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Igniting connections to illuminate systems

It starts with a connection. A connection to someone in your grocery store, a connection to a stranger on the bus, or a connection between a businessperson and a citizen re-emerging from the criminal justice system. That third connection is where Sonja Skvarla focuses her energy.

Imagine: the gates open up and you walk out into a whole new world. You were in prison for 5 or 10 years, and your only interaction was what you saw on TV and whoever lived close enough to come visit you. Think of all the unknown variables of prison that you may have encountered inside, quadruple them, and that's the new unknown you now have to encounter.

For every minute Sonja spends thinking about the system, she probably spends another 10 acting in it. She started A Social Ignition to teach entrepreneurship to those being thrown back into the world and to provide rich experiences to the people who are attempting to catch them.

That action is the magic, and it's remarkably simple. When the recently-incarcerated interact with the professionally-experienced, a beautiful connection is made, and the ripples stretch out for miles. And when our current system of re-entrance is rife with racial, religious and gender discrimination (and more unknowns), it's easy to see how much work must be done here, or how many "actions" need to take place.

Sonja explains her work at A Social Ignition: "There are the doing actions of 'we teach entrepreneurship' and then there are other things that have nothing to do with entrepreneurship, like linking the formerly incarcerated with mentors and allowing them to enrich each other's lives."

If a mentor's life is enriched by the presence of a former inmate, then a white collar guy goes back to his white collar job with a new perspective for an orange collar system. A mentor that signed up just to help is surprised to receive more than they gave. Their life changes, and their capacity to hire formerly incarcerated people changes dramatically. Now that's a leverage point.

As professional systems thinkers, we have words and phrases which help us quickly grasp a concept or a system. Terms like "school to prison pipeline" and words like "incarceration" or "recidivism" get us as close to a concept as many of us care to go. But then we need to drop those words, ignore definitions altogether, and connect with one another to experience something deeper through action.

That's where the change is at.

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Born and raised in Chicago, Sonja is the Founder of A Social Ignition, a social enterprise that teaches entrepreneurship skills and strengthens connections with the business and start-up communities.


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