This summer, Novak spent two months in Ghana developing socially innovative businesses with people in the village of Nkontomire.
November 20 is Social Entrepreneurship Day at Rollins College. In celebration, we talked to three undergraduate students who have spent time abroad exploring social entrepreneurship as a way to positively impact the world.
(Photo courtesy of Scott Novak ’16)
Name: Scott Novak
Class year: 2016
Major: International relations and philosophy
How would you define social entrepreneurship?
To me, social entrepreneurship is achieving a positive societal impact through the use of entrepreneurial principles.
How did you first learn about social entrepreneurship?
I hadn’t heard of the term social entrepreneurship until I came to Rollins. I learned about it during [my first] semester, when I covered a news story about Rollins being recognized as an Ashoka Changemaker Campus [for The Sandspur]. The next semester, I took a class on social entrepreneurship called Strategies for Changemakers that taught me a lot about the concept.
Why does it appeal to you?
I wish more businesses were concerned with making a positive difference in the world instead of just making a profit. I also wish that more organizations that are primarily concerned with making a positive impact had the entrepreneurial skills needed to fuel the profits that social change often needs in order to occur.
Tell me about your experience doing social entrepreneurship work in Ghana.
I went to Ghana this past summer for two months, as part of ThinkImpact, and I was living in the village of Nkontomire, which is about an hour outside of Kumasi.
Each ThinkImpact scholar works with a design team made up of community members to create socially innovative businesses. My design team chose to improve the experience of washing clothes in the village—all clothes are washed by hand, and the scrubbing can really damage your fingers. That can actually lead to infections, you can lose fingernails, and it can get to be a pretty nasty problem.
We decided to create and sell wooden washboards to improve the laundry experience. Most people in Nkontomire didn’t even know what washboards were, so this was a considerable innovation for the area. Recently, I think the design team has decided to explore soap production as well, because washboards require hours of intense chiseling to produce.
What impact has the experience had on you?
I now know that people need very little material possessions in order to have a fulfilling life. Living without electricity and running water became surprisingly peaceful. I usually get well over 100 emails a day. But in Ghana, if anyone emailed me, they’d get an auto-reply that I would answer their email in two months when I had electricity again. Not having to worry about things like email and what was going on in the news for two months was quite nice. However, I don't want to romanticize village life in Ghana too much. I suppose everything’s fine until your crops fail or you need to go to a hospital.
The most valuable lesson I learned in Ghana is the importance of social relations. How rural Ghanaians relate to each other is so much more open, sincere, and friendly than how most people in American culture interact with each other. I definitely miss my daily social interactions with the community members in Nkontomire, but I hope I can try to emulate the hospitality and warmth that they showed me in my own life.
What are ways other students can become involved?
Rollins offers a number of ways for students to get involved in social entrepreneurship. The Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Initiative (SESi) has connections to a number of social entrepreneurship programs on both a domestic and international level. ThinkImpact is just one of these many wonderful programs with which SESi can pair students.
Read more about Novak’s trip at thinkimpact.com/institute/tag/scott-novak.