesri ’24

Laurel Holley ’25, who chairs the club’s Durham Affairs Committee, is excited about the new partnerships they are forging with organizations like World Relief Durham, Church World Service Durham, and Urban Ministries to foster connections among Duke students and refugee populations in Durham.

Since its founding, the club has connected students to virtual internships doing online tutoring for members of the refugee community, helping to teach them English and math skills. Early this semester club members did a drive collecting hygiene and cleaning supplies for World Relief Durham, and they have been working to cultivate new partnerships with the JB Duke Hotel, the Washington Duke Inn, and the Duke University Medical Center to gather excess or unused supplies.

“So much of [my experience] has been learning how to create connections and how to interact with the people who are doing the work you want to be a part of,” Holley said.

The Duke-UNICEF Club also works to support the efforts of the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator (DUIA), a partnership between Duke and UNICEF that supports social entrepreneurs working on pressing issues facing children and youth around the world. DUIA’s first and second cohorts have been focused on solutions related to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) challenges.

Kesri is the undergraduate chair of the DUIA Student Advisory Council, which works to engage the Duke undergraduate community with DUIA entrepreneurs. “One of the greatest parts for me of being part of the accelerator is being able to speak with students who care about similar issues as you and being able to liaise with different entrepreneurs and faculty members,” Kesri said. “We gain this incredible analysis and understanding of in-depth issues facing both the Duke-UNICEF entrepreneurs and the faculty as a whole.”

Laurel Holley
Laurel Holley ’25

Holley, who also serves on the Student Advisory Council, added, “There are so many opportunities for mutual learning. […] We’re trying to make sure that our students gain a really nuanced understanding of what it is to be an entrepreneur and a social innovator within this new and very dynamic landscape.”

For those interested in social entrepreneurship, the club offers immersive education in that new and dynamic landscape. “I come from a public high school in Kentucky; I didn’t know what ‘social value creation’ meant until I took [Nash’s] class,” Kesri said.

Yet both Kesri and Holley said the most impactful part of the club for them has been learning that they have the power to effect change.

“I was a big speech and debate kid in high school, so I talked a lot about problems and I talked a lot about what potential solutions could be,” Holley said. “This is the place where I can be a part of those solutions.”

Students interested in global health, international development, women’s health, or social entrepreneurship are encouraged to join the Duke-UNICEF Accelerator Student Advisory Council to help shape the vision for DUIA’s student engagement strategy; you’ll also network with faculty, peers, and leaders in the private and public sectors. Meetings are monthly, with ~5 hours per month commitment expected. Interested? Email Ruthie Kesri with a paragraph about your background and objectives. If you’d like to attend a monthly meeting, contact Ava Wellener.