When I was in high school, I took a course called Business and Society. This course was co-taught but the Teacher Kevin, the then head of the Religion Department at my school, Westtown, and Teacher Jay, one of the founders of B-Corp and a parent at the school. This course made relevant religious principals of radical love and compassion by contextualizing them in today’s socio-political-economic realities. In this course (and in others I took at Westtown), we asked ourselves what is the root of our essence, what are our privileges and where do we have access, and what is our responsibility given the two. Each person, I believe, asks themselves these questions throughout their lives and to each there is an answer that reflects their life experiences, their knowledges, and their beliefs.
In this course, learned about B-Corps, a movement for conscious capitalism that promotes a triple bottom line to business: people, profit, and planet. One such company is Greystone Bakery in Yonkers that employs anyone who applies and then develops hard skills as well as personal transformation through meditation. The founder was a Buddhist who saw much suffering in Yonkers; the cycle of poverty, the school to prison pipeline, and wanted to create a company that would address the social needs, one by one, changing the community. Greystone Bakery makes brownies, delicious brownies that you can try in Ben & Jerry’s ice creams.
After this course, I was convinced that although capitalism had resulted in much social inequality, conscious capitalism could be the market-based solution for equality. It would create solutions where governments and NGOs have failed. It would sustain social justice movements by embedding social values into the economy.
Until this program, social entrepreneurship was everything from impact investing to microfinance, to companies with a social value, to community based organizations with a financial model. The difference between an enterprise and a social enterprise is that an enterprise is an organization in the market that aims to increase profits for their shareholders and a social enterprise combines, in some way or another, financial and social benefits.
Last semester, I took a course at Pomona called Religion, Ethics, & Social Practice (one of the schools in the consortium). This course, like Business & Society, asked of me who am I in this world and what can I do to make it a better place. (I am simplifying these questions – and answers). This course opened my eyes to community organizing as well as deepened my connection with spiritual and physical practice. For me, these two are closely connected. I see around me people denying physical reality for spiritual attainment and those denying spiritual/personal work for relentless social activism. Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, The Reunion by Tom Hayden, and Palker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak gave frameworks for combining spiritual practice with radical social activism. Through guest lecturers and site visits, I learned the importance of coalition building, of seeing no enemies. Meditation can teach us how to most effectively fight systems and help us not burnout, but meditation without engaging the world is in vain. I believe that spiritual practice, whether rooted in religious tradition or not, is the only way to get out of the crisis we are in (and if you don’t believe we are in a crisis, just ask the Grandmothers).
So, to answer our question, what is social entrepreneurship? Social entrepreneurship is the process of social entrepreneurs creating a social enterprise. An Ashoka Fellow and founder of StartUp!, a social innovation incubator in Delhi, our Indian professor, Manisha, explained social as relentless systems changers, tireless coalition builders, and bold visionaries. Social entrepreneurs don’t follow rules but make up their own rules to address the needs of their communities in the moment. They aim to work fluidly, to widen circles, to deconstruct boundaries, and to make the world better by addressing the needs of the one and the many. Social entrepreneurs see the one in the many, the many in the one. The enterprises they create reflect and sustain the process without attachment to the end product but lazor-focused vision on impact.
Friends, hello, it’s been a while. I tried to commit to one post a week. But here we are, four weeks, no posts… I am writing from an air conditioned, seated car on a IRCTC train gazing out onto the landscape between Jaipur and New Delhi. What is it about quickly passing through a landscape that compels me to write and reflect?
The last week in Uganda was a scramble to finish my assignments. In Design Thinking and Development, I created a photo essay to present my research on the topic of the relationship between humans and the earth. In Technology, Change, and Innovation, I wrote a paper on clay pot water filters. For Anthropology and Social Change, I explored the topic of development, decolonizing, and the roles of social enterprises: my thesis is this: “Through a discussion of literature and experiences in Uganda, this essay problemetizes the social imagination of development and modernity as defined and imposed by the West and discusses the role social entrepreneurship plays in sustaining the development narrative, suggesting that social entrepreneurs can work in this system to dismantle it.” If you are interested in reading any of these essays I would be happy to send them to you. For Social Entrepreneurship, my group focused our research on the question: how does clean energy technology impact women’s empowerment? To answer this question, we visited Green Bio Energy, a company that makes clean cooking charcoal out of bio waste (banana peelings, organic waste, and dust). We found that clean energy directly impacts women’s empowerment because women are most affected by dirty energy; their health suffers from increased exposure to indoor pollution while cooking and they are in harms way when they collect firewood from the forests, just to name a few reasons why. The intensity of the course work and the deep immersion that is this whole experience is mentally, emotionally, and physically draining but also deeply rewarding.
I left Kampala feeling so much love for my host family, Maama Patricia, Taata Joseph, my sisters Bertha, Brenda, and Belinda, and the other friends and family created. I left Kampala exhausted from working late into the night and excited to rekindle my relationship with India.
I first came to India when I was 12 with my Aunt Judy, Mum, and brothers. Judy lived in India for 30 years running her fashion business and my Mum interned with her when she was 18-20 years old. The summer of my 12th year, Mum decided it was the right time to take her kids to India. We came for one month and traveled around Agra, Jaipur, Neemruuna, Shimla, and Chandregha. The trip was an insane experience for me, one that I cannot say I enjoyed for so many reasons… I was excited to see how I would experience India now that I am at a very different place in my life.
Like Uganda, when we arrived in India the weather was cool and calm. I found breathing easier in New Delhi than I was expecting because it as not hazy, smoggy, or humid. During our time here, the weather has transitioned from winter to spring and it. is. hot.
As this is an academic program that travels, I am acting more like a student then a tourist. We are living in South Delhi with host families and commuting on the metro every day to class in Jasola. I have spent most of my time in a mall called Nerhu Place doing my readings and coursework. I could feel like I was missing out on really experiencing New Delhi… but I am experiencing Delhi in this way. I can come back and be a proper tourist, but now I am a visiting student.
That being said, one of my favorite days was when Milo, Carolina, Jamyra and I spent the day exploring Old Delhi with a Tuk Tuk. We went through the spice market and I could not breathe through the air thick with mustard, chilly, and other spices. We went up a hidden stairway to a flower shop filled with marigolds and roses, they really smell different here!
We are en route to Mbarara in Western Uganda. In front of us, a small truck lugs long skinny tree trunks. As we pass through a town, I see small buildings advertising Airtel, Africel, and MTN. Plantain bunches and pineapples are sold in markets. Further on, gates and doors are sold in large lots. A bicycle struggles uphill and the boda bodas swerve through cars. Women have set up small stoves and cook meals on the side of the road. Umbrellas provide shade, although today clouds roll over the blue sky, keeping the hills cool.
Mosques and churches are interspersed between homes, markets, and stores. Gas stations line the roads selling gasoline, petroleum, and kerosene. A woman waits on the side of the road for a taxi going her direction. Another woman carries grocery bags from market to her car. A businessman stands outside of a building on his phone, looking serious. It’s only 10am, so I don’t see many children, but by 4pm they will flood the streets, playing with each other on their walk home. Large billboards, this one advertising Supreme Maize and Wheat, wave us onwards.
We speed up, leaving town, and are surrounded by dense greenery and red clay. The roofs of homes in the distance are also red, like the earth. There are tall skinny trees and small banana trees. We go up and down small hills, passing clothes drying on the line. Telephone wires follow the road, keeping everyone connected.
What were you expecting before you got here, Hannah? What a strange question. Everywhere I stand on the sphere, my feet are on the ground and gravity keeps me down. Earth is earth. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and people go about their day not noticing the bus of American students rolling through their town.
Most of us have some concept of what Africa is, either from aid advertisements or in history class on the transatlantic slave trade. The Black Panther won at the Oscars, Afro-Beats are making appearances on party playlists worldwide, and West African prints are sold in H&M; Africa is “trendy,” but what does that mean for the poorest region in the world? This is one of the ways in which we have been framing Uganda.
When they said, “this is an academic program that travels” they were not joking. In each country, we have three sessions of our four classes in addition to guest lectures and site visits. The courses are Design Thinking and Development (DTD); Technology, Change, and Innovation (TCI); Anthropology and Social Change (ASC); and Social Entrepreneurship in a Global Comparative Context (SEN). Each course adds another layer to the discourse on social innovation.
In addition to our courses, we have site visits to different social enterprises. Our first visit was Innovation Village, a start-up incubator that develops solutions for tomorrow by providing and enabling an environment where start-ups from the knowledge intensive sectors are fast tracked to compete globally. The merging of business and industry, the public, and academic sectors expand the boundaries of knowledge through social innovation with a focus to deliver inclusion across key sectors. We met with people representing different member organizations.
Is social entrepreneurship an alternative to neoliberal capitalism or is a continuation of it? What is the difference between science and technology and religious and cultural beliefs if you must believe in both? What does innovation look like when there is no fall back plan/no parents to support you if you fail/when it is innovation through the need to survive?
Golden Bees is a young enterprise engaged in providing a full-scale range of beekeeping products and service. Golden Bees empowers communities by limiting human destruction of flora and fauna and generating a sustainable income, both for the humans and the other species. Connecting 2,500 small farmers and 2,200 beekeepers to market, Golden Bee trains and collects the honey from across Uganda and processes the honey in Kampala. They sell their natural, organic, honey in supermarkets. The enterprise is self-sustaining. I was particularly interested in the agroforestry and forest restoration of indigenous species training because of the relationship between humans and the environment as it leads to food sovereignty and connection to culture. Golden Bees also trains people to make beehives out of local found/cheap materials instead of purchasing or receiving from an NGO the $35 wooden hives. By building and maintaining relationships with the beekeepers, Golden Bees invests in the long-term wellbeing and prosperity of Ugandans.
How should NGOs respond when local social entrepreneurs address the space? Should the NGO leave? Offer support? What are the different relationships and stigmas between government, NGOs, and businesses in developing vs. developed economies?
Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID) is an NGO addressing the needs of urban refugees. Founded by Congolese youth refugees, it aims to bring hope, stability, and self-reliance through local action. Uganda has a relatively welcoming policy for refugees; it is is the 5th largest hosting country worldwide and provides re-settlement camps in rural areas and access to farming so refugees can begin a new life for themselves here. Some refugees, however, come from urban areas and, unable to adapt to the agrarian lifestyle, move to the cities. Once in the cities, though, there are no social programs. It is assumed that urban refugees are able to sustain themselves. They face distinct challenges, struggling with safety, health, and economic access. During our visit at YARID, we had small group discussions to better understand their struggles and the impact of YARID. My group spoke with Maoua Annise, Ememidu, and Diaete. Maoua Annise remarked that being a refuge “makes her bitter.” She left a good life in the Congo and now struggles to keep her daughters safe from rape and becoming pregnant. Diaete explained that being a refugee is “like putting life into brackets because you never know when it will end.” They emphasized that human rights are not extended to refugees but YARID, through community organizing, attempts to meet their needs. They provide sewing machines and training for women to generate an income.
After asking many questions of them, the women turned to us. “How is your research going to help us or other refugees? What can we expect from you?”
This question left me speechless, for I did not want to lie to them and promise a better future. As climate change and ensuing conflicts increase, there will probably be more refugees worldwide. Although I hope for a better world for these people, I do not know if this world will come, especially through me and this trip. I told them this, and they nodded in solemn agreement.
*A shared reflection from cohort member, Lizbeth:
What are you doing here, mzungu?
Mzungu: a wanderer // one who wanders aimlessly // foreigner // nonlocal person // an other // one with money // an educated person // one who is not from here
“Mzungu! Mzungu! Mzungu!” the children yell from outside the windows of our bus.
We stand… I stand out like a sore thumb. Are we more than just an invasion in this land? Are we welcomed or is our welcome tainted by a history of colonialism and exploitation?
Am I mzungu or am I me? How do I define my positionality, power, privilege, background, and objective in this context?
What are you doing here, mzungu?
15 American university students, their professor, and traveling staff arrive at Entebbe Airport. We lug huge suitcases over the cobbled dirt parking lot towards a small van, dodging cars and other travelers. The time is roughly 2pm, the sun is hot behind a veil of clouds, a gentle breeze flows through our airplane clothes. After being greeted warmly by Martha and Amodo, our country coordinators, we head to Kampala. As we enter the city, I see many kiosks on the side of the road selling food, mobile phones, games, clothes, and anything in between. The streets are crowded with cars, bodo bodos, street merchants, and children walking to school. I notice that there are a lot of primary schools. There are also a lot of white colored mannequins with large booties.
We settle into the Nob hotel, our home for the next two days. Orientation includes a health and safety briefing, a survival Luganda language class, and a lecture on colonialism and political history in Uganda.
In one orientation activity, we partner with local university students to complete a neighborhood exploration day. During the activity, our partners Shadiya and Ronnie took us to Makerere University to learn about the education system. We spoke with a recent graduate who has returned to the university to pick up his transcript 4 months after graduation. He explained that there are too many students so there is a slow processing speed for transcripts, but he is trying to go to the US for graduate school. His dream is MIT. Three education students looked curiously at our group so we asked them if they had some time to answer a few questions. They want to be schoolteachers for high school students. They are not in classes right now because the lecturers are striking for higher waging and the students are striking because they are not getting lectures.
We wandered on and bumped into Shadiya’s friends from the law department. Both student organizers, we learned more about the protests and struggles of being a student at Makerere University. Although it is the best school in East Africa and the 4th best school in Africa, professors are not getting paid enough. On-campus living conditions are not great. The strike has been going on for a month. It is illegal to protest in Uganda, so they have both been arrested multiple times, once even this week. They are inspired by Mandela, MLK, and Bobby Wine, the people’s president. They call for unity amongst students to demand change. We asked one of them what he wanted to do if he was made President of Uganda today and he said he would start by following the laws (unlike the current president).
Kampala does not feel like any place I have ever been before, but at the same time, it feels like any place one may find them self. There is nothing out of the ordinary. There are international restaurants, KFC, and Ugandan cafes. Most Kampalans are from Uganda, but there are also people who have immigrated, seeked asylum, or live as ex-pats. The weather is warm and the sun shines everyday. So far, Kampala is treating us well!
The day before my departure from SF, my friend Alora, a Pitzer alum now living in the Bay, came to visit me. Both exhausted from long days, she joined me in the laundry-mat while I cleaned my clothes. From her bag she pulled a deck of nature cards. Excited to find some wisdom in the cards, I shuffled them and quieted my mind. I pulled three cards to represent past, present, and future and was quite amazed at what I saw.
In my past is rabbit, representing challenge. As the card explained, I have undergone hard work, intensity, and challenges which is true, in many ways. I often push myself to the limits and work very hard, in school and in my community. The intensity to which I approached my responsibilities last semester certainly paid off, but I was not cruising (shout out to my family at the Shakedown, things are looking mighty good from here!).
My present experience is egg: birth. New projects and ideas are flowing around me. I am starting fresh, beginning anew, and it is the start of something beautiful. The card advised to have to attitude of innocence; enthusiasm and excitement of starting something I always dreamed of should drive me, not be inhibited by fear of the unknown.
Trees lie in the future, as community, allies, support, and network. A loving and supportive community is in creation around me. It is an important time to work with others for a greater good. Feelings of loneliness are soon to be healed by people with shared interests. I don’t have to walk alone anymore. None of us do. It is a good time to bring our energy out into the world.
Whether or not you believe there is any wisdom pulling cards, these little messages rung true to me and are helpful in sharing my experience. I leave San Francisco ready, excited, and grounded. As a group, we are striving to be intentional, open, and aware or our positionality. Ready or not, here we come, Uganda!
Did you say… the Tenderloin? For those unfamiliar with San Francisco’s neighborhoods, the Tenderloin has a rough past and present. The popular account of how the Tenderloin got its name goes like this: back in the day the cops in this area were particularly corrupt and collected a lot of bribes. They made so much money they were able to afford the tenderloin cut of meat, which was very expensive. The name stuck.
The Tenderloin is located in the center of San Francisco. It is nestled between Chinatown, Downtown/City Center, and Market (where many bankers and lawyers work). It is also a neighborhood densely populated with homeless people (also called un-housed). Due to a mix of misunderstandings and misconceptions, most people who know SF were concerned for our safety. So, why the Tenderloin? And why San Francisco? Heck, why are we starting a study abroad in America?
The most obvious statement about this study abroad is that it is not a typical study abroad. It is an “academic program that travels”. We go to three countries, live in host families, take four courses with a traveling professor and local professors, visit 50+ sites, and have guest lecturers. We analyze, in-depth, social entrepreneurship, technology, and development from a myriad of perspectives. We research specific topics of interest and create a business prototype by the end.
We start in San Francisco because it is the global hub of technology and innovation (at least, Silicon Valley). We start in the Tenderloin because high wages and cost of living has priced out many locals and created a serious homelessness problem. We start in America because before going off to other places, we need to be grounded in understanding that our home country has issues. Additionally, San Francisco is new to most of us, so we are experiencing a new culture through street art, man buns, and the constant smell of marijuana.
We met with the Coalition on Homelessness SF, whose mission is to “organize homeless people and front line service providers to create permanent solutions to homelessness, while working to protect the human rights of those forced to remain on the streets.” Their recent big win was Proposition C, a tax on wealthy corporations that will generate $300 million annually for the homeless. Homelessness is a violation of human rights, according to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, but there is not enough allocated government funding to address it. Liberal tax policies supported the Tech Boom in the Bay Area, so a tax on those corporations to help the neediest of SF’s population makes sense. Last year, a UN expert called SF’s homelessness crisis a “cruelty that is unsurpassed.” Although the U.S. acknowledges the Declaration of Human Rights and goes to other countries “promoting” them, we also criminalize homelessness. The U.S. is a country of contradictions.
The Coalition asked if we would continue to educate ourselves and our communities on homelessness. What I would like to share is that, although the most visible part of the population struggle with substance abuse and mental issues, that that is not the majority of the population. When we were walking, I saw a young man shooting up on the street. Sometimes, a person walked by talking to an unknown audience. For me, the fear I have around people living on the streets comes from not knowing if I am putting myself in a vulnerable position by acknowledging someone because they might not be all entirely there. At the same time, it was emphasized that acknowledging someone is a way to humanize someone who is suffering. When I am inclined treat someone differently because of a past experience or a generalization I have on homelessness, I must remember that every person, at least, deserves their humanity.
We are on stolen land. Thank you Muwekma Olhone for hosting us.
I walk into an orange room on Valencia St. with my suitcase and airplane hair. I am immediately greeted by the staff and soon walk over to where my new peers are chatting. I say “hi” to another girl getting a Trader Joe’s snack on the table, and am struck by how at ease and mature everyone seems. Conversation is easy as we all share a bit about ourselves.
We come from New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Washington D.C., New Jersey, and California. Some of us travel often to family abroad and others have never been out of the country. We go to a mix of universities across the country and study everything from Studio Art to Sustainable Management. After introductions, we fumble into vans and drive south of San Francisco to Point Montara.
Our first morning together we are awakened by a fuchsia sunrise. For most of us, this is our first time seeing the Pacific. Waves lap at the cliffs, birds dive for fish, and our cohort sits facing the Pacific. Is this the edge of the world? I think, despite knowing the Earth is round.
In each country, we start with a two-day orientation. In America, our orientation consists of the handbook, an academic overview, and going over who’s who in the program. We each share our “life’s poster” in a five-minute presentation. Each of us has a different life story bringing us to this place. Camilo comes from a big Columbian family, Patience studied in Ghana over winter break, Emma loves photography, and Kaycia calls her mom “Boo Boo Kitty”. We start establishing community guidelines and make committees, like the wellness committee and the lit committee, and in doing so get to learn a bit more about the fifteen people we will be with for the next four months.
After two days soaking in the sounds of the waves and the gentle Northern California sunshine, we return to San Francisco and check into our hostel in the Tenderloin.
How do you prepare for the unknown?
A packing list helps. So does Googling “Uganda street fashion” and “what to wear in India.” Actually, that does not help. I feel like I am not going to be able to dress myself in the clothes I normally wear because I am not going to be doing the things I normally do. I am going to be in three entirely different countries with different cultural norms. Not only that, I am going on an epic transformation, I will change, I might not even recognize myself. What makes me think I will want to wear that old cardigan during this “transformation?”
Getting ready to go on this trip is intimidating me, and I cannot quite figure out why. Last summer, I packed the night before my flight to Tel Aviv without much thought. But I have been studying my packing list for weeks now, picking up gear and clothes, making sure I am fully prepared.
As I look at my nearly packed suitcase, however, I realize that having the right shoes, shirts, and pants is not all that it takes to be prepared. Preparation is just as much emotional as it is physical. In an attempt to be as prepared as possible, here is my last-minute emotional packing list.