Final Reflections

12 07 2011

The following blog entries are Social Entrepreneur Corps interns’ reflections on their experiences after six weeks working with Social Entrepreneur Corps in South Africa. Interns began their time in South Africa with two weeks of foundation building, which included discussions, readings, and reflections about poverty, development work, relief work, and social entrepreneurship among other topics. Interns then spent four weeks working in the field in three different environments of urban, semi-urban, and rural.  During their field work interns:

  • Performed grassroots consulting with 7 different local organizations
  • Conducted the first two MicroConsignment Campaigns in South Africa (with over 100 eye exams and 72 glasses sold)
  • Completed 77 needs analysis and product feasibility surveys for the expansion of the MicroConsignment Model in South Africa
  • Developed funding proposals to support three local nonprofit organizations

SEC intern Melissa Sandoval reflects on all of her experiences working in the field and in the classroom to respond to the question, “How has your experience working with SEC in South Africa impacted your understanding of either poverty, development vs relief work, or social entrepreneurship.

Melissa and Mama Mgwenya after donating $125 of campaign sales to Mama Mgwenya's orphanage

“After spending six weeks in South Africa with Social Entrepreneur Corps, I leave with a great understanding of poverty and what it means to be a social entrepreneur.  The typical definition of poverty is a state of being extremely poor. However, from my experiences in South Africa, I would shutter at the idea of someone calling the people of South Africa poor or impoverished.  In fact, I find that South Africans are extremely rich.  Although they may have limited access to essentials such as electricity and clean water, they are rich in culture, kindness and spirit.  Every moment with those in South Africa has the potential to be a teachable moment.  Furthermore, whether it is learning traditional dances or songs glorifying God, their fruitful natures surpass the less developed aspects of their lives.

There are many definitions of poverty of which we have seen encompassed in squatter life and informal settlements in numerous townships across South Africa.  With this in mind, I still consider many people of South Africa to be rich in the sense that they are innovators.  They also, seem to re-define what it means to be a social entrepreneur.  A social entrepreneur is traditionally defined as someone who organizes and operates a business, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.  Though we have encountered many amazing innovators throughout our time in South Africa, when thinking about South Entrepreneurs, two incredible women stand out: Mama Mgwenya and Mama Rosie.  These women are social entrepreneurs because they work with their community and create programs to meet the social needs of their community.  They do not receive any personal profits from doing so, however, they re-defined the typical social entrepreneur because of their ability to inspire others and create a platform for causes to elevate their communities, even though others have failed to do so and take such an initiative. 

Mama Mgwenya is a healthcare provider who transformed her own home into an orphanage for children of the Msgwaba community who were beaten and neglected by their parents, many of which were affected by HIV/AIDS.  Her main goal was to travel throughout the community and help those who were bedridden because of the disease or simply too depressed to leave the confines of their homes.  On this mission, she took on the fight of another social cause: helping the neglected children of these men and women.  As a duo-partnership, Mrs. Mgwenya and her husband have established a platform from which others can benefit. In doing so she has taken on some of the greatest risks which essentially include giving up the privacy of her home, as well as raising and supporting 8 young children that range from 9 months to 10 years old.  As an entrepreneur, Mama Mgwenya has observed some domestic needs in her community and has created an effort to try and surmount these issues.  Additionally, she receives a small R250 grant for some of the children and provides everything else that they children may need.  In performing her act of kindness, she is certainly taking on a huge financial risk, because she receives no profit from her work.  She simply runs on love and on her passion to help others.

After sitting in Mama Mgwenya’s living room, as she shared the history of the orphanage with us, and being surrounded by loads of babies and toddlers, I felt a special connection to all of them.  As she spoke to us, she informed us that three of the eight children have HIV/AIDS and one of the babies I was carrying, who was not even two years old, was positive.  Currently ¼ of South Africa’s population has HIV/AIDS.  This is a very alarming rate and although I read about the statistics, actually holding a baby that was affected made everything seem much more real and personal.  I had to fight back tears when Mama Mgwenya told us that the baby girl I was holding was also beaten by her mother and had multiple lesions on her head.  Mama Mgwenya has created a wonderful and nurturing environment for numerous children and is a perfect manifestation of what it means to be a community leader who is rich in joy and passion.

Mama Mgwenya works with her community and the richness that she embodies is expansive.  A prime example of this richness was evident when we worked on building a fence and clearing a garden that was part of the recently purchased land for the new location of the orphanage.  As we worked in the garden we were immersed in a working environment that felt similar to Sunday morning mass.  The women, of the community, who worked beside us, were smiling and singing as we tirelessly pulled up weeds and dug holes.  There was so much energy and ambition in this field that one could not help but continue the pattern.  Regardless of where we have traveled in South Africa the people are always very happy, full of life, and close to God.  It is incredible to be immersed and welcomed into such an amazing and rich culture.

Similar to Mama Mgwenya, Mama Rosie is also a Social Entrepreneur.  She started the Baphumelele Children’s Home in Khayelitsha, in 2001, where the child-orphaned rate is extremely high.  She was disturbed to see young children going through dumps in search of food while their caretakers were away at work.  Like Mama Mgwenya, she responded by taking children into her home and caring for them.  Mama Rosie, with a group of women from the community, made it their mission to looking after these children.   She began this effort with 36 children and now serves over 50 children and provides a safe haven for those who have been abused, neglected or orphaned.  Though the orphanage started with one small building, it has expanded to serve initiatives such as: Baphumelele Wood Work Shop, Rosie’s Kitchen, Educare Center and the HIV Respite Care Center.  Mama Rosie is very shy, however, she is a phenomenal woman who fully understood a social need and is now providing services to her community, which is her “business.”  Unlike a typical social entrepreneur is not making any type of profit, however, she is providing a grand gain for disadvantaged children in the community.

As I have seen throughout my six weeks in South Africa, any passionate, hardworking and innovative person can be an entrepreneur and I have seriously re-defined what it means to be poor.  Even in communities we have visited like Balfour, were people were starving, they are all still really happy, hopeful and full of life.  Thus the richness here is in their gratitude and holistic appreciation of life.  I am grateful for the wealth of knowledge and memories that these women have helped me create.”

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