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whelchelSOPHIE WELCHEL 

This summer I was in Guatemala and (supposed to be in) Nicaragua researching how social entrepreneurship connects the liberation of women with the alleviation of poverty. I compared different models in Guatemala and Nicaragua, models that enable the poor to save themselves. I went to Guatemala and Nicaragua with the intention to return home to Chapel Hill, with information that people of deep privilege, with the best intentions, might consider. I hoped to provide what I could in the moment, but work to understand how I could support the organizations and countries in the long run.

Throughout my time in both Guatemala I worked alongside entrepreneurs, local partners, and communities as needs were diagnosed and innovations were implemented. I conducted interviews with female social entrepreneurs, hoping to hear their stories and share their voices within my community. I worked with the Social Entrepreneurship Corp, which uses the MicroConsignment Model (MCM), to align with impoverished families as they navigate building better lives for themselves and for their neighbors. The MCM model focuses on those at the base of the economic pyramid—enabling those with limited education and no access to financial support to sit at the table of enterprise. I found this model to be successful for women who hoped to become financially independent and wanted to create change within their communities.

I was unable to travel to Nicaragua due to Delta’s power outage, which canceled flights for several days, but I interned with Agora Partnerships last summer and therefore I was able to comment on their model in my research. I conducted interviews with their female entrepreneurs over Skype; some of these interviews are still in the process. Agora’s Accelerator Model, through an intensive four-month program is designed to provide high-potential entrepreneurs with the knowledge, networks, and capital necessary to grow their businesses, their impact, and their leadership skills through customized 1:1 consulting and access to mentors and investors, helps entrepreneurs examine the direction of their companies and refine their businesses with the goal of strategic growth through investment capital. Although this model helps people with more privilege than the MCM model, the businesses developed through Agora Partnerships can employ hundreds of local people.

To this extent, I believe that my work with the entrepreneurs and the organizations has an impact that goes beyond my time in Guatemala and Nicaragua, helping to create solutions to social problems, stimulating economic growth, and encouraging women to enter the workforce. But the majority of my impact will happen in Chapel Hill, not in Central America. I hope to open up the minds of my own community through my interviews and photo narrative of female entrepreneurs. I am going to host a panel, with the support of the Entrepreneurship Minor, Women in Entrepreneurship, THINX, SHE, and She’s the First, where female entrepreneurs from the United States can share their experiences. This panel is going to enable the voices of women in Central America to be heard and also serve as an inspiration to women at UNC.

I realize that change comes from many ideas and people working together for a greater purpose. I leave my work this summer excited to be a part of the larger conversation of social entrepreneurship that sparks brilliant ideas within people around the world.