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Starting Something New

Starting Something New

Now that he has been named a 2015–16 Changemaker Fellow, William Zheng 17 ID hopes to inspire other students to pursue their interest in socially conscious startups.

William Zheng 17 ID with his friend Cissy Yuan (17 ID) during his summer internship in NYC.

“My projects have always entailed a social component,” says William Zheng 17 ID, who has been named a 2015–16 Changemaker Fellow by the Providence-based Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG) and The Founders League, a local organization that offers coworking and networking support for Rhode Island’s startup community.

The new Changemaker program is designed to integrate current college students and recent graduates with entrepreneurial interests into the state’s startup and small business ecosystem. Zheng is one of the first 11 Changemaker Fellows selected to represent each of Rhode Island’s colleges and universities. A junior in Industrial Design, he is also pursuing a concentration in Global Processes through the department of History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences.

As a Changemaker Fellow, Zheng is receiving a $2,000 honorarium and is expected to put in a fair amount of time each week meeting with RISD students about how to develop social enterprises, building relationships with Changemaker Fellows at other colleges and helping connect students to local resources available to assist socially conscious entrepreneurs.

A project manager for RISD E’Ship, a student organization focused on entrepreneurship, Zheng says that the progressive, hands-on ethos of fellow students makes RISD particularly fertile ground for growing social enterprises. Not big on sleep, he’s also involved with Brown’s PRIME engineering entrepreneurship program.

Over the summer Zheng interned at Zady, a small apparel startup in lower Manhattan that attracted him because of its emphasis on sustainable design. The experience strengthened his commitment to continue pushing for sustainability in every industry – including apparel. “I want to make sustainability affordable,” he noted in an Inter(n)view piece on the ID blog. “I want to find a way where the common American can be a socially, environmentally sustainable person.”

Having grown up in Shanghai, Zheng is also especially interested in issues of globalization and the developed world’s relationships with the global south. “China is one of the world’s largest economies right now,” he says, “but there is also great social and economic inequality in the urban areas and even more so in rural China.”

Those and other global realities continue to inspire Zheng to work towards making positive change through design. Eager to address issues of inequality in the global workforce, he’s taking a course at Brown this fall on global corporate accountability and says that in addition to looking at the aesthetics and functionality of any given consumer item, people “need to think of how products are made, and by whom.” Eventually, he hopes to influence the way business leaders in the developed world think about and treat low-wage and underage workers in the world’s poorest countries.