EMPOWER: Galvanizing Students To Address Poverty Alleviation

Program News | Posted Jul 1, 2008

Photograph: Children from Balan, Haiti, Sabina Carlson

This year, Tufts University alumni, Angelos Metaxa (A’91) and Javier Macaya (A’91), now both IGL External Advisory Board Members, joined forces to found EMPOWER at Tufts University’s Institute for Global Leadership to establish a learning and practical experience platform to engage Tufts students in social entrepreneurship aimed at poverty alleviation.

They said, "Our commitment to EMPOWER is long term as we feel that social entrepreneurship is paramount to our ever changing world. We are very excited to have co-launched the program as we both share deep feelings about global poverty alleviation but the truth is that this would have not been possible without IGL and its outstanding educational platform, long experience and talented leadership. Most of all, through IGL we have the wonderful opportunity to interact with very bright and sensitive students who we are certain are part of the future generation that is empowered to find ways to make our world a better place."

The objective of EMPOWER is to help educate, mentor, guide and motivate future social entrepreneurs, defining social entrepreneurship as activities that benefit humankind. The program is intentionally broad in scope to allow for innovative projects and research addressing the complexities of poverty in the world.

EMPOWER’s near term and long term objectives include:

*To help Tufts as it seeks to inspire, educate and prepare future social entrepreneurs and leaders, and future supporters of social entrepreneurship initiatives

*To increase awareness among Tufts’ students of the world’s poverty, one of the world’s most glaring problems, and of initiatives and means to contribute toward its alleviation

*To facilitate experiences that enable students to become aware of our global community and, at that micro/individual level, contribute towards greater understanding and sympathy among cultures.

*To increase awareness among Tufts students and faculty such that fields covered by EMPOWER gradually become introduced within the university’s curriculum and course offerings.

A core guiding principle of the program is the importance of practical learning beyond knowledge acquired in a classroom. A fundamental aspect of EMPOWER will be to establish partnerships and create synergistic relationships with organizations and institutions that are at the forefront of their field.

Within its overall focus of social entrepreneurship and poverty alleviation, EMPOWER will focus on providing an educational platform for students interested in broadening their knowledge and understanding of how social entrepreneurs are able to conceptualize, research and/or apply innovative management and organizational practices and financial tools to assist disadvantaged individuals and communities throughout the world. In other words, EMPOWER will be focused on initiatives that help the poor help themselves.

This will happen through academic research, internships, mentorship and guidance, relevant bibliography and other informational databases, lectures, and support for attending conferences. It will also include significant access to practical experience through partner organizations as well as access and close interaction with active social entrepreneurs.

EMPOWER will look to complement its beginning in microfinance with other areas in which social entrepreneurship can be applied for poverty alleviation, such as education, health, infrastructure and governance.

"Congratulations on launching EMPOWER –your work across the curriculum continues to reach beyond expectations.

As you know, McGraw-Hill is a global leader in publishing educational materials and professional information. With offices in more than thirty countries, we offer print and electronic content in over forty languages. McGraw-Hill Higher Education is prepared to partner with The Institute for Global Leadership, EPIIC, and EMPOWER at Tufts University to review and publish student research in the form of case studies and working papers for the college and university market.

The EMPOWER program, coordinating student research in global poverty and microfinance, is a perfect match for McGraw-Hill’s publishing program in Economics. Our world class authors, including Nobel Prize Laureate Paul Samuelson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, can provide an exemplary venue for EMPOWER to reach the broader academic market.

EMPOWER is an important and courageous effort, and McGraw-Hill is thrilled to be an early supporter of the program."

-Douglas Reiner (A '92, EPIIC '91), Executive Editor, McGraw-Hill Education

EMPOWER has the benefit of building on the resources of Tufts University, its alumni and its students groups engaged in social entrepreneurship as well. With the Institute for Global Leadership as its base, EMPOWER will engage faculty and staff throughout the university. A sample of the alumni who are collaborating include Vikrum Akula and Ajaita Shah of SKS India, Neil Blumenthal of SCOJO, Bill Abrams of Trickle Up, and Samantha Langbaum Beinhacker of the Skoll Foundation. The student groups include Net Impact (The Fletcher School) and the Tufts Chapter of the Youth Microcredit International Club.

Seeking experienced partners committed to establishing a synergistic relationship, the IGL has successfully reached out to renowned organizations to create its foundation.

In part, as a result of the strong interest of Angelos Metaxa and Javier Macaya in the field of microfinance and because of their own entrepreneurial history in the field of finance, microfinance was selected as a core EMPOWER launching social entrepreneurship initiative. After researching potential partnering organizations that are active in the field and conversations with ACCION senior management and its newly-elected Chairman, Alvaro Rodriguez Arregui, ACCION became the first uniquely suited partner able to both enrich the educational experience of program participants as well as benefit from its participation in the program. EMPOWER was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to launch the program with Boston-headquartered ACCION International, a pioneer and leader in the field of microfinance throughout the world. At the 2008 EPIIC symposium on “Global Poverty and Inequality,” ACCION was presented with a Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award for its ongoing work in poverty alleviation; the award was accepted by Mr. Rodriguez Arregui, who also participated in the symposium.

As part of EMPOWER, ACCION took on two Tufts undergraduate interns – the first time in its history it has taken undergraduates – to work on launching its new hub in Accra, Ghana, among other projects. The ACCION-EMPOWER internship provided seniors Jeff Goldberg and Michael Eddy the opportunity to engage in independent research on subjects of broad strategic and operational significance to ACCION. These included developing monitoring and control mechanisms for ACCION’s New Business Model, providing strategic guidance on ACCION’s expansion strategy, developing an operational manual for Hubs and defining the conceptual framework and planning for a four million dollar project rolling out training centers in ACCION’s various regions. In addition to these specific projects, Jeff and Michael were able to take advantage of the many opportunities for structured learning through their orientation speaker series.

After discussing, studying and critiquing international development work in the classroom, it was extremely enriching for Jeff and Michael to approach these issues through experiential learning. By managing the organizational intricacies that go into delivering microfinance products and services to ACCION’s partners, Jeff and Michael were able to acquire tangible business skills and knowledge about how to effectively serve the greater public good using social business models. This provided a unique opportunity for Jeff and Michael to complement their classroom learning with hands-on experience. Jeff will traveling to Ghana with ACCION this summer to work on the opening of its regional training center for Africa, which will be housed in the newly opened hub in Accra. Upon returning from the trip, he'll come back to Boston and will document his work and compile a best practices report based on his experience to guide ACCION as they open training centers for their partners in other key regions.

Commenting on the experience, Jeff said, “Honestly, I feel like undergraduate students would be hard pressed to find an experience of this nature, which facilitates development of practical business skills in a socially oriented context, while also offering an international field work experience at the same time. I think that the fusion of social, entrepreneurial and international disciplines that the ACCION-EMPOWER internship is able to offer is quite unique, and is truly an untapped market (if you will) that only has room to grow and provide more beneficial experiences to both students and ACCION in coming years.”

In Michael's case, his work with ACCION through EMPOWER helped lead to his next step at MIT's Poverty Action Lab.

"Fantastic News! I interviewed with Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee last week and just today accepted a position at MIT's Poverty Action Lab! I'll be working directly with Esther Duflo as her Research Assistant on a project in India!! I'll be working on a project-evaluating individual vs. group microcredit lending.

I honestly couldn't imagine myself working in a better job at a better organization. It's really just where I want to be--at the cutting edge of an important field and applying what I've learned at Tufts in real world dilemmas of international development.

I've got to say, that all of your advice, mentorship and introductions really paved the path to where I could make it through the door and sufficiently impress an institution like J-PAL. EPIIC, Kosovo, Princeton, ACCION. they all laid the groundwork for this position at J-PAL."
- Michael Eddy

Other partners joining EMPOWER in its first year include the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Kiva, and Ashoka.

Schwab has made a commitment to endorse Tufts students to its extensive and extraordinary international network of recognized social entrepreneurs.

Angelos, Javier and IGL Director Sherman Teichman were invited to attend the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship's Summit in Zurich in January 2008, having been asked to present Empower as a "human resource provider."

Several immediate outcomes are our students have preferential access to the prestigious Schwab global network of social entrepreneurial NGO's, and that an EPIIC student will take an internship with Mirjam Schoening, the Director of the Schwab Foundation in Geneva.

Anushka Ratnayake, Kiva Fellows Program Manager, was invited to participated in the 2008 EPIIC symposium, and she also met with students interested in interning and working with Kiva. After the symposium, she wrote, “I would like to formally say that Kiva.org is thrilled to announce the launch of an innovative partnership with Tufts University to provide Kiva Fellowships for qualified students through the school’s Institute for Global Leadership. We are confident that Tuft s’ strong commitment to social entrepreneurship and microfinance will greatly benefit Kiva and our microfinance partners around the world! We also have identified exciting research opportunities for Tufts students to engage in independently and with EMPOWER’s support during the academic year. On behalf of the Kiva community from our lenders and our entrepreneurs, and from the staff and volunteers working tirelessly to serve them -- we are looking forward to a long-term partnership with Tufts University and EMPOWER.” They have offered four internships this summer, two in Afghanistan, one in Lebanon, and one in Bolivia.

Bill Drayton, the founder of Ashoka, also participated in this year’s EPIIC symposium, receiving a Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award. Ashoka has approached EMPOWER and Tufts to create a collaboration where Ashoka Fellows -- Ashoka Visiting Social Entrepreneurs who are geographically and topically diverse -- will be directly involved in mentoring university students.

Current partners include Action Against Hunger, Boston Community Capital, and the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research in India. Other willing partners include the Poverty Action Lab at MIT, the Scojo Foundation, the Skoll Foundation, SKS Microfinance, Trickle Up, and Ujjivan.

In addition to providing internships with leading organizations in the field of poverty alleviation, EMPOWER provided support for student research and social entrepreneurship initiatives in Bolivia, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Nicaragua, Peru, and Rwanda.

These projects included the BUILD (Building Understanding through International Learning and Development) Nicaragua and Guatemala projects, where teams of Tufts students educated themselves about sustainable development issues – including leading a course through the Experimental College – and then traveling to Nicaragua in January 2008 and to Guatemala in May 2008 to assist with sustainable development projects in local communities and conduct research. This is cosponsored by the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.

An important ongoing initiative coming out of EMPOWER this year is the RESPE: Haiti project. A team of four Tufts students traveled to Haiti during winter break to conduct an initial community needs assessment in Balan. They were accompanied by Professor Alix Contaves, who teaches in the Urban and Environmental Planning (UEP) program, and Jackson Compere, now of Partners for Health.

From the Students' perspective, the results of this assessment were overwhelmingly positive: the team created a trust- and respect-based relationship with the community, the community created a sister organization to the Tufts team to serve as advisors and facilitators, and the team got a very clear understanding of the community's priorities for its self-development. The students brought that knowledge back to Tufts, and in addition to sharing their experience with the Tufts and Somerville communities, they have worked on engaging Tufts resources that would support the community's plans. They have assembled a team of engineers (from Tufts Engineers without Borders), public health experts, and community leaders to return with them this summer for a three week comprehensive needs assessment trip, which will culminate in a community summit where they will share their findings with the community and together develop a development platform for Balan. END

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