Center for Social Entrepreneurship

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CSE and Davis Project for Peace Grant Recipients Share their Experiences

CSE Grant Recipients and Davis Project for Peace Presentations

October 24, 2014
by Otto Nagengast ‘17

Last spring, five Middlebury students received grants of up to $3,000 for projects relating to social entrepreneurship, and one student received a Davis Project for Peace grant. The projects were diverse in their locations and the issues that they addressed, but they all aimed to create positive social change. On Friday, the students shared their projects and experiences.

This summer, Jacob Eisenberg ’15, Maddie Li ’15, and Nathan Kowalski ’15 teamed up to launch Agora, a start-up application aspiring to connect local investors to local crowd-funded projects. Crowd-funding is when an individual or a project raises funds from a large number of people, typically via the internet. The crowd-funding industry has grown from $1.5 billion in 2011 to $5 billion last year, and it’s projected to grow to $10 billion this year. Crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been successful, but there have been cases when funds don’t reach the most deserving projects; someone raised over $60,000 dollars for a project to make a potato salad. Drawing upon their academic work in geography, Jacob, Maddie, and Nathan saw that crowd-funding may be more effective if people could invest in projects in their community. The project is called Agora, which aims to aggregate projects across several platforms into one platform on which someone could sort projects by geographic proximity and type. People could even browse projects on a map. This summer, the team explored the viability of Agora, refined its design, and created a mock website. During the course of this year, they will create the actual platform, and they hope to release Agora in spring 2015.

With her CSE grant, Naina Qayyum ’15 launched Involving Women for Social Change, which aimed to address the lack of opportunities given to young women in Pakistan. Naina is from Chitral, a small city in northern Pakistan. This summer, Naina returned to Chitral and brought together nineteen young women ages 19 to 24 for five days of workshops that sought to “empower [them] to solve problems that face their own communities.” Naina says that it was a big step in Chitral for nineteen girls to be allowed to meet in a hotel for a session like this. She taught them the precepts of human-centered design, the design philosophy of the famous design firm IDEO. The participants were placed into four groups, and they had to come up with solutions to issues facing their communities. The groups proposed projects ranging from an anti-sexual assault center to an initiative to promote recycling. Naina says that the experience “helped me to understand the power of creativity in a community.”

Patrick Tang ’17 led and expanded Empower with Code with his CSE grant. Founded in January, Empower with Code says that, “through coding, we hope to bridge educational disparity and teach teens basic problem solving skills, logic thinking abilities, and improve their academic performance.” Over the summer, Patrick and a handful of other Middlebury students hosted weekly sessions at the Hannaford Career Center. If the participants attended enough sessions during the two-month program, they were given a laptop that would enable them to program on their own. Last spring, Patrick and his fellow Empower with Code mentors had only three or four participants in each session. But they’ve had over twenty participants in the past two sessions, and they are even planning to bring in professional programmers this semester.

Armel Nibasumba ’16 received a Davis Project for Peace this summer to expand his project Twese for Peace in his home country of Burundi (‘twese’ means everyone in Kirundi, the lingua franca of Burundi). The project initially started with a CSE Summer Grant after his first-year at Middlebury. Burundi shares an ethnic divide between Hutus and Tutsis with neighboring Rwanda, which experienced a brutal genocide in 1994. Armel was born into these times of war, genocide, and intense ethnic strife. After attending an international boarding school in Swaziland, Armel began to wonder why kids from all over the world with different languages and cultures could get along at his school but there was so much ethnic conflict in Burundi. The first summer, Twese for Peace had twenty participants, and they all commuted to the camp. The aim was to teach them conflict resolution and entrepreneurship, because Armel believes that you can’t have peace without economic prosperity and you can’t have economic prosperity without peace. This summer, Armel used the Davis Project for Peace grant to scale up Twese for Peace. Out of 168 applicants from 15 of the 17 provinces in Burundi, Armel and his colleagues selected 35 students hailing from 10 provinces. The participants, most of whom were girls, stayed for 12 days at the camp. At the end of the program, participants presented their ideas for innovative initiatives to address issues in their communities. “They were amazing!” Armel says.

The CSE Summer Grant program enabled these students to carry out extraordinary projects that changed the lives of others. The CSE is looking for a new group of students to create their own amazing project for this upcoming summer.  Applications for the CSE Summer Grants for this coming summer are open through March 31.

More information can be found at: http://mcse.middlebury.edu/engage/portolio/

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