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.”


Poem to South Africa

30 06 2011

As their time comes to a close in South Africa Social Entrepreneur Corps interns have written a poem that reflects on their time in country.

Dear South Africa,


You shocked us all

Our assumptions of you

Fell short of your glory


With a beauty that left us enthralled

Soon enough we will walk away

Drenched in memories and hopes of return

Some to homestays with fun mothers who play karaoke,

others to strict grandmothers who have rules taped to the door

Either way, we walk away full


Full of


Dusty Chicken

Magnum Ice Cream

Sour Oranges

Nick Nacks

and last but not least Mopani worms


We leave our footprints in the South African sand

Our fingerprints on the walls of the Baphumalele Bakery

Our words of ostensible knowledge lingering

In the ears of all who so kindly listened 


Two weeks of reading and lecturing left us as naked as a tourist’s first cold winter in Alaska

Shattering before the thick window of reality that stands between us and the people

Allowing us only a peak

To breath only a thin wind of truth that tickles our noses


We walked our first few steps out of the airport

As anxious as a cub on its first hunt

As exhilarated as a blind man after his first blink

Full of assumptions and naiveté

But humbled by the vastness of more


We lived, learned and had what everyone so calls as “a great experience”

Yet, it is only in retrospect that we can truly feel,

Clearly see

And collect ourselves


After leaving pieces of ourselves in every handshake

Every hug

Every word spoken and received

Every bed slept in

Every sister and brother we shared our songs and dances with

We leave our scent

Not to contaminate the air, so filled with the smoke of a history consumed by the breath of a hopeful people,

But to be found again

To so fondly be remembered and accepted

As a kitten is recognized by its mother


I came to give what little I had been allowed to offer

Only to find the greatest thing in the world



Not just any type of people,

But people who gave to me

Gave of themselves

For as long as I asked


They gave me their eyes

And acknowledged my presence

Their ears

And heard me gaggle the greetings I had so proudly thought I said correctly

Their hands

And welcomed me into their homes

Their words

And talked me through their lives, their history, their present


We came to give and have received

We were so wrong to have believed

we could give more than we would receive

We will be forever indebted to you South Africa

We can’t thank you enough for being you

You rock, don’t ever change.



The Ubuntus

SEC with women in Huntington

Our First Campaign: Pienaar

29 06 2011

We arrived in our archetypal South African minivan, with the sun beaming down on us like a spotlight. The road our stage and we the protagonists, the key players of this new initiative we excitedly engage our audience to take part in. This is an interactive performance and we are nothing without the people.

Waiting for eye exams

We knew we had arrived when we saw the group of people sitting on chairs, standing by the trees, some having found shade underneath the stone house’s oversized roof. First we presented ourselves and our three products: the Q Drum, the Firefly Solar Lamp, and the Biomass Cook Stove. The people looked especially pleased when it came to the Q Drum, a rolling drum used to transport water! Second, we gave out numbers to be able to attend to clients in an orderly fashion. We started with one and two, and the rest is history! We split ourselves up so that some of us were taking product surveys and needs analysis surveys and others were giving eye exams. I gave a woman an eye exam who, as if to reassure herself that her sight had truly been bettered by the glasses, took out her needle and beads and began using them! That to me was a snapshot of success. We served young and old and were able to sell over 50 eyeglasses! It was wonderful to have had such a successful campaign, especially being that it was the first in South Africa.

During the campaign, every now and then I would peek out of the window and see people coming to the table with products. It was heartening to see them interacting with the products and asking questions about costs, when we would be able to bring more, and when they would be able to have one. That last question is always the toughest. How do you explain that we are here to do research, ask questions about a need that we are almost positive they have? These are the moments where development vs. relief is really a toughie. I constantly have to remind myself that we are not here to give things for free, even when we want to. At the same time, the needs analyses and product surveys have really helped us see where there is the most need and how much we should price the products. We now have solid data to work with, and this makes me hopeful that SECs contributions in the future will be effective and well-distributed.

Argemira conducts an eye exam

After the purchase of each eye drop, eye glass pair, eye glass case and sunglass pair, the warm embrace of each person’s smile has left me convinced that we made a great impact in their community. More than 50 people came out to our campaign and it took us a little over 3 hours to see them all. To me, that is great, and I can only imagine how many more people we would see if we would have stayed for longer. Campaigns in this area would be beneficial for the community, especially after seeing how pleasant the people were. I also noticed that there were a good amount of people ranging from early 40s to mid 50s. This seems like a good age for women to train and start giving eye exams in their own community. I could definitely see a future for SEC in Nelspruit.

The sun was still navigating its way into the blanket of blue above us, showering us with the last bit of ephemeral warmth before the windy evening. And then, as if the evening were not unwinding nicely enough, Luke told us that since we did not have a specific business we were working with in South Africa yet, we were donating the profits of our earnings to the orphanage we had visited days earlier. We were able to donate more than R800, about $125! Presenting the money to the head woman Mrs. Mgwenya brought us all to tears. All she said was, “My God,” and looked down as if to hide her eyes that we could all see were watering. As Bucky would say, “This is why I do what I do.” This woman is the epitome of a loving human being. Having taken more than a handful of orphans in as her own, she meets their needs with nothing but a smile on her face. Even those who are ill with HIV, and unable to qualify for child grants, are kept healthy with medication she gets from the government and healthy foods she provides for them. Mrs.Mgwenya, a woman of such caliber, has shown me that the adage is after all true, all you need is love.

–Argemira Florez

SEC with Mrs.Mgwenya after the campaign

A memorable weekend

28 06 2011

From June 3rd  to 6th  SE Corps interns spent a long weekend with homestays in the Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town.  Throughout the weekend interns interacted and worked side by side with local nonprofit organization, the Bo-Kaap Cultural and Heritage Gateway.  The weekend included a tour of the Bo-Kaap area, interviews with stall holders at the Bo-Kaap Cultural and Heritage Gateway Market, traditional Cape Malay cuisine, and survey analysis and recommendations with the Bo-Kaap Cultural and Heritage Gateway.  SE Corps intern Aimé Silfa shares her experience living and working in the Bo-Kaap area for a memorable weekend.

SEC in front of homestay in Bo Kaap

Bo-Kaap: a community filled with history and color. The bright houses were what mainly caught my eye. The houses remind me of the Dominican Republic with their balconies and their doors at the sidewalk. Bo-Kaap is a safe neighborhood where kids can run around and just hang around on the sidewalks. The neighbors go from house to house, and they all know each other. I missed being around such an environment.

When we took the tour of the Bo-Kaap area, it was interesting to learn that Bo-Kaap is 95% Muslim because Apartheid forced people to be segregated by religion and background.  During the arrival of slaves in Cape Town the person in charge of the data collection of slaves would name people after the month in which they arrived if he was not in a good mood that day. Thus, many people cannot trace their surnames back very far and are unable to learn about their ancestors. In addition, Christianity was not encouraged because if the slaves became Christians they would be entitled to more rights, such as days off and better treatment. Therefore, the Dutch did not want them to become Christians.

Aime enjoying the view from her homestay in Bo Kaap

Today Bo-Kaap resembles the culture from decades ago, which is what makes it so special. My host family and the people in the neighborhood are very aware of their history. In the first conversation I had with my host dad he told me his family descended from slaves. He was not ashamed of it.

I forgot what it was like to wake up in a house: dads chatting outside in the patio, and being able to yell my friend’s name across the street as soon as I walk out the door. My home stay family was amiable.

People around here are fully aware of the media that portrays part of the American culture. Even the mother was telling me about Snoop Dog. The kids listen to Biggie and Tupac. The children are well raised. They have goals. They are 19, 26 and 29 and still living in the house. The two oldest ones graduated from college while the youngest one is still studying. They all work and spend their money in things they want and need. I found that surprising given that in American culture kids cannot wait to leave the house and be independent.

SEC and Bo Kaap Cultural and Hertiage Gateway after SWOT and Survey Results

We went to Bo-Kaap to work at the Bo-Kaap Cultural and Heritage Gateway Market, which promotes small businesses of local women. In the market we interviewed the stallholders in order to see how the market could be improved. The Bo-Kaap Cultural and Heritage Gateway nonprofit who we conducted the surveys for could not wait for us to show them the results of the surveys. What amazed us was that many of the ideas we suggested they had already tried. These were simple women who recognized a need and started a business that would respond to it.

Grassroots Consulting in Cape Town

11 06 2011

Social Entrepreneur Corps interns began consulting with locally run Baphumelele Bakery and Baphumelele Orphanage and the nonprofit organization CTC10/Amandla EduFootball in the Khayelitsha Township their first week in South Africa.   Throughout their first two weeks in South Africa Social Entrepreneur Corps interns conducted a needs analysis with the Baphumelele Bakery, which is struggling with low sales and loss in revenue.  Interns additionally worked hand in hand with twenty-five Youth Leaders at the CTC10 Field interviewing them about their educational and career goals.  Upon analysis of interviews topics such a resume creation, interview skills, financial aid opportunities, and study abroad and internship opportunities stood out as valuable information for Youth Leaders.  Accordingly Social Entrepreneur Corps interns conducted four workshops with twenty-five Youth Leaders and left them with an informational packet of resources and further information on careers, interview skills, resume basics, and more.

Just passing through Khayelitsha, the largest township in Cape Town, can be an overwhelming experience with thousands of crammed tin shack homes, the smell of braai (South African barbeque) cooking on the street, and children playing in water from communal taps along crowded streets.  Social Entrepreneur Corps interns Melissa Sandoval and Natasia Fable reflect on their consulting experiences in Khayelitsha using the five senses.

Sight: Seeing the wealth of Cape Town and then seeing the overcrowded, poverty-stricken township of Khayelitsha was definitely as mind-blowing as it has been described to us. I could not believe that people actually lived in those shacks. Those worn down poorly built shacks. It made my heart hurt. But to speak with the members of the Baphumelele Orphanage and Bakery and then the Youth Leaders of CTC10, they were all so hopeful, positive, and full of life. I loved the rich city of Cape Town with its fancy cars, condos and amazing mall, but I felt like Khayelitsha was where I wanted to be. There were so many friendly faces and everyone was so welcoming and grateful for our presence and help.

Smell: When I think of Khayelitsha, I recall the inciting, delicious smell of the Baphumelele Bakery with its fresh baked bread. I remember the smell of the spicy food from the homes.  The air was fresh, clean, and clear.

Sounds: The sounds of children playing happily in the street filled the air along with adult voices calling to one another.

Taste: The freshly baked whole wheat bread from the Baphumelele Bakery was warm, fresh, delicious, and healthy.

Touch: The roads were paved for the most part, but there were a lot of uneven dirt roads. The walls of buildings were lined with electric barbed wire or broken glass to prevent trespassing and theft.

            This is Khayelitsha: Currently over 1.5 million people

·       Khayelitsha is one of many townships in Cape Town, South Africa.  Though it is overpopulated, there is still an amazing sense of community, and positive interactions.  Flooded with children playing and dancing in the streets, this township has no shortage of happiness and is home to the Baphumelele Bakery and Baphumelele Orphanage and a soccer field known as Chris Campbell Memorial Field (CTC10).

Let’s Bake it up- Baphumelele Bakery
: Offering an alternative for healthier eating

·       It is certainly clear that there is a lot of life baked into this small region.  As consultants for SE Corps, the bakery is one business that has certainly attracted our attention.  This bakery supports healthy eating practices by offering whole wheat bread as an alterative to white bread.

·       Its mission: to promote healthy eating among those in the community by offering low cost loafs of bread for 5 rands, cheaper than any other seller.

·       Guided on a tour by the wonderful and ambitious Thulani, we gained insight into the current successes and areas of improvement in the infrastructure of the bakery.

SE Corps South Africa 2011

21 04 2011

Check back soon for live updates from the field from SE Corps Interns in Guatemala!

Welcome to the SE Corps 2011 Student Blog!

21 04 2011

Please check back soon for live updates from the field as students explore Social Entrepreneurship in Guatemala, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and South Africa!