Kourosh Houshmand, Top 20 under 20

Second-year Trinity college student Kourosh Houshmand is a former TDSB student trustee, writer for the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail, the founder of Toronto Star Student Hub, and most recently, founder of Solar for Life. As if being a UofT student was not hard enough, the recipient of the 2013 “Canada’s Top 20 under 20” award has taken it upon himself to impact social change in his community. While most of us wait to be academically and financially secure before making any valuable contributions to our society, Kourosh has already been successful in sparking change on the national and international level. 

What are you currently majoring in, and why did you choose that major?

I’m majoring in Politics and Ethics, Society, and Law. I originally planned on majoring in international relations. What I'm studying is a broader theme of social impact so the way I’d like to introduce it is; I like to study about social impact.

Have you always had your current mentality that degrees are worthless, but instead it is the education that you receive that is of true value?

No, I haven’t always had that mentality. I think it came to me when I felt really frustrated and thought that I was being held back. I think that happened specifically the last 2 years of high school when I was struggling to find time to read the newspaper, and for me the places I learned the most in my life was through reading the newspaper, doing things, starting campaigns. . For me it was an incredible experience learning [that the] day that I was doing [better] at school, the less I knew about current issues. And vice versa, when I know a lot about everything else I do terribly at school. So it was just a give and take that I did not want to participate in.

Do you think the university system does a better job at providing the right type of education than post-secondary schools?

I think it’s a little bit better, it gives you some level of independence to allow you to explore. But I still think it fails students because the problem is that as much as we learn, it’s the condition we learn under. There’s a lot of room for looking at how we can spark curiosity. I learn the most when I'm naturally curious about something and when I discover an answer on my own initiative. It’s making knowledge your own and that’s what the education system fails to do.  

To the public eye all of your achievements are equally outstanding, but in your personal opinion what do you find to be your greatest achievement? My biggest achievement was my recent trip to Africa for Solar for Life. It was a personal achievement because for the first time I realized that everything I believed in was garbage, especially in the realm of philanthropy. I came to the realization that there’s so much passion and love of whatever they’re doing in areas where they have the least, and that makes me proud, because I saw students there that were so engaged in what I was saying.

The second achievement was my year as student trustee, I did a campaign called “Stick it to Fast Food” and it got national recognition and 15 000 pledges but I went to Hutchinson Public School because they had invited my co-trustee Hirad and I, basically because they had done a project based on our campaign. So you had grade 7 and 8 boys working on a project that I had no idea about. We entered the school and they were just “oh you guys are the stick it guys” and we felt like rock stars. It’s not something you write on a resume, it’s not something people know about, but for me going to a classroom filled with these boys who were just so excited to learn more.

What inspires you to come up with these successful ideas? What is your motivation behind all the hard work?

I like to see impact, as simple as that is. For me, my biggest fear is witnessing impoverished areas, developed areas, and students. I want passion and hard work to triumph. The goal is to create the condition to help anyone solely based on passion and hard work. I see students in Africa, they’re passionate and they’re going to work hard, but unfortunately there’s a limit and it has nothing to do with them, it’s just their environment. So, I’m passionate about giving people the same opportunities that I had because I had great opportunities growing up.

A lot of people have great ideas, but what is the difference between you, someone who actually implements their plans and takes actions, and them, people who give up before even starting out?

I think out of everyone I'm the one who sends out the most emails to people, I get rejected the most out of everyone, and the key is making yourself vulnerable. It’s all about the quantity of time you’re willing to give and not be hurt by it and not feel like it defines you.

Are your accomplishments planned, or do you find that opportunities find you and you go with the flow?

I think it’s a little bit of both. I think it’s about who can make the most connections, and see the most potential out of the smallest things. If you see there are problems and gaps and you want to be the one to solve it, or you’re constantly thinking about ways to be innovative in the most random things, you have to give yourself the confidence to be able to approach all different aspects of life, so that those opportunities translate to what you focus on. What I focus on is education and social impact, but I’ve had influences from all over, so what I do is seek out small potential in everything, and the most important thing is seeking out small potential in people. Human capital is the best tool that young people have, and from that a lot of opportunities come.

How do you manage to balance your personal, social, academic and professional life?

It’s not hard to manage. I don't believe when people say they’ve spread themselves too thin, I don't think that you can ever spread yourself too thin. When you put yourself in an environment where you’re happy, I'm happy in having something to do always, that caters positively academically and socially. The most important thing is doing something that you’re comfortable with. It’s all about catering to what your comfort zone is. Be balanced for what your comfort zone is and it’s all about just getting yourself where you’re happy. So I use this 80/20 rule. I put 80% of my energy in the top 20 most important things, and 20% of my energy on the least important things, and that often helps as well.  

What does a day in Kourosh Houshmand’s life look like?

I wouldn’t be able to tell you, that’s the beauty of it. Everyday looks different. I have no schedules, no meetings. If I have conferences I'm often late for them. I'm intrigued by not knowing what’s going to happen to me everyday. Why would you want to know what you’re going to do tomorrow? I’m a fan of spontaneity.  

Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

I’d like to see myself work internationally, specifically with socio-economic impact in developing countries; I like working in development. That’s where I see myself, but I plan to go to law school as well. I’m also a big fan of writing. I write for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star and I’d like to continue with that. I’m working on a couple books right now, so we’ll see where those go.

If you could give one piece of advice to your peers, what would it be?

I think people need to think more and they need more time to just sit down and daydream. You’re nothing but a robot if you just do things without thinking. You need to think, you need to explore, you need to be absurd, you need to be stupid at times. You need to have stupid ideas at times. There are such things as stupid ideas, but I think they’re constructive. On a second note, you should think and dream but you shouldn’t think too much.

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With all the great things that Kourosh Houshmand has accomplished for someone as young as himself, he is still not done. He will continue and see where life takes him. Watch out UofT – here is an exemplary student with a great passion for social impact, and an ambitious mentality that will soon transform him into a national leader. We're sure to be seeing plenty more of him in the near future.