Stories of Impact: From SES to High-Impact Internship

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Feb 242015


University of Maryland undergrad Hannah Breakstone attended the Social Enterprise Symposium twice prior to the 2014 Symposium, but this one was different. Breakstone, interested in a career in Public Health, was determined to network and meet people in the impact community. The Social Enterprise Symposium, which  explores social, environmental, and economic change from a variety of lenses, was the perfect place for Breakstone to connect with impact driven professionals.

After attending a session titled “Inside Industry: Creating Social Value”, Breakstone met session speaker Robert Jordan, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. Jordan served on the Washington D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission for a neighborhood in Ward 7 of Washington D.C. “He was looking for resources to empower his neighborhood, and I was really interested in being a part of that,” said Breakstone.

After a brief conversation, Jordan was decidedly impressed by Breakstone’s enthusiasm for public health and experience at the University of Maryland’s Career Center, and promised to reach out to Breakstone if an opportunity were to arise for her in the future.  One week later, as Jordan was beginning a grant application to develop a workforce development program in Ward 7, Breakstone came to mind.

Jordan called Breakstone and asked for her help. The program Jordan aimed to cultivate would employ high school students to create green spaces in the city during summer break. The goal would be to teach career development skills to the students, helping them hone skills that would be relevant to future employment, and to improve the city. If they received the grant, Jordan and Breakstone would run the program. Breakstone accepted, and it wasn’t long before they won a grant from the Summer Youth Employment Program.

Breakstone, Jordan and a group of high school students set their sights on turning an old tennis and basketball court in Fairfax Village, Washington D.C. into the beginnings of a community garden and gathering space. “All of the students were paid hourly. This wasn’t a summer camp, and it wasn’t volunteer work,” said Breakstone. “They were working for us, but while working for us we made sure they learned certain skills.” She used her experience working at the University of Maryland’s Career Center to help the students develop professional competences.

The students also learned a lot about urban agriculture in Washington D.C. Breakstone and Jordan brought in local experts to teach the students about the basics of growing food, as well as plants that are native to the region and can be grown easily in a community garden. “I had no idea there’s a species of cantaloupe that’s native to DC,” Breakstone said.

In August 2014 Breakstone and Jordan hosted a big celebration and cookout in their early-stage community garden for the whole neighborhood. They invited all the students who worked on the project and their families to celebrate the achievement. Forty students completed the program and each one left with a resume and cover letter for future jobs.

Reflecting on the experience, Breakstone said, “I got involved because I’m passionate about public health, and for me public health spans a lot of different things. It involves lifestyle, resources that are available to you and where you live. We created a space to plant healthy food in a recognized food dessert. That’s advancing public health.”

The experience solidified Breakstone’s commitment to public health and helping others. After she graduates this Spring, Breakstone plans on pursuing this passion at Epic Systems – a Health IT company based out of Madison, WI.

Join Hannah, and a stellar group of impact professionals, at this year’s 7th Annual Social Enterprise Symposium. The Symposium is free for UMD students, staff and faculty, but registration is required. Attendees are free to come and go as class schedules allow. Register today!

Stories of Impact: Summer Internship Supporting Social Entrepreneurship Abroad

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Feb 182015

Njeri Warrington in Nicaragua

For freshman Njeri Warrington, studying abroad seemed an elusive consideration for her senior year of college. With the academic demands of an International Business and Marketing double major, Spanish minor and the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Honors Program, Warrington’s focus was on completing credit requirements.

But then she learned about the Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps (MSEC) – an 8 week summer internship abroad focused on social entrepreneurship. MSEC sends undergraduate students to the Dominican Republic, Ecuador or Nicaragua to help combat poverty by supporting small community-based businesses.

MSEC is both an internship as well as an academic program – a major selling point for Warrington.  She could study abroad and earn 9 credits toward her business majors and Spanish minor, staying on track for graduation. Excited by this new possibility, Warrington applied for the Nicaragua program and was one of eight students accepted.

The program started in Spring with a prep course that met once a week. The course introduced students to the culture of their respective destination countries, reviewed the work of the previous year’s participants and covered the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship.

In June, Warrington’s group left for Nicaragua and joined students from two other U.S. Universities. The first two weeks were spent preparing to work in the field. Students took Spanish classes and reviewed case studies with the MSEC regional directors. Warrington was already prepared to communicate in a different language, but the training also helped her adapt to a different culture. “The way we solve problems in America doesn’t always apply to the way we solve them in other countries,” explained Warrington.

For the remaining six weeks, Warrington’s team conducted market research, assessing the needs of the community for permanent retail stores that could sell ‘quality of life’ products, such as eye glasses, solar lamps and water filtration systems. The students educated community members about such products (many of whom had never used goods of this kind before) and trained them on how to market and sell these items. “There were a few times when things got really difficult,” said Warrington. “But my team kept an open mind and instead of taking something as a challenge, we looked at it as a learning experience.”

After Warrington and the other students of the Nicaragua group returned home, they connected with their peers who traveled to the Dominican Republic and Ecuador. Together, the students planned the final segment of the MSEC program – a symposium to showcase their experience.  “Everyone had a really good time working together on the symposium. We had the chance to hear the experiences of students who went to the Dominican Republic and Ecuador and compare them to our own.”

The students also met with Greg Van Kirk, Executive Director of Community Enterprise Solutions – the in-country partner of MSEC– about the positive impact the students made. “Much of our work didn’t have an immediate impact,” explains Warrington. “We trusted that it was there, but there were only a few moments where you could really see that someone was thankful for what we were doing.” Van Kirk explained how the student’s work was already having a lasting impact on the communities they served.

During the symposium, Warrington and her fellow students shared how MSEC helped build infrastructure for economic opportunity in the communities they visited, and the impact the program had on them personally. MSEC students developed strong connections among each other, and were deeply affected by the distinctive experience of working in a Latin American country. “We were out in the field talking to people that lived in houses that were more like big, dark huts. Their endless hospitality gave us all a deep respect for their culture.”

Now a sophomore, Warrington has studied abroad, added internship experience to her resume and is on track to finish her double major and minor on time. “[MSEC] is awesome! That’s all I can really say about it.”

Applications for the 2015 program are open until March 1. Register today. The Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps is supported by Education Abroad, the Robert H. Smith School of Business, and the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Feb 102015


Social Enterprise Symposium
The Social Enterprise Symposium (SES) is just three weeks away! If you’re someone who likes to push the envelope, explore big ideas, and aim to create a better world, SES is definitely for you. Here are five reasons why the 7th Annual Social Enterprise Symposium is the place to be on Friday, February 27.

  • Learn from an Industry Innovator [TOMS Shoes]. TOMS Shoes is an innovator in social enterprise. In 2006 they introduced the buy-one give-one business model, and have shown it can be an effective model for creating commercial and social value. Shira Shafir, Director of Social Innovation & Impact at TOMS Shoes, will keynote the Symposium where she will discuss TOMS journey toward success and the ways in which the TOMS model continues to evolve.  Coupon codes will be provided to everyone who attends the keynote for discounts on TOMS products!
  • Engage Impact All-Stars. Terracycle, Grameen Foundation, TOMS, the UnReasonable Institute. These are just some of the organizations who will share their unique insights and high-impact ideas. From our breakout sessions and workshops, to the “Afternoon Buzz”, SES is sure to impress with a lineup of individuals representing social entrepreneurship, corporate sustainability, microfinance and more.
  • Explore Social and Environmental Change from a Range of Perspectives. Did you know that faculty and researchers from across campus are using their talents to create a better world? From Art to Agriculture, Business to Engineering, learn how UMD innovators are addressing the world’s toughest social and environmental challenges.
  • “Invest” in Student Social Entrepreneurs. Aspiring student social entrepreneurs will showcase their ideas at the 2015 Social Enterprise Symposium “Do Good Showcase”. Stop by, wander around, and check out what these student innovators have to offer! Listen to a pitch, challenge them, ask questions, and when you’re ready, use your “Do Good Dollars” (distributed via program booklets) to “invest” in the Venture you find most promising. Ventures with the most “Do Good Dollars” will receive a matched award in real dollars, sponsored by the Do Good Challenge.
  • Make New Connections. Have Fun! Want to get more involved in social impact initiatives, but not sure where to start? Our “Ask Me About” Networking Reception is the perfect opportunity to get to know the many student organizations and UMD initiatives focused on creating positives social and environmental change. Close-out the Social Enterprise Symposium with an hour of delicious desserts and exciting conversation!

Convinced Yet? Good! Register now for the 2015 Social Enterprise Symposium. See you there!