Agnes Kyesubire is an Educate! mentor. She recently organized and led a day long retreat for the four Educate! partner schools, where she works. This was the first of six retreats Educate! is hosting this fall.
They say two heads are better than one. How about eighty-six? Last Saturday Educate! brought together eighty-six of its scholars for an all day retreat. We gathered at Royal College, an Educate! partner school located in an industrial district outside Kampala. It was the first time our scholars were able to talk to members of the Educate! clubs from other schools. As part of the Educate! curriculum, students start a financially profitable project, or social initiative, that will also address a social need. They do this through their Social Entrepreneurship Clubs (SEC). In class, I emphasize the importance of collaboration as they create their projects. Today, I watched as they learned what true collaboration entails, each with 85 like-minded students at their disposal.
The day began as everyone gathered in a big circle. In front of the Educate! team, scholars gave their official Educate! introduction, introducing not only their names and schools, but passions and ideas about leadership too. If was awesome having scholars meet each other, especially after they had been hearing about the other school’s projects from me, their mentor. The retreat limits participation to four schools. This allowed our scholars to interact one-on-one, while still giving them a chance to learn about the other Educate! projects their counterparts are creating. Scholars from Pearl High School discussed their salad selling business, which provides their classmates with the greatly needed nutrition in their diets. Green Hill Academy scholars talked about re-investing profits from their ketchup selling project into the slums next to their school. I was excited to see my students connect with each other, and the retreat proved to be a perfect platform for this exchange.
Since collaboration was the theme of the day, the most exciting part, for me, came during the Social Entrepreneurship Exchange. The Social Entrepreneurship Exchange allowed head officers from each school’s SEC to sit down and discuss their social initiatives
At one table sat club presidents, another secretaries, and a third finance ministers. They shared their project’s successes and failures, and then brainstormed viable solutions. At the end of the Exchange, the officers presented the results of their discussion. For example, the finance ministers presented on the challenge of start-up capital. They explained how difficult it is to start a profitable business with very little money. As a way to overcome this, the group recommended that the SEC host a fundraiser. Students talked about the importance of including both the school administration and the outside community, in order to have a successful fundraiser. It was wonderful to see the scholars put into practice the mobilization and deliberating skills I teach them through the course. I was amazed by how fast the SEC problems, which threatened the progress of some projects, were resolved by the Exchange. This brought new hope to clubs that had previously been struggling. And to think it only took 45 minutes! The activity reinforced the power of collective decision making.
The Exchange taught them, however, that collaboration is not always easy. Educate! prides itself on diversifying its partner schools, in terms of both religion and class. The mentors, such as myself, teach at very rich and very poor schools in Uganda, as well as everything in between. I could see this diversity shine through at the retreat. I immediately noticed the differences between our rich students and poor students. Some of our scholars listened to their I-pods and others wore school uniforms spotted with holes. Throughout the day, I watched scholars from poor families exchanged views on leadership and social responsibility with their peers from rich families, and vice versa. Since schools here are organized by economic status, there are seldom opportunities where class barriers are confronted in this way, especially for teenagers. I could see that this was a new experience for almost everyone present. Collaborating on SEC projects thus became more than an opportunity to learn about building profitable social initiatives. It was also an opportunity to face stereotypes about wealth and poverty. It pushed everyone out of their comfort zones. To see our scholars overcome the intimidating prospect of working within a diverse environment, I realized the intangible value of coming together as a group.
The retreat ran for one day, but I am sure it made a lasting impression. My scholars began to interact with new people in a new way, and through it, found inspiration for their Social Entrepreneurship Initiatives. For that, it was a success. Educate! talks about power in numbers. The retreat allowed us all to experience this first hand, a lesson taught best through practice.