In Hult’s Master of Social Entrepreneurship program, individuals from all over the world have come together to learn how to solve critical social issues, "do good", and apply their business savvy. These students made the decision to “go down a road not yet taken.” Along the way they are facing challenges, getting far out of their comfort zones, and pushing their limits to make an impact on the lives of others. This series is about their stories.
This time around we will get to know Rachel Stanley, from Coventry, in the United Kingdom, who is working on her degree at Hult San Francisco. Stanely spent last summer working with poor communities in Uganda, teaching business skills, and promoting an entrepreneurial spirit.
RQ: What sort of work were you doing in Uganda?
RS: I spent two months in Uganda. I was there with a charity I found while searching for what I wanted to do after my corporate job.
RQ: You want to give a shout out to this charity?
RS: Sure! The charity is called A Little Bit Of Hope, and they do a lot of awesome stuff in southeast in Uganda. It’s the only charity that’s focusing on that area, and looking to enable communities to develop and grow themselves up. They always look to enable communities rather than “do to” communities.
RQ: That is a huge thing when you’re doing this kind of development work, trying to get it to spring up from the community, rather than getting there and telling them what to do.
RS: Exactly! I ended up being a lot more useful than I thought I would be. I had the suspicion that I was going there as a reasonably well-off British person, and while my life’s not perfect, it’s nothing compared to what some of these communities are going through. I didn’t want to be one of those people that just expected to solve all their problems.
The biggest thing for me to do was to try and actually learn what it’s like to experience—to kind of live through their lives and see what it means to be there, and try to use some of my background skills from business.
RQ: Your business skills stem from corporate work in Germany?
RS: I worked in Germany for five years for a big energy corporation; I did market and business analysis, and strategy and business development. And as I transferred into social entrepreneurship, I thought, “I’ve got all these skills, it makes sense to try and use them for good,” and that’s what got me excited about social entrepreneurship in the first place.
I was researching where I could go to get some experience before I went off to do my degree, and that’s when I found this charity. One of the things they talked about was how they were looking to enable business development in this area. It turned out to be a perfect fit. They already had their expertise in development economics and traditional organizational development, but they were looking for someone who could empower the community with business skills. So I spent time getting to know their problems. Many people had a strong passion for what they were doing, but struggled with the basic skills that you get from a higher education degree or working with a team. I did a number of workshops with a number of organizations—an orphanage, and a chicken-rearing company, among others. It was really exciting to see what people wanted to do, and the impact as a result of these workshop “interventions”. I also got to see just how microfinance truly has an impact, which I was initially skeptical about.
RQ: What were some of the things that you were skeptical about going in that might’ve changed substantially by the time you left? Or, things you were quite positive about that might’ve changed to skepticism or disappointment?
RS: The biggest thing I took away is that maybe the traditional scheme of aid isn’t the best way for long-term development and empowerment. It’s not about “not giving people stuff”, because some people truly need aid. But it does create a long-term cycle of dependence that can be hard to break after a generation or two. Think of the “teach a man to fish” situation. By approaching development issues with techniques like design thinking and lean principles, you’re more likely to make a long-lasting, sustainable impact on these communities. That’s why it’s so incredibly important to create these spaces for facilitating and training, in order to change their mindset so they believe that they can create and generate for themselves.
RQ: How do you think this experience, paired with the MSE Program at Hult, will shape your career post-Hult?
RS: Both experiences have reinforced my choice to do this program and use business skills for good, in order to make a bigger impact than traditional donations. It’s amazing to see how a microfinance loan of $10 can truly help to start up a business. But even with the best intentions, not having the right business skills ensures that there will be issues, if not failures. I’ve become quite excited about business education. Not to mention that this opens doors in developing countries. A lot of the working options poorer people have means they are vulnerable to bad working conditions. Enabling them to create their own conditions and be their own bosses makes for better quality of work and life.
RQ: How about some words of wisdom for prospective MSE students, or anyone looking to make a shift into the social entrepreneurship environment?
RS: Get out of your comfort zone and try to at least live a day in your customer’s shoes. I think this is sound advice for pursuing a business endeavor, social or not. But having this level of empathy will give you the extra dimension that can deliver impressive results and long-lasting impact.
RQ: That sounds about right. Thanks so much!
Ramón Quiñones is part of the MSE Program at Hult San Francisco, and is a part of the Hult Global Ambassadors team. His passion lies in storytelling and technology in education, and hopes to do his classmates justice with these profiles.