Over the last twelve years, we have worked with over 300 social entrepreneurs through our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs. GSBI programs enable social entrepreneurs to benefit from the expertise and experience of Silicon Valley executive mentors as they refine their business models and identify opportunities for scaling impact.
Through our Global Social Benefit Fellowship, we provide undergraduates the opportunity of a lifetime: to work in interdisciplinary teams with GSBI Alumni social enterprises around the world. This past summer, 15 students worked for 7 weeks with 6 social enterprises in Mexico, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, and Uganda.
The Fellowship offers a unique experience abroad that cannot be compared to any other study abroad program that the University offers to students. In the GSB Fellows program , students work with social enterprises that are making a real impact today. As a Jesuit university, SCU educates students with the intent that they will utilize their education to improve the lives of others. As a Fellow for GSBI, students are able to begin this mission before they start their senior year.
The Fellowship is a year-long program in which the students are able to utilize the skills they have acquired through their first three years at SCU to figure out how to help a social enterprise better their business. The program is not just traveling abroad, and the impact doesn’t begin and end with the trip itself. There is a significant amount of work that is done before and after the time spent abroad with the entrepreneurs, and the pre- and post-work is some of the most beneficial work that is done for the entrepreneurs and the Fellows. These classes that precede and follow the time abroad are research-heavy and time-consuming. However, they enable the students to deliver meaningful results that truly help the social entrepreneurs with their missions.
Our current class of Fellows returned this past August with new outlooks on how closely the world is connected. Through each of their individual experiences, these Fellows were able to meet and learn from people who are overcoming real problems everyday. The time abroad really brings home the fact that the work that they are doing during the program is going to help real people. The issues are very prominent to many, but there are solutions. The Fellows are able to help figure out these solutions and actually meet some the people whose lives they have impacted.
Caroline De Bie, who has been working with the social enterprise BanaPads
, reflects on her time abroad:
“Everyone who has ever traveled to the developing world comes back all starry-eyed, saying that the people they encountered on their journey were some of the most inspiring, innovative, hard-working and happy people they have ever met. And while it’s easy to silently be annoyed by their optimistic view of poverty, I know exactly what they’re talking about.
One of the most memorable personal stories that we heard during our time getting to know our community in Uganda was the story of a woman named Grace. Grace was one of the first Champions hired by BanaPads in 2010. She was a young mother trying to care for her children and looking for ways to pay their school fees. Once she was hired by BanaPads, she started selling the pads to her neighbors and to local fisherman who would walk by her house. But then she started to save her earnings, eventually saving enough money to open her own store. Although she has no formal education in business, she has her own system of keeping track of inventory and is always thinking of new ways to take her business to the next level.
When we asked her what her favorite part about being a Champion was, she replied, “I love waking up in the morning and knowing that I have my own business. It keeps me working and moving, and I live a better life because of it.” Simply feeling that she is in control of what happens to her and what path she will take in life is enough to keep her going.
After this encounter with Grace, I started to notice this desire for personal autonomy in the other people we talked to. Almost every Champion we talked to said that they felt so much happier now that they could pay for their kids’ school fees. Several high school students we talked to had dreams of going to University to make a life for themselves. I saw signs at almost every school encouraging young people to stand up for themselves and not to fall prey to people who might take advantage of them. Everywhere, I saw small business owners and community efforts run by people who wanted to make a change in their own life and in others’ lives.”
To learn more about her experiences, read her blog
Alex Cabral spent her fellowship working in Mexico with Illumexico
, which provides solar electric systems to rural communities. After her return to her “normal” life, she reflected on the differences between her own community and the communities that she was able to meet during her time abroad.
“Although the communities had similar characteristics (rural, low-income, houses made of wooden planks with woven palm-leaf or tin-planks roofs), each place was unique. Some communities were fairly spread out, with houses sprinkled throughout an open field. Some were buried in the hills, so that it took a 25-minute walk just to get to the front porch. People had talking parrots, motor scooters, hammocks, stereos, a random combination of everything. As I walked through each village, I tried to picture what my life would have been like if I had grown up in those areas. It was difficult. I had never been in that environment before, nor did I know many people who had.
The lifestyles of those reading this blog cannot compare to those of the rural residents of Campeche or Oaxaca. Imagine your grandmother trekking up a rocky mountain for an hour, with bags full of groceries, only to arrive home and begin cooking dinner for a family of six. Imagine chopping reeds with a machete in the backyard for 5 hours in 100-degree weather and stifling humidity so that your family can keep warm when the temperature drops at night. Imagine life without the convenience of running water, electricity, large-scale grocery stores, food diversity, a cold beer on a hot day, ice cubes.
Even with all of these differences, we are one and the same. When interviewing a mother of three children, she described to us how thankful she was that her children could now do their homework after the sun goes down. Now, they have the ability to learn more, have access to better jobs, and create a more comfortable life for themselves compared to previous generations. The success she wishes for her children is the same kind of hope that parents in the Bay Area have for their future toddler CEOs and entrepreneurs.
I saw these connections in each community. In Balancax, Campeche, we approached a blue house with a tin roof and tarps on the windows to keep in the “cool” air. We were welcomed by 5 people, one of who reluctantly looked us over. Before we could explain ourselves, he knew us. He knew we were there to question, to “investigate.” He was the equivalent of the mayor of the community, and asked us at least 10 minutes worth of questions before we gained his trust, were given permission to survey his community, and later received a parting gift of frozen milk and coconut, the coldest food available in the village. Don’t we all wish public officials showed so much care for communities? That they would serve as protectors, then resources, and finally friends?”
To read more of her reflection, click here
If you are interested in learning more about these life-changing experiences, please join us at the Social Entrepreneurship Action Research Roundtables. Teams of Global Social Benefit Fellows will present on cross-cutting themes in social entrepreneurship, drawing from their unique experiences in India, Indonesia, Mexico, Uganda, and the Philippines.
Those interested in applying for the fellowship, especially juniors, are encouraged to attend.
November 3 - APPtitude: Harness Human Potential through Mobile Technology
November 10 - Global Women Entrepreneurs #flawless
November 12 - What Went Wrong With The Millennium Development Goals?
November 17 - Cultural Understanding as a Path to Development
All presentations will be held 4:15-5:15 pm in the Schott Admission Room next to the Enrollment Center.
to listen to the podcast from last year’s roundtables.