LESSONS | On Growth And Independence, Through Matter – Kira West

For one week in June we had the pleasure of having Kira West from Cornell University in New York with MATTER. In this piece she writes abut everything she’s learnt from her time here, but she has inspired us as well. She’s walking the talk and epitomising that famous phrase – be the change you want to see in the world.


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I’ve realized during this past year that the world is so much more expansive than I could have ever imagined. I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to come to Singapore but e-Meeting Ren happened at the perfect time. She’d just started an amazing socially motivated business and I knew I had to find some way to get involved. Working with Matter offered me the scary but exciting opportunity to develop my own my project scope and figure out how to make the biggest impact.

Ren and I spent spring semester working together but I really felt like I needed to come to Asia in order to better understand the problem and the solution. Working in Cambodia taught me that it’s hard to really understand a problem without seeing the problem in action.  Since a trip to India to explore issues for rural artisans wasn’t possible I made the choice to intimately understand the solution that MATTER has developed. After months of meeting and proposals I finally got the support I needed from my university, Cornell, to make the trip possible. As I boarded the plane on May 22nd it all began to sink in that for the first time ever I’d be traveling across the world on my own to work on a project I really believed in.

My academic project goals were clearly defined but my personal goals were a bit more flexible and fuzzy. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned in about a week through my work with MATTER and conversations with people I’ve met.  I’ve definitely experienced some powerfully unexpected moments of growth.

This trip has been a lesson in how truly independent I am and how much I enjoy exploring other cultures. I spent my first day in Singapore alone, wandering around Marina Bay, people watching, eating and taking in Singapore. It was quite therapeutic to enjoy quality time with me and just think! I thought a lot about the work for the upcoming week but I still didn’t feel far from home. It didn’t sink in that I was far from home until I traveled back to my Singaporean home on the MRT (Singaporean Rail System) for the first time. I’ve traveled through NYC on the trains and busses more times than I can count but there was something strangely significant about doing something I’m so used to doing in a completely different environment. Amongst the locals I felt like I fit in and when I safely made it back I realized I’ve become so much more comfortable with being on my own abroad. This underscored the fact that moving abroad after graduation is something I really need to further explore. I also realized I want to take some time to reflect before I start my first job after graduation.

I’ve learned so much from working with Ren. I’ve learned more about the plight of artisans and the social enterprise space worldwide. I have also gained more respect for anyone who can commit to something they’re passionate about and see it through.  MATTER began as just an idea and is now successfully developing into a company making a tangible impact on artisans in rural India. Although the work scope for my short internship changed quite a lot in the weeks leading up to my arrival, I’m really happy with the direction we decided to go in. I enjoyed exploring the way that companies worldwide envision and define a better world. Working on the theory of change and impact metrics projects also caused me to reflect on my personal theory of change.

How is it that Kira West will leave her mark on the world? How will this mark be measured?

Since I’m still figuring out the answer to these question one of the projects I’ve given myself upon my return is to develop a working personal theory of change. I think it will be helpful as I move through my last year at Cornell and apply for full time jobs. After researching impact metrics I thought a lot about how to measure my success. Society offers metrics but this project showed me the importance of having personal measures of success.

I gained insight not only from the internship itself but also from all of the people I’ve met during my stay in Singapore. During my week here I’ve met some truly amazing people! Chatting with Mike reminded me how astonishing the Cornell network is and how easy it is to find great Cornellians in all corners of the world. Speaking with the founder of the Hub Grace Sai gave me insights on the growth of Social Entrepreneurship in Singapore. We spoke a lot about the cultural issues specific to Singapore that keep people from pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams. Getting to know Ren’s other intern, Lai Cheng was a perfect way for me to see Singapore through a peer’s eyes. I appreciated her informal tours and cultural insights (especially the introduction to chicken rice). The conversation I had with Joshua, from Our Better World caused me to think about the intersections between race, culture and social entrepreneurship throughout Asia. After talking with Joshua, I was able to see my experience in Cambodia from a new perspective as well as think more critically about future projects. Chatting with Grace and Solonia from Change School helped me zoom out and think about my life as one large cycle. After my conversation with them I thought about the stages of my life and the ways in which I wanted to move through the large transitions on the way. I realized the key to moving through the next stage in my life is making gradual changes that get me closer to my goals so, as a result of my week here in Singapore I’ve made 6 promises to myself…

  1. To ask more questions about the products I buy because I have the right to be inquisitive
  2. To purchase more products from people who are passionate about what they are making and interested in making an impact because these products will always be worth the money
  3. To take calculated risks because now is the time to do so
  4. To travel back to Asia because I’ve seen two different ends of the spectrum but there is so much more to explore and so much more good to be done
  5. To maintain connections with the people I’ve met here because they’re awesome
  6. To share the things I’ve learned with others because learning is a collaborative process

Thank you to Ren, MATTER, and all of the people I’ve met for making this adventure an awesome experience!

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