Otto Nagengast ‘17
What is social entrepreneurship? This is the question that I asked myself when I first saw signs around campus advertising the Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship. I understood social, and I understood entrepreneurship, but I couldn’t figure out what the two meant together. This is a question that I imagine many others ask themselves, too, when they see “social entrepreneurship.”
To answer this question, I turned to a few of the many Middlebury College students who are active in the field of social entrepreneurship. Although they have been involved in exciting and impactful projects, they were all reluctant to call themselves social entrepreneurs because in the words of one student, Winson, “There is a lot of arrogance in saying ‘I’m a social entrepreneur.’ There’s so much to learn.”
Social entrepreneurship is “the process of seeing and implementing a new solution to any problem,” says Center For Social Entrepreneurship (CSE) Fellow Jeannie Bartlett. As a CSE Fellow, Jeannie worked with local organizations for the past two summers. In her first summer, Jeannie was an intern at the Hannaford Career Center through Middlebury Food Works, an organization that partners Middlebury students with organizations and farms working on issues relating to food. One of her responsibilities in this internship was bringing kids to the Career Center to help raise chickens and sheep. Drawing upon this experience, in her second summer as a Fellow Jeannie created programming at the Middlebury Summer Lunch and Recreation Summer to get kids outdoors because she saw that little programming of the sort existed. During her time as a CSE Fellow Jeannie said that she learned, “There’s a lot of people with a list of dreams they never see realized…social entrepreneurship is a matter of grabbing onto one those dreams and making it happen.”
According to Naina Qayyum, social entrepreneurship is “when citizens see problems that affect them and turn them into challenges and produce something that is useful [that is] good for their society.” Naina comes from Chitral, a town in northern Pakistan. At home, she said, “I feel that not a lot of opportunities are offered to females, particularly young females.” Naina received a CSE Summer Grant for her project, Involving Women for Community Solutions, which aimed to address the lack of opportunities given to young women in Pakistan. Naina returned to Chitral and brought together 19 young women aged 19 to 24 for five days of workshops that sought to “empower [them] to solve problems that face their own communities.” The young women were placed into four groups, and they had to come up with solutions to four challenges, ranging from pollution to child abuse. Although the project was challenging, Naina said, “I was happy to give the mentality of creativity, innovation, and freedom to [the] girls.”
For Armel Nibasumba, social entrepreneurship is “utilizing your potential and your passion to serve. It’s also using creativity to solve a persistent issue.” Armel founded Twese For Peace in his home country of Burundi (‘twese’ means everyone in Kirundi, the lingua franca of Burundi). The project started with a CSE Summer Grant after his first-year at Middlebury. 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. He founded a summer day camp for 20 participants that lasted six days to provide “safe spaces to talk about [sources] of conflict.” Last summer, Armel received a Davis Project for Peace worth $10,000. The grant was to “scale-up what we did [two summers ago] and extend it to the whole country.” 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. They learned principles of entrepreneurship and conflict management. Armel conceded that it was hard, but he was proud of his accomplishment. “I’m so thankful for the [CSE] and the Davis Foundation…they’ve helped me change my country.”
Winson Law spent last summer interning with Thinking Beyond Borders (TBB) whose aim is to educate the future agents of social change. TBB offers gap year and gap semesters of travel and education. Winson worked with founder and CEO, Robin Pendoley, who is a friend of Professor Jon Isham, Director of the CSE. After his experiences in the field of social entrepreneurship Winson says, “Now, I think a lot more about the root of a problem…[about] what’s causing a problem or challenge…I learned to ask a lot of questions.”
Prestige Shongwe completed the first year of his CSE Fellowship this summer while working for the Child Right Governance program at Save the Children – Mozambique, not far from his home in Swaziland. Writing from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he is spending the fall semester, Prestige says he credits what he calls the “social entrepreneurship ecosystem” at Middlebury for “[inspiring] him to become a social entrepreneur.” He elaborated, “the CSE, through its various programs ranging from the Friday Speakers Series and the annual [January] term Social Entrepreneurship Symposium, has been a key Middlebury institution that has fostered an environment that consistently bring interesting and diverse individuals to campus who have engaged with social entrepreneurship via different access points.”
So, what is social entrepreneurship? Social entrepreneurship encompasses projects as diverse as outdoor education in Vermont to women empowerment in Pakistan. At its core, social entrepreneurship is the ability to find a problem that faces society, analyze it, and, ultimately, address it.
Middlebury offers a host of opportunities that enable students to learn about and practice social entrepreneurship. There are the Summer Grants, the Fellowship Program, and the Davis Projects for Peace. There will also be the Social Entrepreneurship Symposium in January. On a more frequent basis, the Friday Speaker Series offers a great opportunity to see how individuals are using the principle of social entrepreneurship to make an impact on the world.
Creative solutions are needed to address to complex problems. We hope that you’ll join us this year and explore how social entrepreneurship can make the world a better place.