In the summer of 2007, I participated with a group of 8 other students and 2 professors, in the Social Entrepreneurship 101
from my business school to South Africa. This was my team
The team at the end of the trip = UBC students + our local ground support from Ubuntu + Go Global + Nancy Langton + Robert Gateman ( taking the picture)
So briefly, SE101 is part of the African Initiative of the Sauder School of business to deliver business plan training programs to youth living in Africa. The efforts have been focussed in Kibera, Nairobi and Johannesburg. The workshops we delivered were aimed to educate and enable impoverished youth to start their own businesses in a practical, applicable and sustainable context.
Project Components:(Kibera and Nairobi)
- Develop and present three weeks of workshops that inform interested Kibera youth about the essential components of a business plan, touching on a wide variety of topics from operational organization to marketing tactics and financial strategies.
- Conduct one-on-one consultation sessions with the program participants, to share ideas and information, design complete business plans and organize step-by-step development stratagems.
- Arrange guest speakers from the Kenyan business community to provide a local prospective, impart inspiration and share essential knowledge and experience.
- Create a sustainable link and spread awareness through website updates, and progress reports about the progress of the program participants.
* Taken from the SE101 website
However, on the Johannesburg, South African initiative, our project components were slightly different. As a team of 9, we were divided into sub teams of 3, and were placed in three different site: 1) Orphanage in Soweto; 2) Business Plan Development, Alexandra Township and; 3) Ubuntu organization – our local partners.
I was part of the team that was assigned to the orphanage in Soweto
, and here, we were ‘consultants’ looking into the orphanage’s organisational structure and finances, seeing what could be improved on. We looked into the orphan selection process, forms, criterias, allocation of finances and fund management. Our orphanage placement was the Ikageng Itireleng AIDS Ministry
, which is headed by Carol Dyanti, affectionally known as “Mama Carol” to more than 1,700 orphans in over 200 homes. All these children live in child-headed households (parents have passed away due to AIDS).
Ikageng are the orphans’ life support, mentoring, providing life skills, paying their education, providing basic needs such as food, clothing and transportation. During my placement in Ikageng, I visited several child-headed households in Soweto ( My Saffer friends are gasping that I emerged unscathed, as Soweto is an incredibly dangerous place) and I can definitely say that the impact and reality of what these kids endure, hit me very very hard.
Above is the residence of one of the child-headed households. The silver tin shack is home to 10 kid. It is roughly the length of the truck beside it.
I’m not going to divulge into details, but there are 2 stories that I would like to share.
Story 1: Our first day in the orphanage, a girl of about 16 years old came into the office needing counselling. She had no one else to go. Three years ago, this girl had both a father and mother. But one day, her mother comes home and discovered that her father was HIV+ and had not told the family. Her mother went into a rage and stabbed her father 48 times in front of her and because of that, was improvisoned for murder. The girl then came into the care of Mama Carol and the orphanage. She dropped all contact with her mother after the incident. Recently, her mother was diagnosed of AIDS and is in the hospital dying of both AIDS and meningitis. Her mother then requested that her daughter take care of her. The girl is almost finished high school and needed advice on whether to leave her education as it is to take care of her mother whom she has not spoken to in 3 years, or to ignore her mother’s requests and continue her education.
Story 2: Part of the orphanage’s support is providing transportation to school, as the township is unsafe, and these kids live far away from a decent education. 2 girls that we were in contact with, told the orphanage that they were old enough to walk ( they were both about the age of 14) to school to save some money in the summer as it would still be light out when school ends. Although the orphanage was uncomfortable, they agreed to the suggestion – both girls lived relatively close to the school and there were others who needed the money more. The next morning on their walk, they never made it to school. They were raped.
Now, these 2 stories were just some of the few that really resonated in me during my time with Ikageng. But it also illustrates several key takeaways that I would like to share:
It blows my mind how absolutely ignorant I was on thinking that I could ‘help’ the orphanage within a period of 2 weeks that I was there. Prior to our trip, we prepped on material, cultural challenges, exercises that we would use on site. We brought our SE101 financial ‘textbook’ there to ‘teach’ the locals on organisational structure and financing. None of us opened a page of that book. I was blown away, and I think I can safely say the rest of my teammates, were caught off guard by the situation, the people we were in contact with and paralyzed by our incapability create change within those 2 weeks. Time was not on our side. You often read about situations like that in the news, but does the reality of it really process?
2) Teaching vs. learning
Before I landed in Johannesburg, I was prepped with the mindset that I was going there to help, to teach. A month later when I flew out of Johannesburg, I was the student instead for the month. It struck me that I was going in blind, without any prior situational knowledge or any proper contact before to ‘teach’ business to local Africans. What did I really know about a life, an economy, a living standard that is so different to my own? How can I tell someone to create change in an organisation when their daily decisions are to turn away orphans because their can’t support them financially or instead, to deny transportation rights to 2 girls that just want to go to school…
3) What I really learnt instead
Of all the numerous things that I learnt, below are some of the simple things that yes, may seem repeated and heard alot, but really impacted my time there until now.
- Never underestimate any situation that you are going into, and never presume that you have an ‘upperhand’ just because you are more educated or come from a better off situation. You’ll be surprised at what you can learn.
- All development help needs to be sustainable. You are virtually creating an expense for an organisation which is already short on funds to ‘entertain’ you for 2 weeks and then disappear back in your own life forever. If you want to help, make sure that you follow up, or is plugging into an organisation that has a sustainable plan in place. This leads to Part 2 of my African trip, which will be blogged about at a later time.
- Staying for 2 weeks will not create the change that you have envisioned. Especially if it’s just you and the locals. If you really want to help, stay longer. Alot longer. Or develop a sustainable plan. – refer to point 2 above.
- If you are travelling in a team, your teammates can be your greatest assets or worst liabilities. Pick well. Mine were great people and I still see some from time to time.
- There is always hope. Always.
If I could describe my entire South African experience as one word, it would be: CHANGE
. It changed the way I fundamentally viewed development and aid. It changed my view of Africa and the people. It changed me, issues I care about, future projects I worked on.
“Participating in SE101 was probably one of the best decisions that I have made in my undergrad life. This program challenged and changed me in the ways I view learning, education and teamwork. I found myself discovering so much more in terms of culture and knowledge, and challenging the traditional notions of developmental work. Not only has my experience exceeded my expectations, I also found inspiration and a sense of direction in terms of my Bcom degree.
As a result of the skills that I learnt while taking part in SE101, I have since been able to be involved with development work both locally in Vancouver and in Africa. I am also currently structuring a course with Sauder which incorporates a global learning perspective encourages a more cognitive learning/educational experience tapping on the passion students have for volunteering and helping others.”