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Sowing the seeds of change: Medical students pen book on leadership, action and social innovation

Back in 2002, Stanford medical student Jennifer Przybylo traveled from her home state of Illinois to Washington, DC to attend the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, which honors middle- and high-school students for outstanding community service. During an ice-breaker session, she met West Virginia resident Nina Vasan, and the two became fast friends. They remained close through college and medical school, and this week the duo are releasing their first book, Do Well Good.

As Przybylo explains in the following Q&A, the book aims to sow the seeds of social responsibility by guiding "young adults through the process of effecting positive, sustainable change in their communities starting from square one." Do Well Good helps readers understand their core values and personal strengths, identify causes matching their interests and skill set, and generate and refine potential solutions with a strong emphasis on “out-of-the-box” thinking. It also includes major tenets to consider when formulating and implementing an action plan and “how-to” chapters on everything from fundraising to establishing a 501(c)(3). Mixed in are anecdotes, humorous illustrations and case studies to keep things interesting.

Below Przybylo discusses what inspired her and Vasan, who starts her residency at Stanford in July, to author the book and how she hopes to advance the larger public movement toward greater social responsibility.

What was the catalyst for writing the book?

The seed was actually planted at the same ice-breaker session where we met. Discussion in our group had turned to the lack of what we felt was a good "how-to" manual for social change. All the existing resources were either too theory-based and not accessible to the average student or way too simplistic. There was a need for a book that combined theory and evidence-based practice with real experience, personal anecdotes and skill-building exercises. Nina and I took up this challenge in college, hoping to create a resource that would help students and young adults make lasting, sustainable changes in their communities. Along the way, we asked other students whose work we respected to join the effort and take the helm of a subset of chapters related to their specific areas of expertise. The end result is a cooperative effort built on the collective experiences (both successes and failures!) of many young leaders from founders of non-profits to social entrepreneurs and political activists. And because we wanted the book to be a fun read, we made sure to add a dash of humor and good spirit wherever possible!

How did your commitment to social responsibility take root and evolve over the years?

My first community service experiences were those sponsored by my grade school, the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Chicago. The school made a number of service opportunities available to us and encouraged us to complete a certain number of volunteer hours by graduation. These experiences made a strong impression on me at an early age. When I went through a particularly difficult time in high school, I found that I naturally gravitated toward volunteer work to help the homeless. It was a great comfort to know that I could help others, even if only in some small way. In college, I began to incorporate my longstanding interest in medicine into my activities, working to advance the efforts of Students for Organ Donation and serving as a peer health educator on campus. It was also during college that my co-author and I began work on this book. We felt that while our individual service experiences were personally fulfilling and a big part of who we were (and are!), we could make an even bigger impact by writing a book to help fill the void in the young adult literature on this topic. Seven years and several units of blood, sweat, and tears later, it’s our hope that Do Good Well will help those with an interest in social responsibility turn their good intentions into effective, lasting change in their communities.

I also don’t think it’s any coincidence that both my co-author and I are medical students. Medicine is a phenomenal career path for those interested in social responsibility. We both feel extremely lucky to be in a field that allows us to serve others on a daily basis, with ample opportunities for both patient and political advocacy. This is a particularly exciting time for medicine with many opportunities to work for changes that will lead to better care and ultimately healthier patients.

How does the Do Good Well website compliment the book?

While we’ve witnessed the larger societal movement toward greater social responsibility build up a lot of steam in the last few years, we haven’t seen enough progress toward uniting young adults in this movement. We launched to create a supportive network for these young leaders – a place where readers can join the community and benefit from resources like mentors, partners, and funding. Though it’s still a work in progress, our hope is that the website will really reinforce the messages in the book and help others put them into practice.

A portion of the author royalties from the book will go to the Do Good Well Fund. What is this fund and what programs or projects does it support?

The Do Good Well Fund is a social impact fund that will invest in young leaders with innovative ideas for solving today’s most pressing social problems. The fund will launch later this year and our goal is to identify students and young adults who have created novel services or technologies and partner with them to launch and improve their ideas. It’s our hope that by providing a bit of seed funding as well as mentorship from our team, we can help get promising ideas off the ground and effect change together. The fund is really important to us as it allows book sales themselves to fuel change in the community.

Photo by USFS Region 5

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