I’m the kind of person who envisions their goals and what they would like to accomplish, and then takes the most presumed, direct path to get to where I’d like to go. I am motivated and inspired by my passions, though I am entirely risk averse and tend to choose the most obvious and traditional – safe - route in following what moves me.
Going to school for my Master’s in Public Health for example, seemed like a sure way to pursue my passion for reproductive health. Interning at Circle of Health International seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime, helping and supporting women who are most vulnerable in this world. Both of these endeavors have indeed, undoubtedly, put me on track to getting where I want to go and I have no regrets and feel nothing but fortunate. But when I heard I would be researching “Social Entrepreneurship” on behalf of COHI, my nerves tensed and my mind went blank, and all I could hear was my mother’s voice telling me, “I told you that you should’ve gone to business school.”
I felt lost, like a piece of my road map was missing, because I was worried that there would be no connection between the health-related projects I wanted so desperately to experience, and a business-oriented framework of which I knew absolutely nothing about. Nervous but eager, I deviated (or so I thought) from my path. I set out to explore the relationship and the potential that social enterprise could have on public health initiatives. With so much enthusiasm and relief, I gladly admit that my previous hesitations were pure ignorance.
For the past several months, I have been researching social entrepreneurship and social enterprise projects happening around the world. My specific objective was to figure out how this type of model could help implement and sustain ventures in public health. Even more specifically, I wanted to see if starting a sewing school in rural Haiti could develop a menstrual health program in a viable, realistic way.
As I typed up my findings, I realized how excited and attached to this project I’d become. A sewing school can supply women in Haiti (or women anywhere) with social enterprise. It can employ women, train them and teach them marketable skills. It can give them opportunities, provide them with income that feeds their families, and sends their children to school. It can buy clothing, books and drinkable water, and subsidizes transportation. It allows them the ability to access and purchase health services, empowers them, gives them something to be proud of, and can lift them and their families out of poverty. It teaches them life skills, vocational skills, makes their difficult lives a little more manageable, and gives them hope. In a nutshell, I realized that social enterprise has huge potential to start and carry out public health programs, and improve community health standards because it has the capacity to encompass nearly every aspect of daily life.
The learning curve for me continued. This past June, Sera (COHI’s CEO), my fellow intern, Carmen and I, traveled to Haiti (another journey I wasn’t anticipating – but am absolutely pleasantly surprised with). We traveled to see what this social enterprise project in the form of a sewing school would really look like in a place where extensive corruption, endemic poverty, high unemployment, low education, gender inequality, and violence existed. And I had the opportunity to see firsthand how social enterprise projects are changing the lives and community of Fond Parisien.
There’s a small jewelry-making workshop that employs four eager women. For three of them, this is their first job ever and the extra income they earn pays for their children to attend school year round and for all of the books and supplies they’ll need. A peanut butter factory is set to open soon and is expected to employ about 20-30 people. Small social enterprise projects like these won’t stomp out global poverty and inequality tomorrow. But for communities like Fond Parisien, social entrepreneurship can cater to a population-specific need and address issues on a level that will really make a difference.
Don’t be fooled like I was. It’s true that “business” and “social change” are two terms we don’t often see as analogous. But the truth is, they definitely can be, and together they can definitely do some serious good.
-Violet Resnick, COHI Social Enterprise Intern