Social Entrepreneurship in Africa: Impactful Study AbroadJan. 2, 2012
More than five years ago, a couple of Baylor professors were considering the possibility of introducing a study abroad program in Africa. The program, Social Entrepreneurship in Africa (SEA), would have two primary goals. Most obviously, students would experience a culture very different than their own. Perhaps more importantly, students would be able to observe business in a developing country, and to see first-hand the needs of people who lack access to the types of resources that we take for granted in the United States.
Fast forward to 2012; the fourth group of Baylor social entrepreneurship students will travel to the Central African country, Rwanda, in May. Participating students will study and prepare for the trip during the spring semester, and then travel to Rwanda to put into practice what they have learned. There, they will interact with small business owners, provide entrepreneurship training to high school students and entrepreneurs, and experience significant aspects of the Rwandan way of life.
The summer 2011 class provided basic business training to hundreds of students and business people. One of the program directors, Colene Coldwell stated, "Our experiences this year are a testimony to the strength of Baylor's entrepreneurship program and to the relationships that we have been cultivating in Rwanda. We left Texas last May believing we would be casually speaking with about 50 students and business people. While waiting for a connecting flight in London, we learned that this number would be closer to 100 people, and by the time we arrived in Kigali, Rwanda, the estimated number had grown to around 200. In the end, the actual number was more than 600." These unexpected changes created tremendous challenges but also enormous learning opportunities for the Baylor students. "Imagine the skills learned from being forced to work within a group setting to prepare for a formal presentation in less than 24 hours," said Coldwell.
Though social entrepreneurship has recently received much attention, it is not a new concept. Christian businessmen and women have long worked to be a force for positive change in the world. Still, the idea that business can change the lives of the poor is something that most students have not considered. Many of them have not considered their chosen profession - business - as a Christian calling. They have not considered that they can earn a profit and "do good" at the same time. This course attempts to help students visualize how even a tiny business, a microenterprise, can put food on a table and provide an education for the business owner's children. "This trip allowed me to see more applicable ways to help those living in poverty and how business can truly provide a path to escape the ravages of poverty," said Zach Rogers, senior entrepreneurship major.
While the program continues to evolve, participating students consistently state that it is a life-changing experience. Not only are they able to learn a great deal about themselves but they also see the tremendous power of business as a tool for changing lives. They are also given the opportuninty to make a small contribution to the ongoing economic development of Rwanda. As Rogers states, "By showing that we genuinely cared about the success of the Rwandan people, I believe that we helped empower them to make a difference in their country merely by our presence and willingness to try and meet their needs."