Helping — A Powerful and Timely Panacea

We are helping a lot of different communities at Protopia

As part of my onboarding process to Protopia, I had to read Reinforcements(1), and I’m not sure a more foresighted assignment could have been given. The book contains the best aspects of what academics turned popular press authors can provide — clear and compelling prose, actionable advice and just enough citations / examples to prove validity and rigor. Perhaps the three most important concepts in the book that relate to today’s new normal are:

  • Volunteering makes us feel connected, happy and good. I’m not sure there is a better way to fight off the increased sense of cabin fever, anxiety and isolation that many of us are going through at the moment.
  • People are wired to want to help. Helping our “tribe” may be deeply ingrained and a genetic survival trait. Reducing the frictions that interfere with this natural tendency leads to better outcomes for everyone.
  • Asking for help can be hard. Requesting assistance makes most of us feel vulnerable due to the fear of being rejected, looking weak or seemingly incapable. People habitually underestimate the likelihood of receiving help as well as the amount of assistance people will give. If we want people to be better off, we need to make it easier and less risky to ask for aid.

Applying this to higher education, students are clearly facing significant uncertainty and massive change. Obtaining a job, finding an internship, deciding upon the right major for them (to name but a few challenges) has become more difficult. At the same time, alumni — who have great expertise in these areas — are more interested in helping, in part because they can empathize with students’ plight. Furthermore, the positive feelings derived from volunteering are especially valuable given the pandemic and resulting restrictions. Lastly, it has never been more important for schools (and other institutions) to make the right decision about how to virtually engage their constituents.

Putting this all together, community engagement tools that can be implemented quickly (measured in days), have broad reach (include 90%+ of the community) and are proven effective, are critical to solving these top-tier issues and makes everyone better off.

We at Protopia care deeply about helping and creating silver linings in these troubled times. We would love to learn more about your unique situation and share our insights that we have distilled from talking to hundreds of schools and connecting thousands of students and alumni that otherwise would never have met. I promise that we’ll both feel better afterwards.


1) Halvorson, Heidi Grant. (2018). Reinforcements: how to get people to help you. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

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