• Jerrid P. Kalakay

Episode 31 - Social Entrepreneurship as a Pathway to Happiness with Mohit Mukherjee

In this episode, we explore social entrepreneurship and social impact work as a pathway to finding true happiness with Mohit Mukherjee Founding Director of the Center for Executive Education at the United Nations Mandated University of Peace in Costa Rica.  Mohit shares how growing up in the streets of Paris and Calcutta left an indelible mark on his worldview and instilled a desire to create more social justice.  His work up to this point in his life has taken on many different paths and chapters if you will but his mission has been to build transformational learning experiences that combine heart and head to help people develop the skills and mindset to flourish in a rapidly changing world.

Biography of Mohit Mukherjee

Mohit is founding Director of the Centre for Executive Education at the University for Peace (UPEACE), headquartered in Costa Rica. In this role, he has developed and taught over 50 seminars in eight countries on themes ranging from ‘Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Social Change’ to ‘Designing Your Life’.

Prior to this role, he served as VP of Programs at Watson U and Education Program Manager of the Earth Charter Initiative, an international nonprofit organization. He also spent four years at A.T. Kearney management consultants. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from Stanford University and did his Master’s at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Mohit was born in Greece to Indian parents and currently lives in Florida, spending a week per month in Costa Rica.


Diploma in Social Innovation:

VIA Strengths Finder Free Test:

Martin E.P. Seligman’s Book Flourish:

Big Talk at Ashoka U on Well-being and SE:

Earth Charter Initiative:

#upeace #costarica #socialinnovation


Jerrid Kalakay 0:09

Welcome to the teaching change podcast where we explore she's a social entrepreneurship, education, and innovation. I'm your host Jerrid Kalakay. On today's episode, we're talking to Mo Mo hit Mukherjee of University of peace, and a bunch of other things. Moment. Welcome to the program. Thanks so much Jerrid. So moment, I know that you've been involved in social entrepreneurship and social innovation and change making for quite a while. But for our audience, why don't you give a introduction to yourself and kind of your work?

Mohit Mukherjee 0:41

Yeah, sure, well, I'll go back a long way in the sense that my dad worked for an airline, which meant that my family moved every three or four years. So growing up, I was actually born in Europe, and then to the bottom was till I was five, and then we moved to India when I was five years old. And that was a shock, you know, to to see the how different the streets of let's say, Calcutta, which is where I moved as a five year olds, were from the streets of Paris, where was right before and, you know, as a young boy, I had a lot of questions from my parents, I was like, how is this possible that kids here running around barefoot, not going to school, while just yesterday, at my home in Paris, I didn't see any of this and new adults really had any good answers to those kinds of social inequalities. And no, three years later, we moved back to Europe, this time to Geneva. And again, you know, so just a different phases of my young life, I just saw that one of the world is very, very different depending on where you're born, or where you're living. And it doesn't make sense doesn't add up. And so that that was, you know, I think really marked me, this kind of going in between between India and then Europe, I ended up finishing my high school in Tokyo. And so when I, when I graduated from college, and my first job was in corporate America, I think, I think I was 25 years old, when really hit me that I had not accepted, or really pursued these questions that were very important to who I was, which is, what is my place in the world? What is my role, and I think helping to bridge some of these gaps that I had seen. And, and part of that, you know, so I'm from India, and as an Indian, I must say, I have a lot of privilege, even when I'm in India, it's not like, I am living in any way as the majority of people, unfortunately, Indian live, but I it's very visible, it's very, I'm very aware of these differences. And I felt that I had to get up out of my my job in corporate America to kind of pursue something that I felt I could make an impact of these issues I care about. So my initial move was I went into education I taught high school for for a couple of years. And I realized, well, you know, there is a lot of power, in education in in the educational field and in being with young people and in being into influence both curriculum and at a kind of interpersonal level young people. But I did feel when I was teaching in the high school, that there wasn't a curriculum that really allowed for the exploration of those questions, right around social justice around what what, what's the kind of impact you would like to make in the world, it was very much a curriculum that unfortunately, continues, I would say, the majority of schools, where it's geared towards getting into college, it's, you know, it's the stem and the arts. And then there's not much space for exploration of issues that I think are central to the human condition. So I ended up going to grad school, I went to Harvard to study international education policy. And that's where I was, I really came explicitly, I took a course called social entrepreneurship, which was looking at innovation in education, and not just in terms of what education can do in terms of exploring that space of social justice, but also exploring different business models around education. And then the so that that was through the business school, and then to be the school event, I was able to continue exploring the, you know, curricula, and pedagogy that that can be transformative in nature, so that all of that kind of led me to this area of thinking, what is a real potential in educating change makers, both in terms of the mindset, but also in terms of the structures the curriculum, and so after, after grad school, I finished up there in 2002. And so I think the last year 1516 years, I've been exploring that space of what does it mean, to educate for for social change? What does it mean to educate? change makers? What is the curriculum look like? How is it different from a lot of things we're doing?

Jerrid Kalakay 5:35

And Mohit, would you, when you talk? You said for three years, was that in the US? Or was that abroad?

Mohit Mukherjee 5:42

But when I taught high school, yes, it was abroad, I actually wasn't. You know, I was my first job was in the US. But I wasn't. I wasn't licensed to teach in the US. I just had this hunch that as an educator, and go to make the kind of impact that I wanted to make. And so I actually got a job off of school in Ecuador. And so I taught in Ecuador, yeah.

Jerrid Kalakay 6:08

Okay. So, so you're teaching in Ecuador, and then you and then you decided to pursue in the master's program at Harvard, and education, and you saw the social entrepreneurship course? What drew you to taking that course? Was it your experience as a young man in the streets of Paris versus the streets of Calcutta, that drove you to it? or Why did you take that course?

Mohit Mukherjee 6:31

Yeah, you know, I think there's two parts to, to the what attracted me, of course, so certainly part of it was the, the experiences growing up that led me to feel that this broadly speaking, this idea of social justice, reducing inequality is was something that's very important. But the other piece of it is that when I had worked actually, in management, consulting, my first job, and there was something very clean, and simple and logical about the pure business model. During the three years, I was in a consulting firm, and it there were good three years, they were just they did good work, they grew their business. And then when I left consultant, and I went to, went to Ecuador, I noticed that the the school I was teaching at was it was much more complicated in terms of the funding models. And I there was definitely part of me that felt that just because you want to do just that, when people want to do work, that social impact kind of work, that doesn't mean that they necessarily should have to go into a nonprofit model. So part of my attraction to I remember reading the course description for this, because I had not heard the term social enterprise. Before I read the course description, it talked about the idea that it I think it mentioned something like taking best practices from the business world, and applying that to traditionally kind of nonprofit or, or mission driven organizations and vice versa. Also, the fact that, you know, there's no reason that just because you're organized as a for profit, that you can't have a very, very strong mission. And I love that idea. Also, until we're kind of breaking down the silos of profit versus nonprofit, that was certainly part of what attracted me to that social entrepreneurship course.

Jerrid Kalakay 8:34

Yeah, that makes the makes a lot of sense. It's funny. We've talked to a lot of social entrepreneurs on the program. And and one of the things almost unanimously comes out is that no one really knew what the term was. But they, but they instantly understood the term because they had seen it in practice, or it already kind of jive with their their own belief system, etc. Yeah, you know, so what's what's interesting about kind of your story is is the drive that you had to kind of create change through education. And initially, you started as a as a teacher, and then kind of that morphed and changed a little bit. And so I know that you work for the University of peace in Costa Rica, do you want to you want to talk a little bit about kind of what you do there and how you came to doing what you do?

Mohit Mukherjee 9:25

Yeah, definitely. So and, and I'll kind of connected to some of the pieces that I already mentioned. So when I was a high school teacher in Ecuador, I definitely felt that being able to spend time with people, you know, in this case, I was a physics teacher, but that the interaction and the relationship that I had with kids I felt was powerful. And I was in a place where I developed deep relationships with a lot of my students I was building, I was able to influence them. And, and, and be a mentor in many ways. I felt that that was definitely part of the kind of impact I was looking to make to my work. However, I felt quite restricted by the curriculum. So when I went to work after grad school, my first job was actually at a nonprofit called the earth charter initiative. And they I was really working on curriculum, their charter is, it's an amazing document. But in short, it's about principles for a more just sustainable, equitable and democratic global society. So that's when I got to, I realized I could, I could combine both. And I got to know the university for peace that happens to be in Costa Rica, too. So the university for peace has, it has live students, you know, unlike the earth charter office, which was an administrative office, so there was there was students around the world at the university for peace, all studying some aspect of becoming leader, that there's a leader for, for a better world, they have master's programs that range from international peace studies to gender and peace, media and peace, peace education. But what I realized is the only way to study at the University for peace was through a one year intensive master's program. And this is where, yeah, this is why I certainly influenced by a lot of kind of guest speakers that I myself had had heard during these courses, I joke at Harvard, and I realized, you know, what, there's, this is a great environment and organization for me to do the work that I'm longing to do, which is work with people develop a curriculum that is around change making, and actually not get caught up in my business and my nonprofit. And so I pitched the university peace that, Hey, you guys have this amazing mission. Amazing campus, you're very limited right now, by destruction of just having master's programs, I can set up a center, we ended up calling it a center for not for social innovation, even though that's the focus, it's called the Center for executive education. And I'd said that true that center, all our programs, will focus on this idea of, you know, taking action on these values that underpin University for PCs mission. But they look like, you know, from a three day workshop to a three week online course they will not the non credit bearing. So the, you know, much more accessible to people around the world. They don't have to come to Costa Rica for the online courses. And they certainly don't have to commit to a one year immersion so that that's how it started with a with a proposal.

Jerrid Kalakay 13:00

Gotcha. Yeah.

How did you make that leap? Did you? Did you

kind of intuitively know that they would accept your proposal? Or were you just, I'm going to give it a shot? And we'll see what happens.

Mohit Mukherjee 13:13

Yeah, you know, at that point, I had decided I kind of had the proposal in my head already to do exactly that. But to start it from scratch, so to build the organization here, and I realized that that's the work that I wasn't necessarily looking forward to everything from figuring out where would run these workshops, you know, figuring out even what I what the brand would be. And so I realized that, you know, the UPS already had a lot of what I was looking for in terms of infrastructure and recognition and brand. So so that that was what allowed me to feel that if they are accepted my proposal, a lot of a lot of the groundwork, lot of the heavy lifting around kind of infrastructure logistics, even you know, getting access to a phone line, for example. Yeah, you can take, you know, in Costa Rica, those days can take weeks, so. So I wasn't sure if they were going to say yes or no, but I just thought that it would be a great way to get a running start on something that I was ready to do one way or another.

Jerrid Kalakay 14:27

Yeah, I think that that story is a fantastic example of, a lot of times social entrepreneurs feel like they've got to do everything. And, and they end up running themselves ragged, because they don't truly focus on the things that give them energy. Whereas within that story, you realize, you were not into figuring out how to get phone lines, and how to create a brand and all these things, you were much more interested in creating the curriculum, delivering the curriculum, etc. and Jackie, you kind of outsourced in a sense, all of the things you didn't want it you didn't, you're too excited about because you really wanted to get to work.

Mohit Mukherjee 15:09

Yeah, exactly. And I must say that, you know, there is a price that I paid for it. But it's a small price. And, and so I've not had my cake and eating it too, in the sense that I got a lot of what I was looking for, in terms of the elements that you mentioned, including a community, you know, the fact that I was showing up now at a campus full of students, you know, from different backgrounds, very interesting students, great faculty. So I also had a community, even though I was doing something that that was startup in nature, right within that larger community. And so, so that was huge for me, I think the part that I always have to and, you know, and I always had to and have to continue to navigate as the politics of a larger organization. So I must say that I don't have to deal with 80% of the politics of being part of a large university, but the 20%, I do still have to deal with because I'm not legally the Center for executive education is not a independent legal structure. So you know, sometimes I just need a mo you signed to go to start something and have to go through the legal process. And, you know, that's just one example. 80% of the politics, I don't have to deal with 20%. I still do a couple of other things. But But basically, I have sacrificed some of that, you know, complete independence and autonomy, because I'm part of a larger legal entity, part of a larger community, I definitely feel for the way I'm wired. The the upside has by far outweighed the few negatives. Yeah,

Jerrid Kalakay 16:55

yeah. It's a natural push and pull are given take relationship.

Mohit Mukherjee 17:00

That's right. Yeah.

Jerrid Kalakay 17:01

I'm reminded of the quote, if you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go with others.

Mohit Mukherjee 17:09

That's very appropriate, I think in in this situation, yeah. Doing this 12 years later, had I started alone, I think it would have moved faster, like you said in the beginning, but at some point, for personal reasons, I needed to leave Costa Rica. And I think I would have at that point stopped what I was doing. Yeah, but because of this larger institution, I was able to carried on despite not being there. At this point, I've been able to grow us relationships. We work with a lot of US universities, that want to set up programs in Costa Rica around the teams that we offer. And so I'm based in the US, and the rest of the team is in Costa Rica. So that I think you're absolutely right, bye, you say that it would have probably moved faster, but it wouldn't have gone as far.

Jerrid Kalakay 18:06

Yeah, and I mean, that's kind of the same dilemma that that so many of us in this kind of field, have to deal with, on a regular basis, because we can make a lot of decisions and move very, very quickly. But ultimately, the the end goal might not be as rewarding or as impactful. If we did it alone. Yeah, without community. Yeah.

Mohit Mukherjee 18:31

You're giving a talk on

Jerrid Kalakay 18:34

change making as a pathway to happiness. Hmm. And and I'm I love that, that concept, I'm hoping that you'd be able to talk a little bit about that, and how you found that to be true in your own work in your own life.

Mohit Mukherjee 18:49

Thanks, boss me, firstly, I do feel that it's a reflection also have a personal journey that I went through. So when I started up the Center for executive education, I definitely felt like that loan entrepreneur. And I realized that many of the challenges that I faced in starting and growing the center, were not as technical or tactical as I would have expected. It was you know, the, even the courses that initially I developed at the center had, you know, it was about getting your business plan and your pitch ready thinking about fundraising sources, different business models. But myself, I realized that in my journey, those were not necessarily the hardest challenges I faced. And, and so just to fast forward, I felt that part of what is challenging in general in life, but certainly as a social entrepreneur, is this idea of how do you kind of sustain yourself emotionally to how do you, you know, as as you're trying to do this outward work that you feel is very purpose driven. So it's never a question of motivation. But some of the other aspects can be, for example, I felt quite lonely within a larger community in my first year and a half. And I realized that that is something that's up to me to kind of change that dynamic, right. And, and there are definitely times when when I couldn't even explain to anyone how I felt, but I felt kind of kind of this, I wouldn't call it burnt out, but but just not myself in the way that I would hope to feel at the end of the course. So at the end of the year, while on paper, it had been media, a great year, like a lot had happened. All of this got me into the field of positive psychology. That is, it's a field that I would say still fairly recent. But some of the in the last 10 years I feel special in Martin Seligman, who was the head of the American Psychological Association is published this great book called flourish. cynic is that that was, I think, my introduction to positive psychology. And I realized, wow, no wonder I'm not feeling like I'm flourishing, because I'm really focused on just the A, which is the achievement, right? Yeah. And here, I'll give you a thought just to give you the five elements of well being that Martin Seligman talks about. It's a framework. The acronym is perma. PR me. And he says that these are all critical pillars of happiness. And he doesn't like the word happiness, because it's often associated with the something more superficial, so he calls it well being. So the P stands for positive emotions, the E stands for engagement, which means using your strengths, knowing your strengths, and using them, the R stands for positive relationships and relationships, the M stands for meaning, the sense that your life matters to more than just you and the A stands for achievement, which is the idea that you're getting better at the things that matter to you. And so when I look at I really related to this, these five elements when I saw them, but I realized that I wasn't nearly doing. I think the elements that I was focused on what the A which was the achievement, like how is this venture that I launched, how is it progressing, whether it's financially or participants going through the impact and participants and very focused on the A, and then the M, I think, definitely there was a good check on that because meaning my work felt meaningful, that I felt that I was really ignoring the positive emotion side. Because I pretty much it, I became a workaholic. And so did not really take those breaks. Part of the flip side of a lot of autonomy right now. It never felt like a good time to relax, given that I had started something that was growing. And then the engagement I think he referred to that is even within the scope of the center I was doing.

I was doing everything from like the finances, which which is definitely something that I didn't enjoy doing, to developing curriculum, delivering the curriculum during the vows. And I realized I was working half the time I was working in my areas of weakness. Yeah. So I needed to bring somebody on board and needed a team, which would also help with the relationships with the are introductory realization for me, was big. And it changed in affected personally how I felt after I started addressing some of these elements and also affected the the curriculum I was developing, I realize how important it is for social entrepreneurs to think about the journey itself. Not Yes. Yeah. So yeah, it's been a very important part of now. The way we we think about the, what's important for social entrepreneurs to, to learn to practice in their teams. And I think that for my framework, I try and incorporate it into almost every course, even if it's supposedly a course that's like, maybe we have a course called measuring impact. But I probably talked about karma in that one, too.

Jerrid Kalakay 24:51

Yeah, no, I love that. It's, it's, it's really interesting, because if we don't focus on the journey and change making or social entrepreneurship, and we only focus on the end result, oftentimes, the end result never comes to fruition. And I think it's, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the changes that we're seeking, and we're creating, take a long time to happen. And so many of our colleagues, and our models, and this work have have focused oftentimes on that end goal so much that they don't ever make make it to it, because they either burnt out, you know, they physically just can't do it anymore, you know, so forth. And so yeah, I think that's really an important piece that that to be able to focus on flourishing in the journey, as you're moving, you know, the boulder up the hill, or whatever analogy you want to use. Yeah, I mean, it's really interesting that, you know, earlier on, you kind of mentioned that, you know, you realize when you first pitch the idea, university for piece that you are good at and gained energy from some tasks, and you're not good at and what NM did not gain energy, in fact, that was depleting energy, and other tasks. And then, so you had that kind of foresight, and then you jump into the work. And it sounds like somehow you kind of lost that a little bit, and lost kind of your way a little bit, in that you ended up doing a lot of that same stuff that doesn't give you energy, that doesn't give you the same kind of rewards, and you didn't enjoy. And then you had to make the and then you kind of you started focusing on the positive psychology and, and you and you had a change. So the change maker had to be changed.

Mohit Mukherjee 26:51

Right? Yeah. Right.

Unknown Speaker 26:53

Yeah. Yeah. And and what was kind of the, the realization, but was there a moment where you realized, okay, Mohit, I've got to make a change here. This is not this is not working for me? Or was it a kind of a culmination of things? How did that happen?

Mohit Mukherjee 27:10

That I should be happy. I just felt like there was something wrong. And I realized that two things might happen. One is I would I would stop, right, I would quit because I wasn't enjoying it, therefore, that it would it would impact the I mean, I think at some point, it would impact the experience I'm trying to create. So so it was good. I think I had to justify to myself that I needed to take care of myself interesting that even as I say that, it's like I I do feel that I was able to justify why I should, you know, take a deep dive into thinking about well being and

Jerrid Kalakay 27:52

till next time, be nice and change some stuff.

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