Changemakers Social Entrepreneurship Workshop

By: Lim Ke Shin

For a week in March 2017, I attended a YES Alumni Social Entrepreneurship Workshop and ECA Conference in Westin, Alexandria, a packed and fun-filled event.

YES Alumni from YES countries including Egypt, Ghana, Mozambique, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, Kenya, India, Thailand and South Africa were joined by two YES Abroad alumni that have previously spent a year in Indonesia. They were the most energetic and amiable bunch of people that you would ever want to be with.  Our facilitators Nancy Levine, Wendy Hyatt, Carolyn Rehn and Nina Dullaphan did a wonderful job in managing our excitement and delivering the sessions, constantly providing us with helpful information, constructive feedback, motivation and always showering us with the support that we needed.

I was suffering from jetleg on the very first but thankfully, the sessions were not delivered in lecture style only but were embedded with fun activities that did not put us to sleep.  The sessions for the first day were “Community Mapping”, “Passions and Problem”, “Needs Assessments”, “Action Plan” and “Group Dynamics” which are basically the foundations and steps to start a project.

Community mapping was a great session and left us wishing that we had more time to listen to what other participants had to say about their respective communities. We started by drawing on a flip chart what our community looks like. Then each of us had to find a partner to explain about the area, cultures and problems that exist in the community. Everyone was totally engaged and curious about each other’s issues that we did not have enough time to share more insights with each other.

The next session that impressed me was “Needs Assessment”. Although “Needs Assessment” sounded boring at first, it turned out to be the best part of the day. The activity for the session was to design a customized wallet for your partner according to his or her needs.  It is a practical activity for people to learn to check their assumptions and identify problems accurately. This session also enhances one’s creativity and problem solving skills. Before designing, we had to ask each other hard and deep questions on preferences and problems regarding the wallet. The findings were very interesting. I never knew people would prefer to still write short notes on paper as reminders and keep it inside their wallet despite having a smart phone.  I would also never expect my wallet partner, Andrew to solve my problems with such a great idea which was to create different compartments for different denominations of coins for my wallet, a very practical way to organize my coins!

The second-best session of the day was “Group Dynamics” as it made us discuss in-depth on what makes a great team and ways to accommodate different working styles. While we were building towers by using straws, play-doh and marshmallows, we got to see different types of people with different leadership and communication styles. Despite there being disagreements and various challenges, I still find it one of the best activities because it revealed our true character.  It tested our limits and made us discover our weaknesses and strengths when we work in a team. It is an activity that made us step back, question our flexibility and the actual roles that we should play within the team.

The morning of the second day started with Mallory McEwen, YES Abroad Alumna sharing her multimedia and video making skills. She introduced us to ways of making videos and spreading news in order to create public awareness and to reach to a wider audience. This session introduced us to the many other functions and opportunities of social media.  After the sharing session, we learned how to tell stories about our project by using a narrative voice.  This session basically introduced us to different strategies on how to make a project appealing to an audience.

The following sessions were “Developing Leadership and Trust” and “Fun with Fundraising and Budgeting.” We did a trust walk for the developing leadership and trust session. The leaders came up with different ways to direct blindfolded participants without speaking a word.  After the activities, we reflected on trust and leadership styles in a team.

The “Fundraising and Budgeting” session was a challenging one as we were required to plan our activities in a team, list down the items needed for an event, come up with a budget and persuade some parties to provide us support in terms of man-power, advertising and so on. My team’s task was to organize a charity run. We were given 200 bucks as a start-up capital and also a target of funds that we needed to raise. There was a newspaper publication manager, a restaurant manager, a beverage company worker and a school principal open for the teams to bargain for deals. This session equipped participants with planning, budgeting, decision making and communication skills that are needed to run a project.

For the third day, the session that caught my attention the most was “Elevator Pitch”. Elevator pitch is basically a brief, persuasive type of speech used to spark interest in the audience and determining the support you would get for the project. It might be just a short pitch but it has the potential to make a huge impact.

At the end of the workshop, participants would present the projects we came up with to be evaluated by the representatives of the state department and AFS partners.  I came up with a project to raise awareness by using creative technologies among young Malaysians about the importance of 3R to reduce pollution and the cost of waste management in Malaysia.  The projects that were presented were well planned and helpful in easing the problems of their respective communities. For instance, Rufus Adducul from Philippines presented a project to raise awareness and educate teenagers in Philippines on the significance of Folic Acid on pregnancy to prevent the high rate of birth defects in the community.  Ibrahim Kombo from Kenya came up with a water harvesting project to cater to the lack of water during drought season in Kenya. One of the projects that I found really interesting is by Mallory McEwen on creating an event that acts as a platform to expose her closed community to different cultures and ethnicity.

The ECA conference and workshop which followed was graced by the presence of Senator Lugar, one of two visionaries who made the YES program possible. We were honoured and excited to be able to chat with him before his opening address.

All participants also went on a Capitol Hill visit to find out the stand of state senators and representatives regarding sponsor programs and its future. At a debriefing and sharing session after the visit, it was fascinating to hear stories especially from volunteers who have never been to the congress.  Rachel Butler from AFS USA, Ibrahim Kombo of Kenya and I were “representatives” for New Hampshire State. Both representatives of Senator Maggie Hassan and Senator Jeanne Shaheen were extremely friendly to us and supportive towards the program.  Other than sharing the impact of our exchange in New Hampshire, we also talked about skiing at Pats Peak and of course the crazy weather in New Hampshire.

Friday night was livened up with one of the highlights of the week – an international bazaar! YES country representatives set up booths with facts, flags, attire and pictures of their respective countries as well as offered desserts, beverages and snacks. We also gave out souvenirs like keychains and postcards that were brought from home to visitors that came to our booth. This was a great event to expose the participants and bring them closer together to learn about each other’s cultures.

The following day started with hour-long Culture and Program Specific Concurrent Sessions offering participants an opportunity to take a closer look at specific countries and programs, learn about Islam, dive into hosting or sending topics or consider Area Team strategies for managing social media and developing diverse and inclusive teams. Volunteers and international partners led the presentations for specific countries, namely Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mozambique, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey which focused on cultural contexts and values in each particular country in order to better prepare the students that are going to these countries. The Malaysia Session was hosted by Farah Nadia Samsudin from AFS Malaysia with my assistance.

On the last day, there were two sessions. The first session covered the information that volunteers needed to know to send American students abroad with NSLI-Y, YES Abroad and CBYX Scholarship.

The other was Alumni Panel Discussions where perspectives from abroad and best practices were shared so that participants can understand how to pass peace forward.