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Kroc School Alumnus's Social Innovation Capstone Leads to Business Launch, Dream Speaking Opportunity

Thursday, June 20, 2019

begin quoteWhen I first enrolled in the Master’s in Social Innovation program, I was surprised to find that it lives in a peace school as opposed to a business school, but that peacebuilder’s lens gives me an advantage.

Nico Darras '18 (MA), second from right, at the NCAA Diversity & Inclusion conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

“If every one of you changed the lives of just 10 people — and each one of those folks changed the lives of another 10 people — just 10 — then in five generations — 125 years — the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.” – Naval Adm. William H. McRaven at the University of Texas commencement speech.

As a master’s student in the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies (Kroc School) at the University of San Diego, these words were my internal motivation. How can one man end the epidemic of sexual violence in the United States?

In order to visualize just how massive of an epidemic sexual assault is, I use an interactive representation. To demonstrate how many persons are sexually assaulted annually I show photos of four college football stadiums. Those stadiums together hold 379,117 people, which is the amount of people who are sexually assaulted each year in the United States.

I started at the Kroc School in 2017, and I focused my research on the link between elite male athletes and sexual violence. Far too often I turn on my TV, scroll through social media or read a news article with a headline that an athlete beat, raped, sexually assaulted or harassed another person. The epidemic of sexual violence was my catalyst for change.

Nico Darras on graduation day at the Kroc School.

Through my Master’s In Social Innovation, I was able to use my capstone project to launch my business, AND ME Consulting, shortly after I graduated in 2018. I travel the country speaking to male athletes at universities on topics including sexual assault, domestic violence, consent and positive masculinity. In addition to speaking to collegiate male athletes, I have a one on one consulting business with professional athletes.

From its inception through today, I view my business through the lens of a peacebuilder. When I first enrolled in the Master’s in Social Innovation program, I was surprised to find that it lives in a peace school as opposed to a business school, but that peacebuilder’s lens gives me an advantage. It helped me identify a critical issue and equipped me with the tools and knowledge to fill that gap with a viable solution.

The Kroc School’s Master’s of Social Innovation helped me focus on my specific plan of action. Taking on a big issue like sexual violence requires a clear vision that can be executed. Having an idea is one thing; actually launching a business is a far different challenge. The words of Professor Karen Henken are chiseled into my brain, “Minimum Viable Product, lean startup and staying accountable with deliverables.” Setting small goals (in support of a larger vision) that I could achieve gave me confidence, and that confidence created momentum.

AND ME is not an overnight success, but rather the culmination of many small wins and goals reached. As I designed the curriculum for AND ME, I began using the human design thinking model I learned as a Social Innovation student. Human design thinking allowed me to put the “customer”(in my case student-athletes) who would be listening to my presentation at the core of my curriculum.

  • What information and statistics do these student-athletes need to know?
  • What would I want to experience if I was an athlete listening to a presentation on sexual violence?
  • How can I engage the student-athletes in meaningful discussion?
  • What kind of space do I want to create?
  • How do my presentations need to look in order to resonate with this group?

Speaking to a group of 17-23-year-old male athletes about sexual assault, domestic violence and consent is a challenge. I knew that the program I created would have to be under one hour and filled with engaging slides and interactive activities. If I was a student-athlete listening to a presentation, I would not want to listen to someone talk “at me” for an hour; I would want to ask questions, engage and participate.

Understanding the needs of my target “customer” has catapulted AND ME towards success. Just recently, and still in my first year of speaking to collegiate student-athletes, I was selected by the NCAA to be a featured panelist during their Diversity & Inclusion conference in Atlanta, Georgia — a real honor for me. I spoke during a session entitled, “Healthy masculinity, detoxing your teams” and focused my talking points on promoting ways universities can empower their male athletes to be beacons of positive change.

Partnering with the NCAA was a dream come true, and a testament to the success of AND ME and my roots in the Master’s in Social Innovation program. The NCAA is the most powerful organization in amateur sports, and to be validated as an expert was an exuberant feeling. Having the privilege to share the stage with fellow leaders and trailblazers to talk about key issues like sexual violence and masculinity was powerful.

My three takeaways for university administrators, coaches and staff to promote positive masculinity were 1) holding deliberate space for men 2) pushing beyond “I am ok” and 3) the importance of male role models. Positive masculinity to me is having the capability to show a full range of emotions, healthy relationship skills (active listening, communication) and, finally, holding other men accountable for their actions. Women have been engaged in the fight to end sexual violence for generations and the time has come for men to stand side by side with them.

My undergraduate education in Women’s Gender & Sexuality Studies and my master’s degree in Social Innovation have given me the research pedigree to be a recognized expert — and in late June, I was accepted to a doctoral program at Pepperdine's Graduate School of Education and Psychology, where I will be going for my doctor of organizational leadership. It took a tremendous amount of hard work to graduate with a master’s degree from the Kroc School, but in the end, “the juice was worth the squeeze.”

Big dreams create big solutions and a key step on that path, for me, was gaining the right skills, attitude, and experiences to pursue them confidently. To the next generation of Kroc School students, I wish you good luck and encouragement to pursue your dreams.


Nico Darras M.A., is the Founder and CEO of AND ME Consulting. Nico has worked with NFL, NBA, MLB players and collegiate sports teams across the country teaching men about sexual violence prevention and promoting positive masculinity. While attending the University of Connecticut on a baseball scholarship, Nico majored in Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies. He was selected as the sole student-athlete representative to help create a bystander intervention and sexual assault prevention program at the University of Connecticut.

After a career-ending injury just one month before the major league draft, Nico made the decision to attend graduate school at the University of San Diego. Nico accepted the Deans’ scholarship to continue his extensive research on men and masculinities. He wrote his master’s thesis on the link between elite male athletes and sexual violence. Realizing the necessity for a sexual violence prevention training program designed by an athlete, specifically for athletes, Nico created AND ME Consulting. AND ME Consulting strives to teach athletes positive masculinity and to join in the fight to end sexual violence.

Starting in 2019, Nico will pursue his PhD in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University's Graduate School of Education and Psychology.

Ready to take make your dreams of shaping a better world a reality? Check out the Kroc School's Master of Arts in Social Innovation program. 


Justin Prugh
(619) 260-7573

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies


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