I’m originally from Philadelphia in the US. My interests lie in sustainability and public policy, and I love working to tackle the roots of inequality. In my role as a Global Markets Ambassador, I provide counseling to prospective students and their families on both academic and social activities at IE University. My Coca project team—a group of 10—all come from different degree programs and years, from IE University in both Madrid and Segovia. We all share a common interest in sustainability, community impact and business development.
Shannon Clancy is about to begin the third year of her Bachelor in International Relations. Describing herself as driven and enthusiastic, her passion for sustainability and problem-solving through public policy saw her sign up for the Coca project, a community engagement initiative designed to help revive the town of Coca near Segovia.
Coca is a small municipality of some 1,800 inhabitants. Though it boasts a deep cultural history and stunning landscapes, the town has suffered depopulation as more and more people move away in search of opportunity. Through workshops, field visits and hackathons, as well as engaging directly with local Caucanses, team leader Shannon and her colleagues developed a comprehensive socioeconomic plan to breathe new life into the community.
Tell us about the Coca project.
The Coca project, led by Professor Miguel Larrañaga, is a unique venture that combines two core IE University principles: entrepreneurship and innovation. Our mission is to revitalize Coca and create the framework to help it reach its full potential. Coca is about a 50-minute drive from the city of Segovia. It has a rich history, a gorgeous castle and some beautiful views, but it’s experiencing depopulation—an issue that plagues much of rural Spain and Europe on a greater scale.
Our team was asked to come up with an innovative, entrepreneurial approach to attract more people to the town and revitalize the community. We held hackathons and all-day workshops to tackle the complex issues at hand, along with going to Coca itself to conduct fieldwork and hear from the Caucanses, the citizens of Coca, on what they want the project to look like. Though this is a rather large, long-term project, we’ve completed Phase 1, creating a general framework and getting all stakeholders on board for the next steps.
How was your experience with the project—what did you like most and what have you learned?
We’ve learned many things. For me personally, the special part of the project was speaking to the people of Coca. As students, it’s easy to detach from our mission statements and purpose, but to be able to make connections with the citizens was gratifying and made us work that much harder.
I think one of the biggest challenges we faced was finding a balance between the blend of old and new. It would be wrong to introduce all-new technologies if the people aren’t comfortable adopting the changes. I’m happy to say that once we went to Coca, we tailored the business plan to emphasize the social and emotional strengths of the townspeople.
How does the project equip you for the future?
There’s something powerful about being able to marry the ideas of so many different stakeholders. At times, it was hard to see a final vision because there were contradictory interests and ideas, but through many discussions, a common consensus was agreed upon. I think this is a great skill to take into practice in the real world.
Your main takeaways from this experience?
I would say my main takeaways have been threefold. These include:
• Always put the citizens’ voices first. We can’t view this project as a business plan for a town. Instead, it must be approached as an all-encompassing, sustainable proposal for the town and its citizens.
• The importance of collaborating with students from different disciplines and interests. Working in this team of 10, everyone brought a different set of skills and experience to the table. In a project that has so many moving parts, this was an indispensable advantage for our team.
• Project-based learning is great, but the more satisfying exercise is “problem-based learning.” When we have a real and tangible problem to solve, a renewed sense of responsibility and direction emerges.
What can future students learn from your experience in the project and at IE University?
Being involved in a project like this was very special for me. I often feel like I can be in a sort of “international student bubble,” where I don’t feel connected to Spain as a whole. By working on a project that’s driven to create community impact, I’ve found a real sense of purpose. It’s also exciting because, as this project takes off, there are hopes of recreating such projects in other countries that also struggle with similar issues of depopulation.