Interview with Tyler Tornaben – Research and Project Development Assistant at the Yunus Social Business Centre

Tyler is a 2013 MA Social Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths, UoL, alumna. To find out about her journey and her super cool job the intrepid team of Golden Angle bloggers tracked her down at the Yunus Centre for Social Business, University of Florence.

What were you up to before you studied at Goldsmiths?

I was based in San Francisco and studying an undergraduate degree in community arts. While studying I worked part-time at creativity explored, a 501c3 social enterprise that worked with disabled artists to export their work locally, nationally and internationally. I was deeply interested and involved with art therapy in general and loved the work, but felt that there were more sustainable means to structure the organisation and therefore started looking at MA programs that might deepen my knowledge of the field. I came across Goldsmiths after looking at grad programs that were involved in community arts, but stumbled open the MA in Social Entrepreneurship site and thought, wow, this is exactly what I’m looking for, but didn’t know it even existed! I ended up falling in love with the Goldsmiths creative mentality combined with some of the skills that an MA in Social Entrepreneurship might provide… I also thought that it would be the best place for my new-found interest in social entrepreneurship because it was the first place to really offer a pure social enterprise MA course.

What were some of the things you felt you got out of doing this MA?

I had never considered myself a researcher before. But Goldsmiths pushed me to become more analytical/critical in considering the field and to innovate in new ways. I became 100% better at research led work, so much so I am now a researcher at the Yunus Center for Social Business at Florence University. I also realised during that time that it could be a potential future for me, as well as realising that it was an essential skill for many kinds of work in the social enterprise field, whether or not I was going to pursue only research.

What was your dissertation about?

I became really interested over the course of the year in women’s empowerment, microfinance and the Grameen Bank model. After doing some deeper research into that field, I discovered that Grameen was expanding into the US, which led me to focus my thesis on reverse innovation, the process by which social innovations spread to unlikely places. In this case I studied the way in which microfinance initiatives that were born out of solving poverty and development needs in the developing world, might be applied to the developed world. We often think of them as separate, whereas in fact there is a lot we can learn from the innovations that are created in order to tackle poverty, since we do in fact struggle with many of the same structural issues. The notion of poverty alleviation really does apply everywhere and my dissertation supported that when looking at Grameen  America vs. Grameen Bangladesh.

Super interesting! So what did that lead to?

Thanks! Well, after my research I was excited by the idea of more research-based work. I was visiting my family in Italy and stumbled upon the Yunus Centre. I had no idea that Italy had such a reputable research centre for social business! So I was thrilled and I sent them an email. A few weeks later I started working with them!

Amazing! So what are you working on right now?

Half of the time I’m doing social innovation research in general, covering many similar topics from my year with Goldsmiths. And the other part of my job is in developing a social entrepreneurship curriculum for overseas study abroad students from universities all over Europe and the U.S. So I’m constantly challenged both to utilize my research skills and my creativity, which I love!

And what next?

We shall see! I am currently thinking of pursuing a PHD program. Something I never thought I’d do but after this job and my time with Goldsmiths, I would love to continue my research in a university setting. Otherwise, I am excited to further continue my career in the social enterprise and development field working with innovative research centres like the Yunus Social Business Centre University of Florence.

To keep up with Tyler’s groundbreaking research you can follow her on Twitter @TylerTornaben