Conversations with Lizzie Christmas

Tell us a bit about your role with The Social Experiment?

As one of six co-founders of The Social Experiment we have all had incredibly varied roles within the team.  Up until moving to New York, my focus was around empowering participants around the future of work and leveraging technology within their roles in order to increase efficiency and achieve goals.  

What is the mission of The Social Experiment?

The Social Experiment empowers participants to discover what it means to be a human in action in their lives and in the world.

What has been the response?

Since our pilot program of The Social Experiment in January 2018, we have had a groundswell of support and positive feedback. We have run 11 Social Experiments across 7 different cities with over 150 alumni. We partnered with Callaghan Innovation to provide a number of fully funded scholarships across Aotearoa; this enabled The Social Experiment to travel to the regions (Hamilton, Dunedin and Palmerston North).  We also partnered with the Ministry of Youth Development to host a Social Experiment in Hurunui District for local youths.

You’ve recently moved to the U.S to complete your Masters at Cornell Tech, what does your program involve?

Cornell Tech’s Master of Laws in Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship is the first degree of its kind in the world. It is a year-long immersion in innovation, creativity and new business development that has had us learning side-by-side with designers, engineers and business students.  Each of the 15 students in my program have had practice experience and a connection to or interest in the technology sector. Our classes are for the most part taught by practitioners who are experts in their respective fields such as tech transactions, internet law and intellectual property.  The second component of the course is both the tech and business electives. We are required to take a number of MBA courses such as entrepreneurial finance and tech classes including product design and programming - yes, I learnt to code Python!

The final and most unique part of Cornell Tech is the Studio component.  In the Spring each student is involved in Product Studio where, as an interdisciplinary team, you respond to a “Product Challenge” by developing, testing, and presenting a new product or business idea.  I worked together with an MBA and Computer Science student and Microsoft to develop a product to promote wellbeing and connectedness through technology. This semester, I have worked with two Computer Science students to develop a company called FoodCube.  FoodCube is an automated nutritional assistant that effortlessly aggregates users digital food traces using AI to empower them to track and achieve their health goals.

What got you interested in the intersection of law, technology and social purpose?

The interdisciplinary nature of Cornell Tech mimics the ‘real world’, especially the way companies and individuals work today.  Tech is no longer a standalone sector; each industry is now simply tech adjacent. Lawyers are not siloed off from engineers or the business teams; collaboration is integral to success, and for that an understanding of one another is crucial.  I saw a real need for people and teams to be able to effectively communicate with one another, and for that to happen they need to speak the same language.

I also began to notice the incredible possibilities emerging technologies could provide within business but also within the world.  We’ve all heard the term ‘disruption’, and rather than meeting it with fear, I did with excitement and possibility. My frustration with the status quo and the ripe opportunity for innovation spurred me to the develop skills to lead this change in New Zealand, and hopefully a larger scale.    

What have you enjoyed most about your work with start-ups?

I am passionate about two main things.  Creating innovative solutions, and helping people.  The startup space has allowed me to do both these things. The Social Experiment was the first real manifestation of this and since, each project I work on must involve those two elements in some way or another.  It is incredibly important to me to be passionate about what I’m working on, understanding the why behind something is integral. I love the diversity in creating a business and seeing an idea grow to a real tangible product that can make a real difference in the world.  

It is the passion for the why which keeps any project or team alive, there will be many failures and mistakes along the way but as long as the vision is at the forefront it’s all part of the journey!

What are your upcoming goals?

I graduate from Cornell in May, after that my plan is to remain in New York city working as an Innovation Consultant for a legal tech company.  This position allows me to work directly with teams and companies to identify inefficiencies in processes and empower them to leverage technology to meet and achieve business goals.  My fervent desire to help and create is what makes this my dream role, especially woven with innovative technologies, people and solutions.

What advice do you have for young people looking to start a social enterprise?

Go for it!  As I mentioned above, if you have a passion or even a slight niggle at the back of your mind that there is a problem you want to solve, do it.  That feeling sets you apart from the person next to you, and is absolutely crucial to act upon. A lot of us deal with concerns around “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not smart enough”, “I don’t have the skills or time” and especially “I’m too young”.  Those are just stories we tell ourselves, and we can easily overcome through just going for it. Young people have a rare and special view of the world and an energy that accompanies it; as young people we hold the power to make real change in society and a duty to act on that.

For some tangible advice, it’s all about team.  Recruit a diverse group of people to surround you, who are aligned on the overall why and vision of what you’re out to create.  Doing something different and new is always scary, but with the right support system and network it can be rewarding and a lot of fun.  

The Social Experiment was founded by 6 women.  We are a cross-disciplinary team of millennials with expertise in tech, consulting, law, commercialisation, entrepreneurship, social enterprise, personal development coaching, medicine, community building, human centered design and innovation.  Our mish mosh of skill sets and personalities was the perfect combination for a high performing team, but much more than that, we’re sisters. The bond you share with your co-founders is unlike anything else, and I highly encourage anyone with an inkling of a passion to be bold and pursue their venture.

How can people find out more about The Social Experiment?

You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook or check out our website.