Students in Sierra Leone practice social entrepreneurship

Photos provided by Alexa Navasero and Eiji Miura.

Photos provided by Alexa Navasero and Eiji Miura.

Ten Clark University students and one Clark alumnus recently returned from Bo, Sierra Leone, with David Jordan, president of Seven Hills Foundation, and longtime adjunct professor at Clark University. Many of the students who participated in the trip had completed Jordan’s undergraduate Social Entrepreneurship course.

For 11 days, as part of a combined Clark University/Seven Hills Global Outreach (SHGO) initiative, the group worked with the Fresh-Hope International Ministry, a local Sierra Leone organization that provides essential support services to families in the region. The Bo region of Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world; one in five women dies in childbirth, and one in four children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Women who are pregnant fear for their lives when giving birth because of the limited medical services available. The health care system in Sierra Leone lacks the capacity to provide prenatal care to pregnant and birthing women.

The Clark University/Seven Hills delegation volunteered at several Fresh-Hope centers and at other locations throughout the Southern district of Sierra Leone. They cared for small orphaned children, painted a nursery, taught toddlers, visited remote villages and observed indigenous midwives conducting an OB/GYN clinic in a remote village. They also toured a ‘Doctors Without Borders’ clinic and a small government hospital in Bo.

To pay for the expense of their trip, the Clark students had to raise funds independently. Some students created personal fundraising Websites; they sold goods at craft fairs, and hosted a banquet for 150 people to not only raise funds, but to educate others about their trip and the maternal health crisis in Sierra Leone.

The trip has spawned an international partnership between Seven Hills Global Outreach, Clark students, and the people of Sierra Leone. Clark students have established a Social Entrepreneurship Club, which has already begun to discuss plans, in conjunction with SHGO, to establish a bakery in Sierra Leone to benefit orphans and other needy children, an idea that arose after meeting a local pastor and community leader in Sierra Leone who not only wanted to feed orphaned children, but also to create employment opportunities and generate income.

“He intuitively wants to do what I talk about in my class at Clark—foster economic development through social enterprise,” said Jordan.

The trip to Bo not only allowed Clark students to gain valuable experience, it also enabled them to earn academic credit through Clark’s Graduate School of Management (GSOM). Edward Ottensmeyer, dean of Clark’s GSOM, is a strong supporter of community-based learning.

“Students spending time in a very different culture, observing that culture’s approach to entrepreneurship, business development and social services, and then helping real people deal with real problems adds up to what I call a ‘high-impact learning’ experience,” said Ottensmeyer. “It’s especially exciting to see students return with a very different and more informed sense of the world and their place in it. I wish every student could have a learning opportunity like this.”

This was the second trip abroad that Jordan organized for the Clark students. Last year, nine Clark students, along with Seven Hills staff, traveled to Accra, Ghana, to work with a social enterprise caring for and educating children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Jordan initiated the relationship between Seven Hills and Clark University in 2008. It has proven to be a win-win for both institutions, as they each strive to promote community integration and have global impact. Jordan, who has served as Social Entrepreneur-In-Residence at Clark since 2007, said that the students have already asked him if they might return to Sierra Leone next year.

“Social entrepreneurship has ignited a newfound sense of purpose within the Clark University community and others throughout the United States,” said Jordan. “It has fired the passion of young people at a critical time in our history when we need, more than ever, talented, energetic young entrepreneurs interested in solving social problems.” Jordan’s field experiences course has become increasingly popular, and serves as an indication that Clark students have a growing desire to “do well AND do good” in the world.

Other trips are in the works. From March 4-15 (Clark’s Spring Break), Jordan will accompany 12 Clark University undergraduate and graduate students as well as a few Seven Hills employees to Sao Paolo, Brazil, to partner with an organization that provides services to children.

Jordan hopes to further the unique Clark/Seven Hills partnership and offer “field experiences” in other international and domestic locations in the future.

“I believe in the brilliance of our students to fulfill the Clark ambition of ‘challenging convention and changing our world,’” said Jordan.
The Seven Hills Foundation mission is to promote and encourage the empowerment of people with significant challenges so that each may pursue their highest possible degree of personal well-being and independence. Seven Hills Foundation currently offers programming at 150 locations throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island and employs more than 3,000 professionals.

Students Alexa Navasero and Eiji Miura provided photos from the trip.