Student Practices Hands-On Social Entrepreneurship in South Africa

August 25, 2011

Fabia Rothenfluh

Fabia Rothenfluh (third from left) works with villagers from Huntington, South Africa to create a bakery.

When Fabia Rothenfluh (Class of 2012) arrived in the tiny village of Huntington, South Africa this past June, she had no idea how she was going to change lives – she just knew she was going to. As part of an elite group of budding social entrepreneurs with the ThinkImpact organization, Rothenfluh was about to embark on an 8-week summer immersion program called Innovation Institute. Only 30 college students were selected to participate in this Kenya- and South Africa-based curriculum designed to train a new generation of entrepreneurs to make differences not just money.

ThinkImpact is not an aid agency, and it doesn’t believe in handing out money or resources to underserved communities. Rather, its mission is anchored in the belief that real change is possible through innovation, self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship. Rothenfluh’s goal was to partner with community members to identify and launch a business that could create new and fruitful financial opportunities for the village. She arrived with $33 and lots of enthusiasm. Everything else would have to come from the community of Huntington.

“The program really appealed to me because it is sustainable,” said Rothenfluh. “It focused on working with locals empowering them to help themselves.”

To begin, Rothenfluh partnered with fellow program participant Vincent Feucht, a student at North Carolina State University. Together, they started meeting with community members to brainstorm possible business ideas. Within a few weeks, Rothenfluh and Feucht gathered a group of ten women who set their sights on creating a bakery. Baked goods, such as meat pies and birthday cakes, were hot commodities in Huntington and the closest competitor was 40 minutes away.

The baked goods weren’t the only thing created from scratch—the women needed training in everything from baking to accounting. None had ever operated a cooperative business before. As the weeks passed under the relentless African sun, the team met nearly every day to get the business rolling including an intensive week-long cooking school where the village women were taught how to make muffins and other baked goods.

The core team of ten began dividing up responsibilities with some women baking in their homes and some women selling door to door. As the entrepreneurial spirit took root, the women made the decision to forgo salaries, so they could reinvest all profits back into business. The chief of the village, inspired by their tenacity, agreed to let them use part of the community center so the women could get together and bake as a group in a central location. The people of the town started ordering their cakes instead of traveling to the next town. After just eight weeks, Sunrise Bakery, as it was named, was flourishing.

“I really hope that the women will keep up the hard work because that might even enable them, with the help of the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) to apply for a government loan,” shared Rothenfluh in the blog she maintained throughout her time in Huntington.

Rothenfluh’s participation in the program was made possible as a result of a grant from the President’s office, whose commitment to the College’s social entrepreneurship and sustainable enterprise (SESE) initiatives has been unwavering. “A high student demand across campus has sparked the SESE Initiative which seeks to educate and expose students to social entrepreneurial education – the synergistic pursuit between innovative business strategy and social purpose,” said Chrissy Garton, assistant director at the Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship.

As her “give back” for the grant, Rothenfluh will intern this academic year at Crummer’s Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship. “I’ll be to helping to promote the social entrepreneurship movement on campus,” she shared.

“Rollins students want to change the world,” Garton said. “Social entrepreneurship exposes them to unlimited possibilities by which entrepreneurs can create long-term social change. Providing students with high-impact opportunities to touch and breathe social innovation in action reinforces Rollins’ mission to educate for global citizenship and responsible leadership.”

For Rothenfluh, this experience has not only sparked a passion for creating change in the world, but also has proved to her that change really is possible.

By Kristen Manieri

Office of Public Relations & Community Affairs
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