Inga Storen - Founder of Empower Inspire Educate

 

Inga came to Oxford for a doctorate degree after five years as a teacher in Rwanda and Lebanon. Her research focuses on the delivery of higher education to long-term refugees, and she also teaches refugee students through the online university programs of Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM).
The first enterprise she was involved in came in Rwanda in 2010, when she and a teacher colleague established a non-for-profit called “Two Birds” aimed at funding school fees for girls in Rwanda by selling tote bags. Later, while working in a refugee setting in Lebanon in 2014, Inga started up “Empower Inspire Educate” (EiE), a global network for teachers, development workers, and educational researchers. Since its conception, the EiE blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account has accrued thousands of followers across the globe. In 2015, Inga founded Støren Consult, a research consultancy concentrating on qualitative and quantitative research within the field of education. Today, she juggles her doctoral research, her research consultancy, and maintaining a strong online presence with EiE.

Q: What is your background?  Why are you doing this?
A: I had been teaching high school for five years, and it was hard giving it up to start my doctorate. In some ways, however, my work with EiE made me feel closer to the classroom. I love reading and sharing news related to learning and teaching, and I wish more people— regardless of their background— got more passionate about education in all its forms! That’s why I love spending time expanding and improving EiE.

Q: What is your definition of enterprising?  Innovation?
A: I think both enterprising and innovation means imagining something that could fill a gap, whether that is a product, a service, or a way of thinking. If you find yourself thinking: “I wish there was a way to do this”, then you’ve probably identified a potential enterprise or innovation. Now, all you need to do is act on it!

Q: What made you decide to do something enterprising?
A: Honestly, I was driven by boredom and frustration, which probably have been the driving forced behind many ideas or initiatives! I was working in a desperate and hopeless environment in a refugee setting in Lebanon, where the gap between academic rhetoric and practice was glaring. I wanted to get a conversation going on the many issues related to education, crises, teacher development, and global progress. Once I started building the EiE blog, I got completely hooked, and everything else sort of grew up around it!

Q: So what would you say are the top 3 skills for an enterprising mindset? Why?
A: Passion, Patience, and Poise. If your enterprise is based on deep convictions and passions, your flame won’t burn out when you meet resistance (which you will along the way). Second, you need a lot of patience because regardless of how brilliant your idea is, the world won’t catch on immediately. You might find yourself terribly frustrated with how slowly things move in the beginning, and without patience you’ll be tempted to throw in the towel too soon. Lastly, with confidence and poise you can convince anyone (including yourself) of your intellect and ability. Some people would say “fake it till you make it”, but in many cases it’s more: “fake it until you realize that you actually had this made the whole time”.

Q: What is your favourite part of what you do?
A: I can spend hours clicking through articles and TED talks related to topics I love, but never feel I’m procrastinating or wasting time! I just share it on EiE, and tell myself I accomplished something (even if I should be working on my doctorate research…)

Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A: I love the TED Education talks, because they “translate” complex ideas— often discussed at ease among academics— into short, engaging clips for people of all backgrounds. I also have a lot of idols among educational researchers and academics. I’d really love to see their work shared with a wider audience than the academic circles at top universities…

Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: Can you discuss anything in just five minutes…? I guess I’d simply ask them this question: “Wouldn’t it be great if TED Ed talks could be translated into languages spoken by refugee populations around the world?” Hopefully, that would get the cogs turning in their heads…

Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in your enterprise?
A: It’s always a good feeling when my Twitter account gets followers like the UNHCR or an NGO or academic I admire. Also, it warms my heart when students or teachers from countries in the Middle East or Africa responds to a post, or participates in an online discussion. I can’t really point to one particular moment! It’s a string of satisfying small milestones!

Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned along the way?
A: I go completely overboard in some periods, and end up burning myself out, to the point where I can’t even Tweet (and yes, that means it’s pretty serious…). This sort of yo-yo engagement is not good for any enterprise, or any person for that matter. When you’re your own boss it can be difficult to give yourself time off, and you always feel there is something you could work on. But in the long run it’s better for your enterprise if you set limits, and stick to them. A firework is great to watch, but after the few seconds of explosive fun, you’re not left with any light or warmth, only a burnt-out stick. I’d say it’s better with a flickering fire that steadily builds up as you add more wood.

Q: Any last words of advice?
A: If you’re thinking about creating something, and you have a list of people or organizations that inspire you, don’t hesitate to reach out to them. People— especially enterprising people— love talking about their projects (and often themselves), so they won’t mind one bit if you send them an e-mail or a message. There’s plenty of insight and inspiration out there just waiting for you to take advantage of it!