Article by Nicole Sparacio '21
This past spring break, students embarked on a 10-day trip to Kenya with the goal to help companies solve social problems and become sustainable entrepreneurial ventures. Cross-listed as Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development, International Social Entrepreneurship is primarily a class combined with field immersion travel. This course aims to explore the huge spectrum that is social entrepreneurship by posing the question, what exactly is social entrepreneurship? Chris Kauzmann, Innovator-in-Residence at Lehigh’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation, clarifies that he “does not want the trip to be about touring offices,” or “about students going in to ‘save’ anyone.” Instead, it should be an experience full of surprises. Prior to departing for the trip, Kendall Glynn ‘19 admitted she had some doubts about the coming experience, but quickly realized her “preconceptions were misconceptions.”
Kauzmann describes the class as being divided into three parts. The first part is the classroom session prior to the trip, which involves defining social entrepreneurship and sustainable development, learning about Kenya, and studying the background of the companies students will visit in person. Students are challenged to contemplate ideas that they will not fully understand until interacting with the companies firsthand. Alexis Parcells ‘19, recalls being motivated to ask the companies more advanced questions while in Kenya.
The second part of the class is the immersive experience focused on the real-world challenges of sustainable development. While in Kenya, students met with multiple business owners and entrepreneurs including up and coming startups and more established companies. One of which is the company BURN, an organization developed by Lehigh alumnus Christopher Akin ‘99, that is revolutionizing the cook stove sector in Africa by making stoves that use a cleaner fuel source. Parcells described the experience as “extremely inspiring” and realized that her interests align more with social companies rather than more prestigious ones. Parsells also noticed a need for proper trash facilities in Kenya, since the streets are lined with trash that is eventually burned. She passionately expressed that she would like to go back and help with that issue.
Besides engaging with company founders and speculating about the efficiency of Kenya, students experienced the cultural background of Kenya including local meals, safaris, and even a traditional goat roast. Kauzmann describes the trip as being “different from other programs” because students and faculty “establish deep relationships” with local people, who feel comfortable sharing their individual stories and background. Glynn shares the trip was “full of experiences that were not tourist experiences - but the Kenyan experience.” This included dining with a Kenyan family of 30 people, in addition to speaking with local street boys about their struggles and current situation. Bristol says, “My world view grew so much in those few days and I learned how similar we all are.” All three students agreed that they would recommend this course to everyone and that they would go back and do it again.
The last segment of the course involves the remaining portion after the trip. This part is focused on students working in teams, along with their partner company from Kenya, to create a business model. Glynn shares that her team is collaborating with a non-profit to develop a business model for them to become more financially independent and self-sustainable. Her team continues to stay connected with business professionals in Kenya and will eventually present to the CEO how they hope to improve his company. The class concludes with a report and presentation, in addition to students walking away with an eye-opening experience and relationships that will last a lifetime.
Be sure to check out the website for the course https://www.lehighkenya.com/ to learn more about it and to apply for the class starting next spring!