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Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) students hail from a range of countries and backgrounds, but all share an abiding commitment to public service. Jonathan Chang MC/MPA 2014 was born and raised in Indonesia before moving more than 20 years ago to the United States, where he became an entrepreneur. Chang is profiled in a "Student Spotlight" interview in the May 2, 2014 issue of the HKS student newspaper The Citizen.
Q: What did you do before coming to the Kennedy School?
Chang: I am a serial entrepreneur, having founded and co-founded four technology startups across multiple industries. My latest company is called Oh My Green!, a purveyor of taste-tested, healthy, organic, and non-GMO snacks for individuals, universities, and corporations. We tend to work with and carry local, small, or independent brands.
Q: Would you highlight for us two or three accomplishments of which you are most proud?
Chang: First: I explored the entrepreneurship path in my senior year of college. Founded out of my small studio apartment in Berkeley, I grew my company to thousands of customers in five years, before being acquired by our largest competitor. It was the first time that I was on the driver seat of my career. I learned essential management skills such as leading an international team, overseeing new market expansion, establishing a company vision, maintaining business relations, and assembling a strong and diverse team. I also learned the importance of teamwork and being able to get things done with little resources.
Second: Several years ago I went to Rwanda to teach entrepreneurship. My workshop, taught via lectures, case studies, and discussions, covered topics such as leadership, strategy, finance, negotiation, and ethics. I stressed the importance of self-awareness and self-determination and asked students to reflect on their goals and how they would contribute to the improvement of Rwanda. I provided a safe and open forum for students to describe the impact the Genocide had on their lives and communities, and how they could foster change. One student created a business plan to form a chemical waste cleaning company. Another student was interested in a waste paper recycling business. I saw a clear connection between entrepreneurship and social impact. I have been committed to the cause ever since.
Third, being selected to give a TEDx talk at Harvard Graduate School of Education was an honor. The topic of my talk was finding life’s purpose. I opened up about my upbringing and the struggles my family had gone through. It was certainly not easy to be so vulnerable in front of so many people, especially knowing that your video will live on YouTube forever. But in a way, I had to be authentic and my talk had to come from the heart. People have reached out to me to say how inspired they are with my talk.
Q: How have you been able to sustain your passion for innovation while in Boston?
Chang: I keep my eyes and ears open to anything innovation related, especially social innovation. My daily reading habit includes Techcrunch, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, and New York Times. I also subscribe to Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and BusinessWeek. I spend on average two hours per day reading news. I am also proactive in being involved in innovation related projects at HKS.
I am currently working with former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho on his book about innovation and reframing the 21st century government. I traveled to Jakarta over winter break to conduct research into social innovation and its ecosystem, sponsored by the Ash Center and Mossavar-Rahmani Center. I participated in a Harvard Innovation Lab sponsored trip to New York City, meeting food startups. I was on the leadership team of the 15th Annual Social Enterprise Conference at HBS and HKS.
Q: What is your favorite moment from the past year?
Chang: I was part of a group that won the HKS Talent Show. The Japan Caucus formed a dance group and was kind enough to let me join, though I am not Japanese. I became an honorary Japanese and we forever bonded with the experience. We had so much fun. We group danced to a song by a Japanese band called Word Order. Arigato!
Q: What is the best memory you will take away from HKS?
Chang: Being part of the Mason Program is an amazing experience. Though born and raised in Indonesia, I have spent almost 20 years living in the United States. So being around other Mason Fellows gives me nostalgic memories about the struggles we all have gone through and a sense of responsibility that I must make a difference in my home country.
I think those who come from developing countries often find themselves with one foot in the future and one foot in the past, stuck in the colonial occupation era or dark history of ethnic and religious conflicts. The collective experiences of the Mason Fellows, and to greater extent the entire HKS community, have allowed me to reconcile some of that paradox and inspired me to pursue public service.
Q: What are you looking forward to most after you graduate in May?
Chang: Immediately after graduation, I will travel to Finland to spend time with former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho and his family. I hope to visit neighboring countries such as Estonia, Sweden, and Russia. Moving forward, I am still exploring different opportunities, in which I can bring my experience and passion in entrepreneurship and innovation to work within a government and help spur growth in the private sector and address some of the most pressing societal issues.