Applying Lessons Learned from the Sullivan Retreat

By Matias Meirelles van Vliet, Rollins College student 

Have I been truly changed by the Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat? I’ve asked myself that a few times since I returned to Rollins, and the answer is easy: yes. My previous blog stated that I’ve been changed by the retreat, but another valuable question is, ‘to what extent have I been changed?’ As the semester draws to a close, I am completely focused on finals and completing school projects, neglecting my long term goals.  Someone looking from the outside might say I am exactly the same as I was before the retreat, and there is a reason for that—all my changes were internal; subtle but deep.

One of the important changes that happened as a result of the retreat was an increase in my moments of reflection.  During the retreat, after most activities, we had 20 minutes for ourselves, which most of us used to reflect on the work we had just completed. I brought this habit to my academic life, and now every night before I sleep I take some time to reflect on what I learned from my classes that day.


Another subtle change is that the retreat made me remember my first efforts as a volunteer. One of the entrepreneurs who spoke at the Event, Mama Shu, shared her story of creating a village in the middle of Detroit where kids can be safe after school and learn about the African part of American culture.  This made me remember my days as a kid at OCA – Associação da Aldeia de Carapicuíba. OCA is a non-profit that takes kids off the street and teaches them about Brazilian culture. A huge part of Brazilian culture was acquired from Africa, and in the video from the ribbon-cutting ceremony of Jakobi Ra Park in Detroit, there was a musical presentation that reminded me of my volunteer experiences. Volunteering at OCA was a huge part of my adolescence that I had left forgotten in the past, but now I wish to return to volunteering and make something for the community I live in.

The retreat also influenced me to seek more connections. I had already planned to pursue a career in the sports management business, but I didn’t know anyone that was in this niche of the market. Now I have forged some important connections in this field that I plan on dedicating myself to after graduation. I met a few college athletes at the retreat, but even more importantly, I have met more people through them. Many fellow attendees of the retreat realized my effort and put me in contact with someone they knew in this field.


One of the facilitators, David, was introduced me to an established entrepreneur in the sports management field. David’s friend, Wynn, owns a sports management and marketing business that is also involved in social causes. The professional athletes he manages regularly give generous donations to non-profits. He works in San Francisco, a long way from Florida, but I’ve called him a few times, and I consider it extremely important to have a connection like this.  I feel extremely comfortable to call him anytime if I have a question about the field of sports management.

Another connection I made through the camp was Andrey from Ukraine.  He also works with sports and social causes, and he works on a project with a church to educate children in social issues and sports. Even though I am not a religious person, I’ve talked with him a few times, and he gave me some important feedback on my current ideas.


When I started this blog post, I felt like I hadn’t accomplished much, but I now feel as though I have made significant progress towards my long-term goal of opening my own business.  I believe Rollins could provide a better atmosphere for entrepreneurs, but part of my goal is to improve that, after my experiences at the Sullivan retreat. I have already started planning to participate in an entrepreneurship event next semester, the Ideas for Good Challenge.  When I returned from the retreat, ready to put my ideas into action, other obligations began to take over, and I felt as though the changemaking environment of the retreat had gone.  I believe Rollins should offer an environment to stimulate changemaking on a daily basis, and I am currently helping to make this happen.

Considering my project is long-term, I have accomplished a lot: I started talking to people about it, including two experts in the field, and I will present it next week as my fictitious project in my Business Law class.  There’s still a long way to go, but at least I’ve taken the first few steps.


What’s Next? A Journey After the Sullivan Retreat

by Julie Sparks, Rollins College Student

What is my next step in becoming a social entrepreneur?  I imagine there are a million different plans, one for every individual. But here is my perspective on the next steps.

First, I am looking at my own actions more critically. What can I do on a personal level to help others and be more efficient? A fellow student I met on the Sullivan Ignite Retreat is fundraising to teach psychology in Nigeria; how could I help? I can share it on Facebook and encourage people I know to donate. Forging these connections will help others find the opportunities they seek to bring about change. Can I be more efficient in my own life? I can become more environmentally conscious by looking at the companies and ingredients contributing to products I buy. A consumer’s choice is one of the most powerful methods of changing the means of production. Changemaking requires a community, not just an individual, to inspire changes.


Second, what can I do to continue to learn about changemaking? I plan to engage with Leadership Exchange, a program that teaches students about social entrepreneurship in foreign countries. I want to learn about how other countries are solving their social issues, and if those ideas can be applied in Central Florida. There is global connection in social entrepreneurship because we are all one people on one Earth. Local help is needed as well as help in other areas.  A man in Central Florida that is given help might then move across the country and help another. The cycle of change making continues long past the first individual.

Third, how can I be a changemaker at home? Rollins has more opportunities for helping others than I have ever seen on a campus. The Social Innovation Hub sits at the center of these possibilities. It holds the Ideas for Good Competition every spring, which I intend to participate in. This challenge consists of pitching an idea to solve social issues to a panel of judges.  The chosen winner receives funding for their project. I had a small passion ignite when I went on the Sullivan Retreat. The idea grew into a tangible plan for helping others and I look forward to forming it into a pitch for the Rollins competition.




All these stages occur separately and at the same time, continuously. When I have completed my plan, I will continue to think critically of my choices and learn about changemaking skills and opportunities. Changemaking is always evolving to fit the location, time, and people. The Sullivan Retreat equipped me with problem solving, grant-writing, social connecting skills. These are just skills, and they can be put to use in any way that applies to my passion. This retreat gives encouragement and training to educational, governmental, medical, or any other areas of changemaking. The skills I learned from the Sullivan Retreat can be easily be brought home to Rollins, and applied in competitions, clubs, or research. I cannot say what is definitely next in the world of social entrepreneurship for me. But I can say that I will have two weeks to learn about changemaking in Prague this summer, and the Ideas for Good Challenge to keep me involved in encouraging social change on campus.

I am thankful for the inspiration and insight Sullivan gave me to engage in changemaking. I am also thankful for the continued encouragement and support from the Rollins’ Social Innovation Hub. I am looking forward to continuing my path in social entrepreneurship and learning the “ropes” of change.

Sullivan Foundation Retreat Experience: Open Your Eyes to New Opportunities

By Ali Zaid, Rollins College student

The first thing that came to mind when I arrived at the Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat camp was the feeling that I was out of my comfort zone.  I had no option, however, but to leave my comfort zone in order to enrich my experience and benefit from this great opportunity with the Sullivan Foundation.  For me, talking to people about my future plans and how much I wish to achieve those plans is uncomfortable, and therefore puts me out of my comfort zone.  This uneasy feeling is one that has developed over time as I have socialized less.  Resolutely pursuing my goals is the reason that I don’t socialize often.  For the past two years, my time has been completely consumed by two full-time jobs and the four to five classes I enroll in each semester in order to graduate early.


When I arrived at the camp and began great conversations with other attendees and facilitators, I realized that I should make it a priority to meet new people and socialize from now on.  Our perspective won’t change unless we meet new people and have conversations with them.  Moreover, I have always believed that the differences between people exist so we can learn from the way others see life.  I saw this in action when I started talking with the attendees and facilitators about their perspectives on life, and it opened my eyes to a variety of things.


I have attended a number of conferences and workshops around the country, but I have not yet experienced an atmosphere like I did at the Sullivan Foundation camp.  The welcoming, friendly atmosphere at the camp gave me just what I needed—the opportunity to share visions with complete strangers and like-minded people and receive their feedback.  I was thrilled to meet with social entrepreneurs who see the world as full of opportunities and success.  They believe success is about changing not only their life, but the life of the people around them. Making a long-lasting impact is their goal, and they won’t rest until they achieve it.


The kind of discussion I had with these determined attendees and facilitators opened up my eyes to things I had never thought about. Furthermore, the workshops that I attended were uniquely designed and structured.  They were challenging and forced us to bring forth our creativity.  I have learned from each of the workshops, but the thing that resonated with me the most was when facilitator Chad Littlefield shared his experience and difficult journey with his startup company.  He concluded by telling us that it is okay to not know the answer right away, and it is okay to fail many times before we succeed. After the workshop finished, each student was asked to write his or her fear on a sticky note and then throw it in the trash.  On a second sticky note, we were asked to write our goals.


In conclusion, I encourage all my fellow students, especially those with majors in social entrepreneurship at Rollins College, to take of advantage all the opportunities that the Innovation Hub has to offer.  These opportunities are designed to be very beneficial and provide students with tools they can apply immediately to life.  In addition to networking with like-minded people, a student will have the opportunity to build on an idea he or she has after returning to school with the tools learned during these great events.



My Sullivan Foundation Retreat Experience

By Matias Meirelles Van Vliet, Rollins College Student

There’s something incredibly interesting about being at an innovation retreat inside a religious property. When we are in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by strangers, it seems like all the barriers that exist between people in our daily lives are lifted.

This is the first of a two blog post series that I am writing to share my experience at the Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat with the Rollins community.  I want to show how immersions such as this retreat can be beneficial, no matter your year in school or your major. The Ignite Retreat was special for many reasons, including the beautiful mountain background, but the most important being the diversity and similarity of the students there.  This can be reflected on the Rollins delegation that attended: an American student, a Brazilian student, and a student from Dubai. At the same time that we were all like-minded individuals, each of us had a different personal story, and were pursuing a different problem we wanted to solve.


Our trip to the camp included two flights and an hour drive to Camp Kanuga.  We represented the most southern school.  Some schools drove more than seven hours to be there. The long trip proved itself to be worth it immediately in the first moments at the camp.

We got there in the middle of the afternoon and had a couple of hours to spare before dinner, so after organizing my things in the cabin, a friend and I decided to explore our surroundings. The camp is in a beautiful place, near a huge lake with many hiking trails through the mountains that surround it. To make it even better, the leaves were changing, and I was able to experience a fall background for the first time–that doesn’t exist in Florida or Brazil.


We got back just in time for dinner and then we went straight to the activities. Before each activity we had a series of ice breakers.  I wondered if I had made the right decisions to attend the retreat.  It was then explained that just like in FHIL (Florida Hospital Innovation Lab), thinking like a social entrepreneur requires a mind shift, hence the importance of checking in before each activity.

One of the activities that resonated with me the most consisted of initially explaining your idea as a social entrepreneur in an elevator pitch in two minutes to a group of students.  Then, in 5 minute one-on-one sessions, we would pick up certain cards that contained a specific aspect of the enterprise, such as needs, stakeholders and clients, and we would discuss each of these topics with our partner.  We would then place it in a grid that would show us how clear and important that aspect was to our specific idea.


My elevator pitch idea was about a sports management and marketing company that matches an athlete’s personality traits with those of a non-profit the athlete could support. My company would be the middle man between the athlete and the non-profit, uniting management and marketing with purpose.

To talk in depth about a project which I only had in mind and occasionally used as a fictitious company for the purpose of classes here at Rollins, and to receive feedback, really helped me shape what I want the future of my enterprise idea to be. My main objective was to leave the retreat with a to-do list on how to get my idea off of paper and into reality.  Even though it is a long-term project, I think I began to form it into reality, comprehending that even though it might be a project for after my graduation, there are steps I can take during my academic career that will help me in the future.

There were in-depth discussions of specific subjects as well. One of the workshops was about pitching and finding the funding for your project, learning how to write grants, how to present your idea depending on the audience, and how to present based on your gender.


Special places make us do special things, and while at home I would never wake up at 6 am to hike up a mountain, in North Carolina I did that. Twice! Even though we got lost on the first day, the following day we took a beautiful hike to the eagle rock, which had one of the most breathtaking views I’ve seen since I moved to the U.S.

Sullivan Foundation Retreat Experience: Change Your Perspective

By Julie Sparks, Rollins College Student

Sitting on top of a mountain surrounded by yellow and red leaves gives you a different perspective. Looking down at the trees, rivers, and buildings allows the mind to evaluate the importance of action and identity. The extraction of students from their homes and dorms to a place of support and changemaking gave me the opportunity to sit on the mountain and brainstorm my ability to create motion in the world. Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat gave me the chance not only to alter my perspective, but establish connections with like-minded people and grow my knowledge of communication and teamwork.


I did not know what to expect when I arrived in North Carolina and for the first twenty minutes of ice breakers, I was questioning my decision. However, the people I was surrounded with were more ambitious and motivated then I have ever experienced. It gave me a chance to see others as changemaking forces in our future world. The organizers of the retreat were experienced and driven. I learned about conferences, grants, networking, raising money, and planning ideas in the shadows of people who have successfully done it time and time again.


My favorite experience was listening to speeches from the Avalon Village Project. It was inspiring to know a woman with relatively no money could change her entire town for the better. These speakers showed possibility and enforced my belief that one person can change others’ lives for the better. Even from other students, all across the east coast, I heard the same issues I was seeing at home and ones I was passionate about. When I left the Ignite Retreat I knew that I’d keep these connections of students and professional changemakers for life. This is a small community, formed in a weekend, that I know will support any cause where I try to make a difference. That type of encouragement is often unheard of in a single campus or community, but I have members from across the U.S. to reach out to now.


I had a sense of social entrepreneurship before I attended this retreat–the typical volunteering and fundraising ideal. But this weekend really did change my perspective of seeing the world with more of a social entrepreneurship light. I learned to identify social and environmental issues, and then create steps to tackle the problem. In an exercise, we formed groups of six people we had never before met, and opened a bag with several items and a picture. That picture represented the problem and we had to create a solution with the items. Now, of course this required an extensive use of imagination but it was real world problem solving with real possibilities. We received climate change as our problem, and used our items to create an environmental education game for elementary schools to implement so future generations are environmentally conscious. I would have never come up with that solution just sitting in my dorm. I needed the atmosphere, ideas, and encouragement of changemaking to see myself as a problem solver. Now that I have begun this shift in my perspective, I can evaluate ideas and plans more critically. I can see the world as a place to make change.


Social entrepreneurship has an extensive impact both on the individual and the community. I encourage anyone who has the time in their schedule to apply for this opportunity. Especially if you are in the business or social entrepreneurship programs at Rollins. The new outlook and ability to meet new, like-minded people is outstanding. I learned about social entrepreneurship and myself on this retreat. In the future, I will continue to look for Sullivan Foundation events and ways to participate in changemaking.