Sustainable Business Incubator in West Africa
We are building a student based collaborative partnership
between Elizabethtown College (EC) and the University of The Gambia (UTG) with the goal of establishing and maintaining a sustainable business in The Gambia. This effort is being sponsored by and mentored through the EC Social Enterprise Institute. The business will be built on the social business model designed to alleviate the effects of poverty in this developing country through affordable technologies centered on sustainable energy systems. The two institutions involved will support the startup with ongoing technology and business research and development. The program is being developed by expanding existing courses to include this international/multidisciplinary collaboration centered on developing appropriate technologies in the sustainable energy sector.
Elizabethtown Professor Dr. Kurt DeGoede (Engineering) has been collaborating with Dr. Momodou Jain (Physics and Engineering) at the University of The Gambia (UTG), since Dr. DeGoede spent a year as a visiting professor at UTG in 2010-11. Yusupha Touray the Director of Planning and Research at the Ministry of Education also works closely with the team. Through Dr. Jain and Mr. Touray the team has strong connections throughout the ministries of education, energy and justice. We are also working closely with Saikou Njai a US and New Zealand trained Gambian engineer and project manager who is the field placement coordinator for 20 US Peace Corps volunteers positioned throughout the rural areas of the country.
As with other international service learning experiences the professional perspective of the EC student participants was shaped by participation in this project. The students identify increased interest in seeking employment or graduate school programs focused on improving quality of life for others, and scrutinizing the social ethics of potential employers. The process of acting across cultures changed how they approach problems and understand the world, helping them understand how to define the real problem in a difficult situation.
- “This project really solidified my decision/want to work in international based companies that will better the life of someone else.”
- “The strength of this program lies in connecting cultures and experiences to work towards a common goal.” “It has changed how I approach problems and how I view the world as a whole.”
- “Working directly with a customer is an eye opening experience. It gives context to problems and helps to establish what is truly needed in a solution.”
- “Participating in the solar phone charger project reinforced the idea of working in a field where I may be able to have a larger impact on communities and people's lives.”
- “I am hoping to go to graduate school to continue research in methods to help improve quality of life for individuals all over the world. Also, I look into companies business practices, and a major quality I look for in a company is its business ethics. I see the much bigger role that engineering has on individual people, families, and entire communities.”
Unlike most other projects, we have also been able to observe the impact of this collaboration on the professional development of peer students in the developing nation. The UTG students speak of improved career opportunities, praising the practical training in the community based projects. Alumni of the program identified specific skill development that led to their employment: PV system design, determining the root cause of a problem and systematically formulating a solution to that problem. Through the program they came to understand the connection between engineering and business to develop an economically successful enterprise.
- “I have had the opportunity to choose a career that is related to renewable energy and Physics in general. I was able to make such a decision through my participation in the projects which subsequently enhanced my capacity in career decision making.”
- “I was able to decide without ambiguity or doubt that I want a career in Renewable Energy technology after completing the courses experimental physics I & II (which involved mainly the design and or sizing for solar PV systems)”
- “I better understood engineering as an area which deals with solving real life problems and a tool that can be used to turn businesses into success.”
- “It has enabled me view engineering and Physics as a fruitful and problem solving oriented career than just an academic discipline. It helped greatly in rendering service to the community, particularly those of pressing concern to the people.”
- “I for example used the skills and knowledge acquired from this program to get a job at a private solar firm as my first job after graduation.”
These students also paralleled the EC students in experiencing an awakening of a humanitarian spirit: “[…] having been a part of the community based projects that emerged from the Photovoltaic course at UTG (the pioneering badge) had helped me harness my zeal to serve others. I had always perceived Physics to be self-involved field […] Those few months of my Photovoltaic project was an eye opener for me as it was what helped me aware that I had always had a dormant quality in me that was never awakened, a quality of being a humanitarian and using my love for science for the greater good. It was a moment that I wouldn't change for anything.”
Portions excerpted from EESD15 (https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/52657/items/1.0064749)