On February 9, ALA was pleased to welcome Echoing Green President Cheryl Dorsey and twenty-four Echoing Green fellows to campus, as a part of their week-long retreat in South Africa. Their visit sparked new ideas and exciting conversations amongst ALA’s budding social entrepreneurs, providing an excellent opportunity for students to connect with veteran social entrepreneurs from across the continent.
ALA students actively participated in small-group discussions, or “Brain Trust” sessions with the fellows, in which they presented strategic overviews of their own social ventures and the key challenges and problems they faced. Second-year ALA student Francis Ekii, founder of Young Entrepreneur’s Challenge in Uganda, said that the experience allowed him to refine his own vision for his student-run enterprise, as well as “debate” solutions to his strategic challenges with seasoned entrepreneurs.
“The Brain Trust taught me that I needed to know my stuff, and forced me to develop a clearer picture of what I wanted to do,” Ekii said. “The Echoing Green sessions were different from presentations I was used to giving to other audiences–the fellows really understood my context and had worked through similar problems themselves.”
The fellows in Ekii’s group helped him brainstorm ideas and recommendations for implementation, such as leveraging local partnerships (for example, with Anzisha Prize finalist and fellow Ugandan George Baaka), or deepening the offering of his entrepreneurship curriculum. By sharing practical examples from their own experiences, the fellows were able to guide the development of solutions for a number of the student ventures.
At the “Social Enterprise Festival,” ALA students rotated through booths that showcased the Echoing Green social ventures. This gave the students opportunities to ask the fellows detailed questions on their projects, challenges, and approaches to social entrepreneurship. First year ALA student from Somalia/Kenya Maimuna Yusuf was thrilled to learn about the success and scale of projects that she could relate to–such as Sanergy, a group that developed Fresh Life Toilets in Nairobi slums to generate energy and provide hygienic sanitation infrastructure, and the Awethu Project, a South African venture designed to identify, train, and invest in emerging social entrepreneurs. She was eager to keep in touch with the fellows as she continued to refine her own enterpreneurial ventures.
The visit concluded with an address by Echoing Green’s President, Cheryl Dorsey, whose message was both inspiring and motivating. The overall experience enabled students to refine and develop their pitches, discuss alternative approaches to solving problems, and hone their foundational entrepreneurial skills, including public speaking and networking. ALA students saw their future selves in the Echoing Green fellows, and the fellows were similarly inspired to draw on the students’ enthusiasm and ideas for their own development.