The Unreasonable Institute Visits Colorado Academy

Tyler Hartung stands in front of a room of seventh graders in the project-based learning class, Outside the Box. Before answering the abundance of student questions he’s written on the board, he addresses the issue of failure. “We’re trying to help people who have no food, have food,” he says. “Who have no access to water, have water. We’re trying to help a million people move out of poverty. But the problem is, we actually have no idea how to do it.”

Hartung is one of the co-founders of the Unreasonable Institute, a company more known for its successes than its failures. Based in Boulder, the Unreasonable Institute helps get entrepreneurs what they need to scale solutions to the world’s biggest problems by bringing them together from all over the globe to live in a house for six weeks. During that time, the entrepreneurs are swarmed with mentors, funders, and partners in order to help grow their impact. The Unreasonable Institute has locations in Colorado, East Africa, and Mexico.

TylerHartung-UnreasonableInstitute“We get seasoned mentors to come help us because we’re vulnerable with the things we can do well and the things that we cannot,” he says.

A student raises his hand to ask how Hartung can convince major execs from all over the world to mentor these entrepreneurs. “Really, you just ask,” he says.

And that’s how Hartung came to visit Colorado Academy. He was asked by Outside the Box teacher Forbes Cone, who says that after hearing about the Unreasonable Institute, he thought it was a “perfect tie-in to what we’re doing in class.”

Outside the Box, a seventh-grade course where students work through challenges to teach and practice CA’s 6Cs of character, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and cultural competence is slowly chipping away at a yearlong social justice research project.

“The students learn about different social issues,” says Cone, “and then, after conducting research, design a way to take some action.” It’s similar to what the Unreasonable Institute does, and Hartung pulls up the first example of how it does it — a video of a man from Uganda named Moses Sanga, the founder of a social enterprise called ECO-FUEL AFRICA LIMITED, which makes clean cooking fuel from agriculture waste.

In the video, Sanga explains that 90 percent of people in Uganda use wood for cooking by burning trees to make charcoal, resulting in deforestation. He explains that in Uganda, 70 percent of the forests already have been cleared and that if nothing is done, Africa will have no forests left by the year 2052.

“Why can’t we partner with other organizations and turn our competitors into collaborators?”

Hartung, who through the Unreasonable Institute helped get Sanga funders and better equipment to produce charcoal at a greater rate, cuts the video short to examine the impact.

“Imagine all of the agricultural waste that’s being cut down and just left on the ground to decay,” he says. “Sanga buys that waste from farmers, giving them an extra income. Then he turns that waste into green charcoal and helps poor women sell it. Now charcoal is being made with agricultural waste, being sold through poor women for a cheaper price, all while burning cleaner and also helping to prevent deforestation.”

One student asks how the Institute finds entrepreneurs like Sanga, and Hartung pulls up a page of its website that lists its more than 200 partners. “We thought: Why can’t we partner with other organizations and turn our competitors into collaborators?” Hartung says.

It’s the second in a string of slogans he produces: “turning competitors into collaborators.” Earlier he mentioned turning “success into significance” — which is the point of the Unreasonable Institute and of the social justice project. It’s also what seventh-grader Willa Dorgan hopes to do with her research on gender inequality.

“My investigation of females vs. male CEO pay discrimination in American businesses will seek to create positive change in order for all women entrepreneurs to have equal pay and business opportunities across the globe,” says Dorgan.

Like Dorgan, other Outside the Box students tackling issues such as gay rights, racism and the environment, aren’t deterred by their age or lack of experience. And neither is Hartung.

“You hear the story of these people becoming famous entrepreneurs, but my point is that they’re starting with just an idea to change the world,” he says. “If you actually know where you’re trying to go and where you are and then break it down, that goal becomes a lot more manageable and attainable;” a point that wasn’t lost on Dorgan.

“There is an old saying that, ‘Every ocean starts with one drop,’” she says. “If we want to change the world for the better, even the smallest thing can help.”