Arriving in India was a sensory overload. It has hot. The food was spicy. I couldn’t understand the language and it was a twelve and a half hour time difference.
Even with extensive preparations through the Global Social Benefit Fellowship, it was hard to process all the experiences we were emerged in daily. Utilizing my film background, I worked with sister enterprises Anudip and iMerit, who focus on rural education and job placement in Eastern India, documenting their methods, processes, and social impact. I regularly took three to four hours trains rides to rural villages to film interviews with both the employees and students of the sister organizations.
The excursions were enlivening, eye-opening, and my favorite part of my trip providing a true insights into life in rural India. My fellow fellows and I sifted through a lot this information through discussion and blogs over the summer, but the Social Entrepreneurship Action Research Roundtables (SEARR) gave us another opportunity to analyze our time abroad in a more discussion-based manner.
Our mentors and teachers, Thane Kreiner and Keith Warner, helped fashion us into groups for the roundtables with each team focusing on a different aspect of Social Entrepreneurship. I teamed up with Emily Albi, who worked in Uganda with Solar Sister and Angaza Design, and Jack Bird, who worked with Lifeline Energy in Zambia. As Jack and Emily are very passionate about energy poverty, we decided to center our roundtable on the idea of clean energy in developing nations. While I personally had not dealt with clean energy while working in India with Anudip and iMerit, Jack and Emily were experts on it. After a brief consultation we came up with our name, “Clean Energy: Unlocking Economic Potential,” and we were off.
The Sunday before our presentation Jack, Emily, and I found our way in to a conference room, opened our laptops and our minds and began to talk, think, discuss, and debate clean energy in the developing world. In setting up the lecture, we decided to play to our strengths. Jack and Emily focused on explaining the idea of energy and the power sustainable energy has as a catalyst for change, while I talked about how energy access in rural areas allowed Anudip and iMerit, the companies I worked for, to enact their business strategy and help rural poor transform their lives.
After Jack, Emily and I spoke, we planned to open it up to discussion with the audience. This was the part I was most nervous for, relying on audience participation to fuel discussion always makes me nervous because there is no way to predict what might be said or if anything will be said at all. We posed two main questions to the audience, “What defines an energy Social Enterprise?” and, “Does holding Social Enterprises to a triple bottom line hinder their growth and impact?”
With the first question we hoped to provoke discussion by debating whether PG&E could be considered a social enterprise as they provide energy to ‘underserved’ populations in rural areas. In the second question, we speculated whether clean energy was unlocking potential, or actually undermining potential by restraining scalability in order to keep the enterprise environmentally sustainable.
The answers for the spectators were phenomenal putting all my fears to rest. The audience was passionate, engaged and voiced defenses of both sides of the issue. The excited discussion and connection of the audience turned our lecture on clean energy into a true roundtable.
The Social Entrepreneurship Action Research Roundtables were a fantastic opportunity for my fellows and I to organize all the knowledge we had gained while abroad in our respective placements, draw some conclusions, and compare perspectives on key issues. It allowed us voice the experiences we had, and apply them to the materiel we learned developing out action research projects.
Moreover, the talks helped raise awareness of the fellowship as it ends its second placement and begins to recruit a third class. Hopefully, you attended one, but if you didn't keep an eye out for the talks next year with the next installment of Global Social Benefit Fellows.