Here are the ways our 2015 students applied their studies to complete a final practicum project.
Equipping Refugee Communities for Social Enterprise
Kristen Moses worked with the Georgian NGO "For Better Future" to open a social enterprise cafe and employment center in the Tserovani Internally Displaced Person (IDP) settlement. The settlement is home to over 6,000 refugees from the 2008 South Ossetian War. The relocation left many of these residents at an economic disadvantage and socially disconnected. The cafe's mission is to simultaneously address the lack of professional skills training and employment opportunities, while also rebuilding the social network within the community. Women and youth are the primary beneficiaries, but the care will also support the settlement's economy by sourcing ingredients from local farmers and selling merchandise from local artists. Additionally, the community space will host educational and cultural events. Kristen has been living and working in Georgia since 2013 as a Peace Corps Volunteer and Masters International Student.
Investigating Impact Investment Among Diaspora Populations
As an immigrant from the DR Congo I take pride and feel a sense of accomplishment when impact investing in my country. This feeling prompted me to explore the attitude of my fellow Congolese in the United States about impact investing in our home country. Preliminary informal interviews suggested a widespread interest in impact investing back home. The purpose of my research was then to better understand the interests, motivations, and barriers that currently inhibit the Congolese Diaspora from investing in DR Congo. The research finds that the Congolese Diaspora investment motivations include emotional, social status, and financial returns; major obstacles inhibiting concrete investment actions include corruption, prohibitive taxes, and unreliable energy. This conclusion suggests the need for designing an impact investment fund that can overcome some of these obstacles and help catalyze Congolese Diaspora's capital toward businesses in the Congo that address some economic and social challenges in the country. Investigating existing impact investment platforms and designing one for the DR Congo Diaspora is our next step after graduation.
Michael Cobb helped shape and define the mission and strategy of a private family foundation. A highly collaborative grant-making approach around 'organizational maturity' was developed and piloted with a homeless-centered employment social enterprise business in Ohio, called Homefull Solutions. The grand pilot helped to refine the foundation's grant-making approach, with more emphasis on technical assistance and grantee strategy development. He also worked on developing the foundation's values, vision, mission, and operations strategy. This helped to focus values and vision, which became more explicit with a focus on the promotion of personal and system change towards a higher level of consciousness. The strategy of the foundation was developed with the focus on providing unrestricted funding to fulfill organizational needs to non-profits highly aligned with the foundation's values and mission. Different levels of engagement ranging from very hands-off unrestricted funding, to strategic partnerships with high levels of technical assistance now represent three different 'buckets' of foundation giving.
Connecting Conscious Consumers to Sustainable Products
Two years after the Rana Plaza Factory collapse in Bangladesh, very little has changed to prevent this from happening again by making supply chains more ethical and sustainable. Erin believes that the only way the fashion industry will clean up supply chain and sustainability practices is if customers begin demanding it through the use of their purchasing power and buying behavior. For her practicum, she began laying the groundwork to launch a social enterprise that is connecting conscious consumers with fashion-forward products they can feel good about buying. She's trying to change mindsets that fashion and ethics can go hand in hand, while empowering people to use their purchasing power to support the causes they believe in, such as protecting human rights, providing a living wage, and preserving the environment. During the three months of her practicum, she went through several rounds of prototyping, testing, and iterating the initial business idea using lean startup methodologies. After a final round of testing with over 100 users and providing traction with potential customers, she's preparing to move forward with launch of a social enterprise that she believes has the potential to change and industry.
Planning for Maternal Health During Times of Emergency
During the peak of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, hospitals and clinics were overwhelmed by Ebola patients. At the same time, many pregnant women became afraid of visiting hospitals due to fear of contracting the virus as hospitals were overcrowded with Ebola patients. This exposed the substandard healthcare system in the country and the lack of trust that citizens have in the health system. Many citizens in need of health care services, including expectant mothers, resorted to home remedies and indigenous treatments for primary health care needs. In an effort to help strengthen the maternal health system in Sierra Leone, a community emergency plan was developed to promote positive behaviors that can help save lives of pregnant women. The goal is to provide a toolkit that can be used by grassroots organizations, community health workers, and community leaders to advocate for desirable, sustainable, and positive behaviors for pregnant women and their families.
Facilitating Organizational Dialogue for ICT Use
Andreas Vailakis worked closely with openfn.org, a startup nonprofit open-source platform with the goal of connecting impact-focused organizations with the latest technology tools, to interview various organizations and social enterprises with the goal of curating and building case studies. These stories, to be published on OpenFn's website, are intended to help organizations share their stories of the technologies: what worked and what did not. By interviewing five different organizations, Andreas built a quickly digestible yet information-rich format for these case studies, embracing the design thinking approach and consulting the end users consistently along the way. These stories are meant to expand and initiate the dialogue across organizations to share and build upon experiences and break barriers to innovation within organizations related to technology. Much of these stories involved an organization's use of cutting-edge information and communication technologies to drive efficiency, promote accountability and transparency, grow to scale, increase feedback loops, and increase ability to make effective management decisions. These initial stories and the process built with this practicum are intended to spark OpenFn's Case Studies Initiative.
Evaluating Workforce Development Programs
Caitlin Rosser conducted her SE practicum project with the DC Central Kitchen's Culinary Job Training (CJT) Program. Working with the Director of Monitoring & Evaluation and the CJT staff, Caitlin evaluated, redesigned, prototyped, and tested the program's candidate assessment "scorecard" tool by defining and validating the factors that help students graduate from the program and subsequently find employment. She also developed a resources guide to instruct staff on a recognized methodology in the field of social work and outlined techniques that are effective in interviewing and motivating at-risk populations. With a redesigned and focused scorecard, the DC Central Kitchen has the right tools to be more confident in their candidate acceptance decisions. Through this project, Caitlin honed her project management skills, as well as gained extensive experience in the monitoring and evaluation of a workforce development program.
Democratizing Technology through Innovation Centers
CAFF Development Bank of Latin America and the Trust for the Americas have established a project called "Democratization of Technology through Innovation Centers." Lina Guerrero is conducting an in-depth examination of the planning, setup , and implementation of innovation centers worldwide and how these centers can become available for the use of vulnerable communities, including women and youth at risk. The research will be used in a pilot project that will open the first center in Monterrey, Mexico. With the data collection, The Trust will be able to design an appropriate curriculum and offer suitable services for the community.
Generating Revenue to Support an Educational Initiative
Alessandra Clara consulted with "Con Textos," a non-profit organization working on improving education in El Salvador. ConTextos's mission is to transform the educational experience so that students develop literacy, problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and curiosity. Alessandra's project consisted of creating a revenue-generating stream for ConTextos, thus facilitating a way for the organization to become more financially independent from donors and become a hybrid organization. The results and benefits for the organization were to: (1) Expand ConTextos's long-term mission of improving the educational system in El Salvador by expanding it to private schools, (2) Generate additional and more reliable income, thus contributing to its long-term self-sustainability, and (3) Improve upon management efficiency by having less focus on fundraising and more on developing an efficient business model.