In His Own Words: Craig Zelizer

October 18, 2017

Craig Zelizer (SOCI '95) studied at the Prague campus during CEU’s early years. He has dedicated his life to being an entrepreneur and to creating a more peaceful world.

For more than ten years he was a professor in the Conflict Resolution program at Georgetown University. He stepped down in June 2016 to follow his dream and work full time on PCDN Network, a go-to hub for the global change making community that covers 36,500 members in more than 180 countries. He has received several awards including George Mason’s School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution’s alumni of the year award and CEU Alumni Career Achievement award. He has published widely on peacebuilding, entrepreneurship, and innovation in higher education.

What’s the most exciting thing about being a ‘global social change maker’? What does that mean, exactly?

It isn’t an official title, but I think basically it means I’ve dedicated my entire career to advancing creative ways of fostering social change, to help address (in a small way) the many significant challenges the world faces. I think the term 'social entrepreneur' probably is the more appropriate term. A social entrepreneur is a person who strives to foster innovative change to address societal challenges, through a combination of grit, sustained effort, working in partnership with many others (building coalitions), working to address the larger issues and advance change (not just focused on service delivery or alleviating the problem), and using some aspect of market based approaches to scaling programming and sustaining revenue.

What do you see as the importance of your work?

It is hard to say how one’s own work is important. But I can say PCDN, the social enterprise I founded, has impacted thousands around the world. For many of our almost 40,000 members we’re the essential resource to help them sustain their work, find relevant professional opportunities and not feel isolated in the often long-hard slog of social change work. Around the world when I interact with PCDN members we meet so many people who tell us amazing stories of the impact we’ve had on their work, organizations and lives. Some stories include 50 percent of all grants for one organization came via opportunities on our platform, or other say I’ve been on PCDN for years and gotten several jobs, or a fellowship or much more. Of course we aren’t a humanitarian organization on the front lines of humanitarian work, saving lives or stopping conflict. But we do provide access to information, opportunities and how to leverage these to advance social impact and proud of our work. Our basic mission at PCDN to democratize access to information to ensure that people and organization working to advance change have the tools, resources, opportunities and inspiration to sustain and scale their work.

I believe enough in PCDN that I decided last year to quit my amazing job at Georgetown University after a decade.

How did CEU influence your career?

Attending CEU had a profound impact on my career. First I loved being part of the early years of the university and going through some of the wonderful (and frustrating aspects) of being a startup university. I had already been living in Central Europe, in Hungary, for several years. I applied to CEU in Hungary and Czech Republic for different programs. I was delighted to be accepted at both and decided to go to Prague and learn some of new language, live in amazing city and get a high quality education.

The knowledge, connections and insights I gained at CEU had a very significant impact on me personally and professionally. I got a very high quality education in sociology, research methods and many other sectors. The strong foundation of using the theory and practice to better advance the development of open societies has helped guide my work for many years. Interacting with individuals from across Central and Eastern Europe (at that time the university only had a few students from the “West” and most were from the emerging democracies, also taught me so much and I made life-long friends.

You’re a proponent of social networking and changemaking. How does CEU’s global alumni community rate, in terms of a network and as a force for change?

I greatly admire the founding ethos of CEU, of providing the highest quality education to emerging leaders from around the globe. To help equip them with the scholarly training and practical skills to be changemakers in diverse sectoral areas ranging from government, private sector, higher education and civil society. CEU’s alumni pool are often among the leading change agents in their respective societies and the

collectively this adds up to a huge impact. In a short time, I think CEU likely has had a greater impact on the world than comparable institutions.

What, if anything, is this community doing well? How could it do better?

I think the main challenge is developing stronger ties among the CEU alum community and current students/faculty. I think many alum would be happy to be engaged, but most people are very busy. The key question is to create more opportunities to engage alum (at the level they can) and incubate creative partnerships (perhaps CEU could provide seed funding, technical guidance) so they see they are part of this amazing community for life. That giving back to CEU not only helps keep the institution thriving in this challenging world, but also can lead to benefits for alum through new contacts & opportunities.

You volunteer and donate to CEU (thank you!). Why do you do it?

I am very grateful to CEU for the opportunity to study there and being provided with a tuition fellowship. My experience was wonderful and helped propel me further in my career of change. I’m frequently recommend CEU to prospective students around the world seeking an outstanding education experience, in a global community of leading scholars, practitioners and students directly engaging in essential questions about justice, fair policy, equity and more. An education at CEU equips people with the tools and connections to advance change.

What do you miss most about CEU/Budapest?

I did study at CEU/Prauge which did close shortly after my class graduated. This was unfortunate but having a central campus for CEU I think is a huge asset and provides a much better educational experience and community. What I miss most is at that time although there was horrific suffering particularly with the conflicts in parts of Former Yugoslavia, I think there was a much greater deal of optimism about the world and that we were on the right path towards creating a more just and sustainable future. I think that these days that although I am inspired on a daily basis by the millions of people and organizations working to build a more just economy, advance human rights, peacefully resolve conflicts, there is also a strong sense the world is in a very chaotic state and the tools we have to address change are not adequately meeting the huge challenges.

I also miss my friends and the intense experience, but know we are all on our respective paths but still connected.