Cornell University – PWAU Project Winner

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Keep Your Hat On - Cornell University

Grantees: Center for Transformative Action, Anke Wessels, Meredith Ramirez Talusan
Titles: Executive Director - Center for Transformative Action; PhD student in Comparative Literature

Keep Your Hat On asks participants to remember what inspires them. It identifies individuals across disciplines who engage in social innovation while using insights from their particular fields of study or expertise. The Ricefield Collective, a social enterprise that creates ethically sourced handmade accessories, will provide special-edition hats for this campaign, which participants can enter into a contest to win by briefly describing their own social innovation idea. These participants will be photographed, and their portraits, along with a description of their social innovations, will be exhibited across the Cornell campus and online as a way to engage a larger community and provide opportunities for further discussions through workshops and the Center for Transformative Action.


What is your idea for the InSights project?

I gave a TEDx Cornell talk on November 17 entitled “Keep Your Hat On: A Critical Thought for Good Business.” The talk discussed how literary study provides deep insights into social innovation, to convey the larger message that people don’t have to feel like they’re wasting their accumulated knowledge by moving into social enterprise. They can “keep their hat on” and still engage in social innovation.

Surrounding the talk, we want to launch a “Keep Your Hat On” campaign that identifies individuals across disciplines and stages of study at Cornell University that engage in social innovation using insights from their areas of specialty. Ricefield Collective, the knitting-based social enterprise I co-founded, will produce special-edition hats specifically for the campaign, and will give them to twenty individuals across the university. We will photograph those individuals and write short descriptions of their work, which we will disseminate on, a Tumblr blog, the Ricefield Collective Facebook page, and on posters across campus. We’ll also invite students from across the university to enter a contest to win a hat by briefly describing their own social innovation idea.

Finally, we’ll invite everyone who wins the contest to get their hats at a holiday party where everyone involved gets to meet each other.

What is the story that you will convey through the project? How do you hope people will think or act differently as a result of your project?

The project will bring out unexpected stories of individuals across diverse fields and positions in the university engaged in social innovation. By designing a fashionable, high-quality and ethically sourced hat around the project, we hope to also encourage students to think of social innovation as mainstream and widespread, which will hopefully allow them to consider social enterprise as a direction for their future.

What expertise and experience equips you to lead this project?

I am uniquely equipped to head the project because of my diverse background across different fields and the enjoyment I experience in interacting with many parts of Cornell from students to senior faculty. My longstanding commitment to interdisciplinary thinking, allows me to tap into an array of resources that leads to successful projects. I was able to harness these resources when the social enterprise I co-founded, Ricefield Collective, did a highly successful Kickstarter project last spring, and I will bring the same passion and energy to the “Keep Your Hat On” campaign.


What are your ideas for keeping the dialogue and community going?

We plan to use Cornell as the launching pad for a widespread “Keep Your Hat On” movement that makes it visible, enjoyable, and stylish to engage in social innovation. We will continue to sell “Keep Your Hat On” hats on our web site, and apply for grants to provide the hats to worthwhile individuals who can propagate the project.


Meredith Ramirez Talusan

Meredith Ramirez Talusan spent her childhood at her family's farm in the Philippines, where she learned business skills from her grandmother. She moved to the U.S. at 15, and after receiving a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard, went on to finish an MFA in Visual Art with a concentration in Photography at the California College of the Arts, before pursuing a PhD in Comparative Literature at Cornell. While doing research transcribing and translating indigenous Philippine poetry, she came upon Ricefield Collective as a way to combine her cultural, business, and craft interests while helping to keep indigenous people from leaving their ancestral land.

Social Entrepreneurship Involvement:

I am the Co-Founder and Director of Ricefield Collective, a social enterprise that crafts high-quality handmade knitted accessories that provide a fulfilling means for indigenous people in the Philippines to stay on their ancestral land.

Photographic Experience and Interest:

I studied photography seriously as an undergraduate and concentrated in photography during my MFA Visual Art program at the California College of the Arts, before starting my PhD program in comparative literature. I’ve therefore explored the storytelling capacities of photography both as an artist and as a critic, and have always been fascinated by portraiture in particular for its ability to convey people’s lives poignantly and economically. I moved away from art world photography when I felt too much pressure to engage in practices that I considered unethical to produce eye-catching photographs. Working in social enterprise allows me to photograph people and tell their compelling stories while feeling honest about my work.