Even through tough times, Shad alumni are harnessing their passions to inform business decisions, educate others and develop innovative solutions to complex problems.

Shad2002 Baillie Aaron is no exception.

She founded two-award winning organizations that champion criminal justice reform from the inside-out. She won the Women Economic Forum Iconic Innovative Trailblazer of the Decade and was recognized as an HCL Goodwill Champion at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. And now she is inspiring others through writing, speaking, and coaching.

But before immersing herself into the social impact space, she had an entirely different idea of what her future would look like.

“I went to university thinking that I wanted to go into business or consulting,” says Baillie. “But I had never heard of a social entrepreneur before.”

Going into Shad she was interested in science and math. Even after, she entered Harvard University studying applied mathematics.

“I ended up doing something completely different, but my experience at Shad helped expose me to new subject areas and enhance my entrepreneurship skills. My group won the best business plan (for the infamous Cow Diaper). In my journal I wrote, ‘I have learned so much about myself, who I want to be and who I don’t through Shad.’”

“At that age, it’s so important to have a sense of belonging and community. I really did feel I fit in with my peers at Shad. I’m still in touch with friends I met there.”

Baillie and fellow Shads during the 2002 program.

After shifting her studies to behavioural economics, Baillie centred her research on the criminal justice system, the threads of injustice, classism, and racism sticking with her beyond lectures and textbook pages.

In 2007, she began tutoring men in a Massachusetts prison as a volunteer.

“Once I started to hear personal stories from people in prison, it was hard not to notice the systemic injustices. And the strong values I have around fairness and justice were ignited,” says Baillie.

She realised many prisoners had an affinity for entrepreneurship. Even given the constraints of the prison environment, one of her students was making greeting cards, trading them in exchange for other items.

This creativity, resourcefulness, and resilience is what inspired her first foray into social entrepreneurship: Venturing Out, a non-profit that offered entrepreneurship courses to men and women in prison to support their self-sufficiency post-release.

“The vision was very much driven by the students I was working with at the time.”

Following a move to England, Baillie founded Spark Inside. She brought together young Londoners who had either been through the criminal justice system themselves or had friends or family in the system. This included some people who just left prison.

She asked them about what would have benefited them or their friends or family during those times.   

“The spirit of Spark Inside has been co-creation and co-development. These young people said two things: What we don’t want is someone telling us what to do; we don’t want advice. We also don’t want a curriculum because we are all individuals and we aren’t bound by this one-size-fits-all structure.”

With this instruction, Spark Inside embraced coaching and now provides three programs in prisons located in London and South East England.

Hero’s Journey™ works with young people aged 15-25 through group sessions, one-on-one coaching and transitions back into the community. Hero’s Journey™ from a Black perspective was co-designed by young Black men and provides tailored supports to individuals who are overrepresented in the prison system. The Conversation brings together officers and prisoners, where the main goal is to help them empathize with each other and identify common problems and solutions. Over 1,000 participants have gone through these programs.

On top of coaching, Spark Inside also advocates for change in criminal justice policy and facilitates in-prison advisory boards so that people in prison are able to share their experiences and perspectives to inform Spark Inside’s work.

Now, Baillie is turning to thought leadership. She shares her insights as a writer, speaker and coach on her website. She is also developing a course on navigating the journey of transition and launching a newsletter.

“I particularly enjoy coaching social entrepreneurs who are thoughtful, talented leaders from less privileged backgrounds,” says Baillie. “The journey of entrepreneurship isn’t a fair one. Some people start off with a lot more than others. I want us all to live our potential.”

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