By Marilyn Sponzo
Granby recently played host to seven African students studying entrepreneurship through the Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders on Social Entrepreneurship. This is a five-week program sponsored by the U.S. State Department and hosted this year by the University of Connecticut’s Global Training and Development Institute. The purpose of the program is to deepen participant understanding of the U.S., and to help them develop business and entrepreneurial skills to address social issues.
Each participant was required to design a program addressing a social issue and to present the program to the Ashoka Foundation in Washington DC at the conclusion of their program. All students received a small amount of seed money for their project, and there is opportunity for further funding once their ventures are launched.
During the July 24 weekend, the students, who came from Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria, stayed with host families in Granby. On Saturday, they participated in a luncheon roundtable, hosted by the First Congregational Church of Granby, with several Granby residents who discussed initiatives they have launched and offered advice to the new entrepreneurs. Speakers included Nanny Brown on educational programs for pre-schoolers, Jenny Emery on public education, Sandy Flagg on feeding the hungry, Joe O’Grady on sustainable agriculture, Duncan Rowles on community volunteerism, Marilyn Sponzo on social programs for individuals with early stage Alzheimer’s disease and Angela Cappelli on volunteer programs with Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
At the roundtable the students had the opportunity to share their program ideas, which in all cases related to specific social or economic issues plaguing the students’ home countries. Their planned initiatives included a program to provide internet-based academic counseling for students interested in higher education, a waste management program for a poor community, teaching leadership and entrepreneurship skills to young women who are routinely marginalized in certain economies, training unemployed single mothers in traditional craft production and providing a marketplace for them to sell their goods, and creating an “Angie’s List”-type of referral program for individuals in need of specific services.
Knowing the perils of all work and no play, the Granby hosts provided plenty of social engagement for the students. On Saturday morning, Dave Emery led the group on an up-close and in-depth tour of Emery Farm and on Saturday evening they gathered at the Granby Tennis Club for a cookout and old-fashioned sing-along. Sunday morning saw the students and their hosts at worship in First Church, after which they continued their discussions about global entrepreneurship over coffee.
Ann Wilhelm, a Granby resident, First Church member and a professional staff member at UConn, was responsible for organizing the home stay program in Granby. Reflecting on the hosting experience, Wilhelm commented, “I cannot speak highly enough of the students I met. The selection process for this program is rigorous. These students are talented and highly motivated young adults with a lot of great ideas. Their enthusiasm and energy was contagious. The weekend with them was great fun and left me feeling very positive about the future of our world.”
UConn’s Global Training and Development Institute is preparing to welcome 20 students from Southeast Asia to the United States during late September for five weeks. This program is part of President Obama’s Young South East Asian Leadership Initiative. Host families are being sought for a weekend homestay. If interested, please contact Danielle DeRosa, Program Specialist, at 860-486-6305 or danielle.DeRosa@uconn.edu.
Study of the U.S. Institute is designed and funded by the Study of the U.S. Branch in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participants are among over 40,000 individuals participating in State Department exchange programs each year. For more than 60 years, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has funded and supported programs that seek to promote mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Other programs of the Bureau include the Fulbright Program and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program.
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