A Life-Changing Experience: My Journey with the Entrepreneurship and Empowerment in South Africa
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Meaningful impact and an expanded perspective, that’s what Entrepreneurship and Empowerment in South Africa (EESA) did for me. My name is Lauren Vogt, and I am a sophomore at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) studying molecular, cellular and developmental biology at the College of Arts and Sciences while pursuing a minor in business from the Leeds School of Business. Last summer, I spent six weeks in Cape Town, South Africa, making a difference for small-business entrepreneurs. But this decision and journey didn’t just fall into my lap. Through my participation in Leeds Consulting Group, my team and I were visited by two EESA alumni who shared their stories and inspired me to start the journey because EESA:
Delivers real, meaningful impact in the community we serve (townships in Cape Town, South Africa) in a short but intense six-week period, and
Encourages participants to stretch themselves, expand their perspectives and change their lives.
Through this article, I hope to inspire you too.
Learning in the Field
EESA has a unique experiential learning framework, which is structured as half classroom time each morning and half field work, directly supporting local entrepreneurs (your clients), each afternoon. This structure allows you to apply everything you learn to the businesses you work for. To that point, I had never been in a course where I could apply classroom content to real-world situations almost immediately, making EESA a truly unique learning experience for me. During the program, I was assigned to a team of seven other American and South African students, or should I say business consultants, from CU Boulder, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Florida, and the University of Western Cape in South Africa. We then received two business clients from South African townships facing various challenges to their businesses, including growth, development and operations. Once you have your clients, each business consulting team then works closely with the clients to analyze their businesses, get to the roots of their problems, uncover major issues and provide recommended solutions. For six weeks, your full attention is on the client. As EESA’s motto goes, you are there to “serve the client.” That being said, you still get plenty of time to explore South Africa to venture off campus by participating in safaris, wine tastings and hikes to experience the local culture.
Profound Impact on Me
The EESA experience helped me develop both academically and personally. My world opened up to the geography of South Africa, and ESSA exposed me to the history and culture, including the differences in the local Cape Town regions and the remaining legacy of the apartheid or the policy of racial segregation that existed in South Africa from the 1940s until the early 1990s. These topics weren’t discussed or taught in the classroom. Instead, the American students had the opportunity to experience those topics while out in the field, interacting with our clients or learning from the South African students we worked closely with throughout the summer.
Experiencing the townships firsthand opened my eyes and helped me gain perspective on the hardships and struggles locals have experienced throughout their lives. Despite these challenges, South Africa contains some of the most selfless and community-oriented people I have ever encountered. Even those who came from humble surroundings give themselves to help others. They cherished their community and treated everyone as family. One of our clients even over-hired and overpaid the staff in her nail salon because she wanted to help everyone work their way out of the townships, despite this practice causing her business to lose money.
As a college student focused on learning and growing, I applied to the EESA because it allowed me to have a significant positive impact in the world. Through EESA, I watched my clients' lives change from that first week to the final week and realized the positive impact I and my classmates had on their future. The EESA clients live on very little. By helping them solve the challenges their businesses face, you are changing the trajectory of their lives and the lives of their families and employees. In the grand scheme of things, you also help the South African economy by building up the businesses in the townships and decreasing the gap that the apartheid created.
I learned so much about myself and others from EESA, and you can too! Apply to be part of the 2024 EESA cohort by December 1st, 2023, and gain the tremendous experience I did by working with a team from different backgrounds and developing your leadership, communication, problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills.
Thanks to EESA, I approach the world differently and have more gratitude and less selfishness. EESA not only empowers you and your client but changes lives for the better. Ready to have your life changed?