International Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD) (7th : 2015)

Sustainable social business incubator in West Africa DeGoede, Kurt M.; Dam, Duc T.; Qiao, Danni; Ascah, Matthew R.; Jain, Momodou

Abstract

Through a partnership between students and faculty in the US and in The Gambia, we seek to establish a vibrant sustainable social business incubator to address problems in West Africa. Elizabethtown College (Elizabethtown, PA) has partnered with The University of The Gambia (UTG). The goal is to establish an incubator framework, which will in turn launch small scale self-sustaining cottage-style social enterprises. These small enterprises (non-profit businesses) will provide fair wage employment at all skill levels. Projects originate through locally generated problem identification at UTG. We seek to instill an entrepreneurial problem solving spirit among participating students on both sides of the Atlantic. We have leveraged Elizabethtown undergraduate capstone projects as the vehicle for developing the technologies and business models for this effort. Since the start of the project in 2011, 20 Elizabethtown College students from 4 different majors, including 6 non-engineering students, have participated. A similar number of UTG physics students have worked alongside these students during site visits and on parallel community service projects. UTG student participation will increase dramatically with the first social enterprise roll out (a PV phone charger). The business plan for our social enterprise calls for Gambian management. All employees will be fairly paid Gambians. All costs must be recovered with each unit sold, while remaining affordable for the end user. Margins will be minimized and applied toward future projects. To achieve economic self-propagation we must meet real social needs with locally appropriate solutions. UTG enrollment in physics has increased sharply, with the major viewed as a pathway to practical careers. The UTG students have completed several community based service projects impacting their local communities since a service learning sustainable engineering course was introduced to that curriculum in 2011. The participating students have gone on to become Fulbright scholars, graduate students and practicing professionals with new perspectives on making a positive impact in their own and the global community.

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