Meet Ruby Au, a recent graduate of University of Southern California and Co-Founder of Lumen Labs, a market survey company that integrates data collection with digital learning to create a sustainable model for computer education in rural Kenya.
Chapter and Induction Year: USC’s Epsilon Chapter, 2015
Field(s) of Study: Business Administration and Environmental Studies
Tell us a bit about your background:
I graduated from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and Dornsife College, where I had the opportunity to travel to 14 countries across four continents as an undergraduate student. My experiences during these travels inspired a keen interest in social enterprise and international development, as well as a desire to work cross-culturally. I had the chance to work with microbusiness in Panama, help establish a community bank project in Honduras, and work at Langa Quarter: a social enterprise precinct in South Africa. In Los Angeles, I was a also a part of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office of Economic Development. Immediately after graduating in May of 2016, I moved to Nairobi, Kenya and worked as a project consultant for social enterprise Sanergy, before deciding to launch Lumen Labs and pursue my long-time dream of entrepreneurship.
You’ve worked a lot with sustainability and economic development; what experience impacted you the most and drove you to start Lumen Labs?
The experience that most influenced my decision to launch Lumen Labs was the opportunity I had working at Langa Quarter in Cape Town, South Africa. Langa Quarter is a social enterprise precinct in the Western Cape’s oldest apartheid-era, black township. The idea was to economically develop the area by providing business training to residents, who would open up their homes as a homestay experience. In essence, it was a way to improve Langa’s neighborhoods by working with the residents rather than gentrifying the area. I had already been interested in social enterprise, but working at Langa solidified that interest; I saw firsthand how business models can be used to enact social change in difficult contexts. This realization was fundamental to my decision to move to Kenya and launch Lumen Labs later on.
Why do you think Phi Beta Kappa and an arts & sciences education are important in today’s society?
Phi Beta Kappa is a champion of an arts & sciences education, which is so incredibly important towards creating a mind that’s capable of imagining, innovating, and balancing multiple perspectives. I studied both Business and Environmental Studies while I was in university, and while business gave me a toolkit of useful hard skills, it was my liberal arts education that pushed me to travel, think critically about issues, and imagine the world as I would like it to be.
What advice do you have for others?
Act while you are inspired and trust your gut. I’ve seen a lot of people return from really cool experiences with new ideas about things that they want to do, but then there’s a lag between having the idea and really getting around to it. Once you lose that spark and fall back into a comfortable status quo, it’s hard to find that feeling again.
What is the best advice you have recieved, and who gave it to you?
The best piece of advice I’ve been given is actually a quote from my favorite book, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: “If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living now.” When the future feels crazy or uncertain, this quote helps me remember to live in the present, and focus on enjoying the journey rather than worrying about where I will end up.