Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Edwin Sheppard of ‘Blindfolded International Student & Cultural Exchange Program’ Is Helping To Change Our World
Be careful who you choose as a fiscal agent. Building and managing a nonprofit organization can have tons of financial risks. You cannot cut corners or go the cheaper route in business. Accept good help, but understand that in business good help is not free.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Edwin Sheppard.
Edwin Sheppard is the CEO and Founder of Blindfolded International Student & Cultural Exchange Program (B.I.S.C.E.P.). Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Edwin is a cultural educator, innovator, inspirational speaker, and connector. Edwin’s love for history and promoting cultural awareness has led to him sharing his passions and empowering the next generation of leaders.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As I researched my own background and foundation, I became intrigued by identifying my African roots. I realized a lot had been hidden from me while young and I was eager to find out more. My mother is Haitian and my father is African American. I was born and raised in Miami, Florida. Although Miami has a large Haitian community, growing up Haitian was a bit difficult in the 80’s. As a result of diving deep into my roots, I’ve learned how to fully embrace my heritage.
In addition, I have always been passionate about inspiring and supporting young people. It never occurred to me that I’d be doing something like this, but in all honesty, it came so easily to me. It was important to me that our youth become the next change-makers in shifting the narrative of our motherland, and I did not want them to grow up with a misrepresentation or fear of Africa.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
It has been intriguing to witness what people preconceive Africa to be. It was also exciting to see how many people believed in our program. Overall people supported the idea of cultural immersion and bringing African and American high school students together. In light of the fact that it has never been done before in Miami, the support was definitely humbling.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I can’t recollect any funny mistakes. Putting everything together was very intense to say the least. What I will mention is how I almost lost the opportunity of bringing the African students to Miami to an indifference in culture and understanding. Even the most minuscule miscommunication can derail logistics and that mistake almost cost me the first exchange trip. The lesson I took away from that experience is to ensure that we have a deeper understanding of their cultural welcomes and general traditions.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
BISCEP provides intercultural learning opportunities to help high school aged students develop the knowledge, skills, and understanding needed to create well-rounded individuals. Our immersion program connects students from the United States and Botswana together in language acquisition, analytical and problem solving techniques, and responses to global issues. This past month, we took ten students from Miami Central Senior High School to Botswana completing a full circle of cultural exchange.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
There have been a lot of people who have supported this program, but I can think of only one person who has had a huge significant influence on the program: Miami Central High School alumnus Arthur Deesaw. Arthur has been one of our largest supporters and a true inspiration to the BISCEP program, despite the fact that he dislikes being recognized, he genuinely wants to see my vision for this program to succeed and continue to flourish.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Absolutely! We need doers. Community leaders are instrumental in pushing a positive narrative and providing representation that matters to young people. Three things they can do to help the social and cultural impact of BISCEP is to be doers, support the vision and cause of the program, and be genuine in educating and expressing the importance of traveling abroad and connecting with our roots.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Larry Osborne offers us this observation on effective leaders: “The most striking thing about highly effective leaders is how little they have in common. What one swears by, another warns against. But one trait stands out: the willingness to risk.”
Leadership is when you make decisions based on your own visions, regardless of the risk others see, without worrying about gaining permission from those that may not be willing to take a leap. My passion leads me on this journey, so even with the risks the reward is far more sweeter.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
What a great question, because we must be able to identify spaces where we might have fallen, but be aware enough to share challenges and how we have overcome.
#1 Be careful who you choose as a fiscal agent. Building and managing a nonprofit organization can have tons of financial risks. You cannot cut corners or go the cheaper route in business. Accept good help, but understand that in business good help is not free.
#2 Choose people who have the same drive as you do. Your team should be equally passionate if not more in pushing the vision forward. Choose people that believe in your vision and your purpose.
#3 Networking with serious leaders. As our organization grows, realize that your circle must also elevate. Get connected with like-minded leaders who will speak your names in a room where you aren’t present.
#4 Don’t be afraid to outsource. Get an independent company to facilitate events and planning logistics. Doing it all is a huge challenge. Outsourcing is also a great opportunity to give back and inspire an up and coming business owner or influencer. You may have once been in their place, and all you needed was a chance.
#5. Understand how to effectively fund a nonprofit program. We are striving to grow, so to expand our program to more schools and communities in the future, B.I.S.C.E.P. would like to work with a grant writer, but all of that requires funding.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Enormous influence? Oh the pressure! 🙂 If I can inspire a movement across the United States, it would be to inspire other high schools, organizations, community leaders and influencers to join us by highlighting the wonders of Africa and changing the narrative by immersing and embracing the culture. Join us in this important cause for the culture.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is by inventor Henry Ford “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” Everything I have accomplished has not been done alone, and wouldn’t be complete without the help of so many others. This quote resonates with me because it’s the perfect story equipped with a concrete beginning, middle and end.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d love to meet and chat with Steve Harvey. It would be awesome to share with him the BISCEP organization’s mission and have the world know about the amazing opportunities and impact that we are bringing to our youth. Steve Harvey and I have a similar connection with Botswana, and I have written letters and tagged him on multiple streams. I am motivated by his positive messages and tenacity in the face of challenges. Man, he would be that person because I have gone through an emotional roller coaster making this happen and I feel he would be humble enough to take the time to chat with a regular but passionate guy like myself. I’ve had this vision of meeting him in August of 2019, while we were both in the country of Botswana at the same time.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Visit our website https://biscep.org and on social media @b.i.s.c.e.p
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Edwin Sheppard of ‘Blindfolded International Student & Cultural… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.