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In 4/5/17 #HumansofWharton story for Social Impact Week, Renata Aráuz-DeStefano (LFS '01)(WG ‘17) discusses why opportunity must be made universal.
You could say social impact is in my blood. My mom was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the early 80s, and my dad has spent most of his adult life both as a family therapist in low-income, Spanish-speaking North Philly and as a volunteer with the Alternatives to Violence Project in prisons from Philadelphia to Bolivia.
Prior to business school, I spent my entire career in this space, concentrating on microfinance. As a college student, I was mesmerized by the empowering nature of this sector – it wasn’t a “hand-out,” it was a hand up.
As a Product Manager with a microfinance institution in Malawi, my role was to design and implement a new credit product to serve entrepreneurs at the base of the pyramid. By definition, this meant that – on an almost daily basis – I interacted with struggling business owners, most of whom were women, who aspired for more.
I’ll never forget seeing this young woman, maybe 13 or 14 years old, sitting in the sandy dirt outside the home in which her mother was meeting with me and my colleague. She sat there for hours, while our meeting went on, fidgeting with an empty water bottle: she filled it with dirt, emptied it, and refilled it.
This moment, among all others during my four years in the field, struck me. I thought of what I was doing at 14 – playing soccer, getting paid to babysit, reading The Catcher in the Rye. I thought of the opportunities that I had, that my sister had, that she didn’t. That my cousins and god-brothers and sisters in Ecuador didn’t have. This unequal distribution of opportunity, the belief that talent is universal, but opportunity is not, was what had originally led me to microfinance.
Seeing this young woman spending her afternoon in this way, I made several assumptions. One of which was that she lacked stimulating, enriching activities to occupy her time. For me, this was an illustration of some facts: first, female youth (15-24) unemployment stands at 14.8% in Malawi (over 3x the overall US rate); and second, over 70% of Malawians live on less than $2/day. The scene also reminded me that microfinance was not a panacea. Social impact, which has been defined as “a significant, positive change that addresses a pressing social challenge,” requires combined and coordinated efforts by governments, non-profits, and for-profits. Microfinance, albeit reaching further than commercial banks, still leaves many behind. To get a loan, applicants needed to have a business. To start a business, one needs capital and a marketable skillset. This is what this young woman lacked.
That was when I knew I had to build a sustainable social enterprise in Malawi. I had to bridge this gap between potential and opportunity, between unskilled workers and microfinance clients. The question that remained was how…
Throughout the rest of my stay in Malawi, I became enchanted by the fabrics of the region. I loved their bold, bright patterns. I found a tailor who would soon become my trusted go-to seamstress. Once back in the US, I noticed that strangers would approach me to compliment me on my handmade Malawian clothing.
Finally, during a summer project in Ghana with Wharton’s Global Impact Consulting Club, the pieces started to come together. Through my experience consulting for a social enterprise, surrounded by like-minded and inspiringly passionate people, my path began to become clearer. An idea began to take shape over the summer, and I returned to campus in September determined to launch a venture that would match unskilled labor in Malawi with an unmet market need in the US for handmade, made-to-measure African print apparel.
I named my company Mwayi - the word for “opportunity” in the Malawian language of Chichewa - because I believe more than anything else that opportunity must be made universal. To me, Mwayi represents that opportunity - for young women like the one in this story to empower themselves, and for consumers like you and me to be a part of the solution.
I graduated with my MS in Nursing from University of California and am licensed as a family nurse practitioner. I'm excited to continue advocating for reproductive justice and expanding access to healthcare for underserved populations.
Jack Swope '46 has established Stillwater Capital Advisors, an investment advisory firm in Wayne, PA. Currently the firm manages approximately $350 million for over 300 families.
On Wednesday, October 15, 2014, LFS had a special visitor. Alumna Corrie Kanters-Bontenbal '46 visited campus while she was in the area from her home in The Netherlands, and spoke with the fifth and sixth grade class. She talked about her experiences in The Netherlands during World War II, when she and her mother had to survive on very little, and shared photos of her home, which sustained damage during the bombings of Rotterdam.
After being separated from her father for the duration of the war, Corrie and her mother moved to Swarthmore in 1945 to reunite the family. She attended LFS for one year. Corrie talked about her sixth grade year at Lansdowne Friends School and shared photos of her LFS classmates – including Jack Swope, who accompanied her to campus. Corrie recalled how welcoming the school’s students and teachers were, and the friendships she made in one year at LFS have enriched the last sixty years of her life.
Corrie enjoyed visiting with LFS classmate Helen Herr Ford while she was here.
Thomas F. George '57 is Chancellor and Professor of Chemistry and Physics at University of Missouri, St. Louis. Thomas reports that his Lansdowne Friends School diploma is the only diploma hanging on his wall.
In addition to his role as campus and community leader and fund-raiser, Chancellor George is an active researching in chemistry and physics, specializing in chemical/materials/laser physics and nanoscience, including nanomedicine. He has been recognized nationally and worldwide.
An accomplished jazz pianist, Thomas George has studied with faculty at the Berklee College of Music and the Eastman School of Music and has performed extensively.
Leigh Gabrielle Senderowicz has been nominated for the 120 under 40, which is geared towards celebrating young champions of Family Planning (40 years old or younger).
She is passionate about the family planning course. With extra work in Cameroun and Burkina-Faso, she was nominated because of her research on innovative measurement of women-centeredness in family planning.
Cameron visited the school today (11/30/16) and brought a smile to all of our faces. "From being a munchkin walking through these halls, to reminiscing about Teacher Al throwing super-bouncy balls. This is what has made me the kind soul I am. As a musician/producer, it is important to accept differences in the world. LFS taught me that."
Jenna earned her Masters of Education from West Chester University and is now a Lead Teacher in a Pottstown Pre-K Counts program.
Gia Matika traveled to Brooklyn, NY last week with five other students to represent Friends Central School at the 2017 Quaker Youth Leadership Conference held at Brooklyn Friends School. The theme this year was Bridging Communities. Close to 200 students participated in workshops, activities and listened to guest speaker, Niyonu Spann. The best way to bring different communities together is to learn about people who have had different experiences and about their communities in order to foster a healthy curiosity for unfamiliar cultures, celebrate differences and help bridge the gap!( 2/17)
Gia Matika spent three weeks in Peru this summer with classmates from Friends Central School! During the trip students stay with a host Peruvian family for two weeks. They also volunteer daily for two hours in a clinic for children with disabilities. In addition, they attend Spanish classes for four hours everyday. In the last four days of the trip, the group hikes the Inca trail and they stay in campsites and rustic conditions.(6/18)
Jayquan visited LFS today (12/5/16 ) and was greeted warmly by teachers and students. Jayquan is now a junior at Academy Park.
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