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Students reflect on once-in-a-lifetime global experience

01/06/15 - BOSTON, MA. - Global Officers, Matt Bilotti, DMSB’15, and Caitlin Morelli, SSH’15. Staff Photo: Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Matt Bilotti, DMSB’15, and Caitlin Morelli, SSH’16, settle into the gray plastic chairs at a high-top table in afterHOURS, the popular study space in the Curry Student Center. Time is short—their day is filled with meetings and interviews—but their collective esprit is high, their desire to share personal anecdotes and life-defining lessons particularly strong.

It’s Wednesday, May 20, and President Joseph E. Aoun’s first two Global Officers have returned to campus for a brief respite from traveling the world. By Friday, he will be in Texas and she Peru, two globetrotters back on the road for their final month of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And they wouldn’t have it any other way. “The adrenaline,” says Bilotti over the din of commerce, “is still there.”

Where in the world were Bilotti and Morelli?

Bilotti’s journey—a five-month mission to pioneer new partnerships with the world’s top entrepreneurial leaders—began in January in London. The first 120-some-odd days of his adventure were marked by change, the only constants his single suitcase and his smartphone.

“I didn’t have a normal form of culture shock,” he says, “because I was forced to confront a new language and a new way of doing things every week.”

Bilotti visited 19 countries, including Singapore, Switzerland, and South Africa, where he networked with the movers and shakers in the startup industry. His favorite startup in all of Europe, he says, is Wooga, a Berlin-based mobile-first game developer. “They celebrate failure as a true learning experience,” he wrote in his Global Officer blog, noting that the venture employs one game design co-op per cycle. “When a game shuts down, team members go into a learning limbo where they learn new coding languages, get mentored by others in the company, or build their own things.”

Wooga’s “Wall of Fame” comprises framed photos of all the startup’s games—even if they were quashed before launching.

Morelli’s journey—a five-month mission to build relationships with the world’s most innovative social enterprises—began in Mumbai, India, a city “packed with social entrepreneurs starting new ventures and others that are at the cusp of enormous growth.”

Her first four months on the road comprised stops in 18 countries, including Thailand, Chile, and Brazil. One of her most visceral experiences took place in the kitchen of Akshaya Patra, a Bangalore-based nonprofit that runs a daily school lunch program for some 1.4 million children in India.

The menu included rice and sambar, a lentil-based vegetable stew. “This isn’t the kind of factory food we get in the U.S.,” Morelli wrote in her Global Officer blog. “This is hygienic, healthy, delicious food cooked with the customer in mind—kids!”

All about that blog

Bilotti and Morelli have remained connected to the Northeastern community through social media, documenting their journeys on Twitter, Instagram, and their aforementioned Global Officer blogs.

CM: The sun sets in Rocinha but the favela stays alive and vibrant through the night

A photo posted by @globalofficers on

Morelli is particularly keen on inspiring students through her blog posts, many of which focus on the social entrepreneurs she’s met and the companies they’ve founded.“I’ve posted photos, videos, and write-ups of these organizations in order to motivate students to become more aware of what’s happening in the world,” she says. “The blog,” she adds, “is focused on creating content that will outlast my stay at Northeastern and piquing the interest of students who want to do co-ops in these countries and at these organizations.”

Her Feb. 4 blog post highlighted the social entrepreneurship ecosystem in India, where humanitarians have been using business principles to solve problems in fields ranging from organic farming to renewable energy. A social entrepreneur named Nilima, Morelli noted, is but one of the many “cool people doing cool things” in Mumbai, where she is working to promote gender equality and sex education.

“If I’ve learned anything from these stories,” Morelli blogged, following her meeting with Nilima in a Mumbai coffee shop, “it’s that life sometimes tells us where to go instead of the other way around.”

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Morelli and Nilima, pictured here, discussed the ins and outs of social entrepreneurship at a coffee shop in Bandra, Morelli’s favorite Mumbai village.

Bilotti, for his part, has focused on spotlighting well-connected young alumni and telling the startup story, typing up post after post on new ventures in cities ranging from Dublin to Amsterdam. But one of his most poignant write-ups derived from a more personal experience. His April 29 entry, titled “Hitting the Pause Button,” delved into the recent death of his grandmother, which forced him to cancel his trip to Cape Town, South Africa, in order to return home to New York to attend her funeral.

The experience, he says, has taught him a valuable lesson: “It’s really easy to get wrapped up in something that’s exciting and then forget what’s really important in life,” he explains. “I couldn’t be happier that I did go home, because being there for my family showed me that sometimes you have to put your own stuff aside.”

If you build it…

Bilotti and Morelli say that their global expeditions have shaped their career paths. That pioneering new opportunities in new places for current and future cohorts of Northeastern students has made it easier for them to foresee their own futures.

Bilotti—a fifth-year major in business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurship and new venture management—wants to build his own company from the ground up. He plans to graduate in August and then stay in Boston, where he’ll have access to his new network of global mentors, advisers, and investors.

A venture capitalist whom he met in Sydney, Australia, has already offered him a particularly pertinent piece of career advice: “Don’t just focus on a specific market,” Bill Bartee, the cofounder of Blackbird Ventures, told him. “If you build a company, make it a global business from day 1.”

Morelli—a fourth-year combined major in political science and international affairs—is an aspiring social entrepreneur. And though she is unsure of her first career move, she is particularly cognizant of the commitment and dedication it will take to effect global change.

“After traveling from country to country, I now want to pick one place and get to know it well,” she says. “I’m very mindful of sustainability and I want to ground myself.”

She adds: “The most successful people who I’ve met on this journey are those who know how to take advantage of an opportunity when it comes up. Hopefully I’ll be able to recognize the opportunities that come my way and then act on them.”

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