Summer 2014 marked the third year of the Universitas 21 Social Entrepreneurship Corps (SEC) in Guatemala Programme. On 26 May 2014, 11 students from 7 U21 institutions began their 4-week pre-departure introduction to social entrepreneurship and Guatemalan history and culture, through an interactive virtual global classroom platform. Shortly thereafter, on 22 June 2014, the 11 students from around the world convened in rural Guatemalan villages to embark on their in-country experience. Students hailed from Fudan University, National University of Singapore, University of Birmingham, University of Connecticut, University of Hong Kong, University of Maryland, and University of New South Wales. Students worked with SEC field professionals and social entrepreneurs to help cultivate new and nurture existing micro-consignment supported businesses.
The students worked on a diverse set of projects, which included carrying out a feasibility study of business opportunities for local women; providing guidance to local entrepreneurs and proposing strategies to improve the micro-consignment model; and creating an educational and motivational documentary for Guatemalan youth highlighting the Guatemalan culture and the opportunities available to them. The projects helped build capacity and develop entrepreneurship skills within the local communities, while providing students with the opportunity of the practical application of knowledge and skills, learned in the classroom, to a real world setting.
The feedback provided by University of Birmingham student, Maria Barlow, provides insight into the student experience:
“It is almost impossible to choose one part of the programme as my favourite because as a whole my time in Guatemala really opened my eyes to many new experiences and challenges, from which I learnt an enormous amount. However I would say the opportunity to get hands on experience with a developmental organisation in a developing country was somewhat of a dream come true! I learnt not only a huge amount about developmental work, and the challenges faced but also about Social entrepreneurship and Micro-Consignment, which gave me a completely different perspective on the ways in which developmental issues can be tackled. Furthermore through this experience I had the opportunity to work with local entrepreneurs, giving eye examinations and promoting water filters and also local organisations such as Proyecto Santo Tomas, which works with young people in schools and the local community. With this organisation I had the opportunity to produce a short documentary with some secondary school students. Throughout my stay in Guatemala, we kept hearing about the current struggle with the Latin American “child migrant crisis” and so I was really interested to work with local children and hear what they thought about their country and their futures. Working with these children was one of the most inspiring parts of the month; their positivity and determination shone through and touched me deeply and this project in particular is something that I would love to continue with in the future. In addition the opportunity to stay with local homestay families was a deeply humbling experience, where I really gained an intense appreciation for Guatemalan and local Mayan culture. Overall, through this experience I had the opportunity to directly serve communities and the organisation, which was really a wonderful experience.”
Photos by Romanna Romaniv, University of Connecticut and Maria Barlow, University of Birmingham