Laurie Pickard was a middle school teacher in a low-income bilingual neighborhood in North Philadelphia. She later became a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua. She followed that up by working for organizations focused on improving agriculture and rural communities. While working for not-for-profits, Laurie began to believe that business can be a force for good.
She began looking into Masters of Business Administration programs. Laurie and her husband were both living on not-for-profit incomes in Rwanda. There would be financial and logistic challenges for Laurie to pursue her dream. It was hard for her to imagine going tens of thousands of dollars in debt or being absence from her husband and work she loved.
Laurie Pickard is now planning to earn an MBA in three years for less than $1,000. She’s taking Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from Harvard, Yale and University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School while keeping her full-time job at USAID in Kigali, Rwanda. Laurie is not alone in determining that it is a great time to pursue a dream.
- Maya living in Kenya is pursuing her dream to open her own wholesale clothing shop. She began her pursuit by securing a $175 loan on Kiva.org to purchase bales of material for resale.
- Jennifer Redfearn was able to pursue her dream to produce a movie. The movie was to bring attention to the people living in the low lying Carteret Islands in the South Pacific being displaced by rising sea waters. Jennifer was able to raise the money for the films post production on Kickstarter.com. Her film was then nominated for an Academy Award.
- Paul McCarthy’s dream was to improve the life of his 12 year son Leon who was born without fingers. Paul found people via YouTube to help him 3D print a prosthesis for 5 to 10 dollars that can be reprinted as Leon’s hand grows. This is instead of paying $20,000 to $30,000 for a device that would only fit for a couple of years.
MOOCs, crowdfunding, and 3-D printing, like any disruptive technology (i.e., the internet), have their critics on their potential impact. MOOCs have received the most negative press lately. Articles describe low course completion rates and highlight other early challenges. Former Yale President and now Coursera President Richard Levin addressed these concerns recently in an interview with Charlie Rose. Levin described completion rates as silly. Levin cited the Yale University course taught by Nobel Prize winner and Yale professor Bob Shiller earlier this year. 160,000 people signed up for the course, 85K actually started it, 20,000 people completed the work and 10,000 took the final exam. The number of students completing this one course is more than double the students Professor Shiller had taught in his 30 year at Yale.
Levin described how MOOCs have changed people’s lives. A woman in Bangladesh was in an abusive relationship with her husband. She escaped the situation to pursue starting a bakery. She took MOOC classes in Accounting, Marketing and how to run a small business. She is now running a successful bakery and attributes it to the MOOC classes from Coursera. Levin also described a young man in Africa who couldn’t find a job. He took an accounting class from Wharton Business School and then was hired by KPMG.
Even if you can’t afford the $1,000 that Laurie had to come up with, you can:
- Rent out your home or apartment on Airbnb
- Sell stuff around your home on eBay
- Do odd jobs or tasks for people with Taskrabbit or Mechanical Turk.
What if your dream required getting your message out? For less than $200 for three years, you can buy a URL and have them host your website. You could use the free WordPress software (that powers 22% of websites) and many of the thousands of free plugins like Google Analytics. You could then use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and free email to help broadcast your message.
Laurie, Maya, Jennifer and Paul found ways to pursue dreams that were not available a decade ago. Their creativity and grit is an inspiration to all of us. They are showing us that it may never be a better time to make almost anything happen.