Scholars help Iraqi youth “fail better”

Scholars help Iraqi youth “fail better”

A group of students from Iraq got a unique lesson in entrepreneurship and risk-taking when they visited Denver, thanks to a connection forged by a pair of Boettcher Scholars.

Gergana Kostadinova and Kara Penn got to know one another through their involvement in the Boettcher Alumni Steering Committee and subsequent membership on the Boettcher Scholar Alumni Board.

Gergana, a 2009 Boettcher Scholar and graduate of the University of Denver, coordinates exchange programs for WorldDenver, a nonprofit community organization dedicated to advancing a deep understanding of global affairs and cultures. One of her duties included preparing a program for participants in the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program, which is sponsored and funded by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and administered by World Learning in partnership with WorldDenver. The group consisted of 11 students ages 15-17 and one adult Iraqi mentor, along with a World Learning staff member.

A specific goal of the visit was to help the students learn about entrepreneurship, so Gergana and her colleagues thought it was important for the youth to learn about how to make smart mistakes and take educated risks.

Fortunately, Kara literally wrote the book on the subject.

Kara, a 1994 Boettcher Scholar and graduate of Colorado College, and her co-author Anjali Sastry, focused on smart mistakes in their book Fail Better, which examines how people and organizations can innovate, take risks, and learn from their mistakes.

Although Kara has frequently presented on the topic, she had never done so for the age group Gergana was working with. But Kara adapted her program, and the result was a workshop that positively engaged students with a difficult topic.

“The thing that stood out to me was how open the students were,” Kara said. “They could talk in a nuanced way about the restrictions they felt in their culture around failure.”

The students carried Kara’s lessons with them throughout their visit, which also included a civic engagement workshop, volunteer project, and other lectures. Gergana noticed many of them using phrases like “fail better” and “make smart mistakes” in subsequent discussions throughout the week.

The collaboration was a great reminder for both Kara and Gergana of the power of the Boettcher community.

“It was great to know there is a Boettcher network of very successful individuals who are willing to work together,” Gergana said. “Knowing that I could reach out to Kara and be confident that she would open my email and not hesitate to ask questions or voice concerns and be willing to help me run with an idea is an incredible thing.”

Kara added that knowing a person is a member of the Boettcher community can function like a stamp of approval.

“Working with another Boettcher, you know that more often than not, things are going to go really well and that it will be an incredible opportunity,” she said.



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