Social entrepreneurship was a newly discovered concept when I initially applied to be a Communication Intern for The Harvest Fund through the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. It was the summer after my first year, amid the COVID pandemic, and I was itching to take on a position where I could leverage my skills as a Communication and Political Science double major. Reflecting on my journey as a graduate, I realize this marked both the beginning of my career and an introduction to sector principles—maximizing impact, sustainability, and global citizenship to effect positive change.
At The Harvest Fund, I researched and wrote various blogs on how their business model serves small-scale female farmers in Zimbabwe. One article I published linked climate-smart agricultural practices as a key to alleviating poverty and gender inequality within these rural regions. Throughout the process, I learned about the intersection of the issues that social entrepreneurship chooses to tackle in a multifaceted way.
Social enterprises globally curate methods that create economic opportunities to advance sustainability practices and expand educational resources. These initiatives aid vulnerable populations of color, rural regions, and indigenous communities. The more I researched and wrote, the more I realized the success of combining entrepreneurial thinking with social justice-oriented goals.
Fast-forward to my senior year, I took the opportunity to study abroad in Amman, Jordan, during my fall quarter. I was pleasantly surprised by how my newly found insights into social enterprise intertwined with the vast experiences my travel brought me.
While abroad, I was learning Arabic, taking classes on the politics of the Middle East, and utterly immersed in the beautiful culture of this part of the world. I enjoyed the cuisine, with daily fillings of rich hummus, delicious shawarma, and crispy, soft falafel. My favorite dish was Musakhan, a Palestinian staple. It consists of roasted chicken laid on a bed of caramelized onions and flatbread, drenched in olive oil, and the popular purple seasoning: sumac. They served the dish intending to share, and I noticed how families and friends would gather around to delve into the dish. Not only was this a familiar comfort food, but it also reflected another fruitful observation — Jordan’s communal aspect of life.
Everywhere my friends and I explored, the locals enjoyed time spent with one another, walking along Downtown Amman among the loud taxis and storefront-lit streets. There was a warmness and immense hospitality to locals’ smiles whenever they greeted us with, “Welcome to Jordan!” and funnily enough, we heard this often, all the way to our last day in the country.
I also traveled across the Mediterranean. I visited the famous Petra — yes, I rode a camel — and enjoyed Bedouin tea by a campfire with locals at night in the desert. Between these excursions and day-to-day activities, there was one course where I could connect the concepts of women’s economic power, environment, and sustainability to real-life problems.
For an internship course, I interned as a research assistant at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, one of the first think tanks in the country. Our main project for that course was to create our own NGO that addressed a problem in the region. My group decided to produce an NGO focused on empowering women-led businesses in the area. Our research found that more than half of home-based businesses in Jordan are owned by women. Therefore, we developed a design to aid these women in legitimizing their businesses, scaling them, and earning more valuable resources for their economic development.
During one of our classes, a guest speaker discussed project management and highlighted a significant challenge NGOs face — they’re stretched too thin, with many offering the same services.
It was an interesting problem illuminating how social enterprises could respond to specific issues in Jordan, such as bringing women’s economic power to the forefront or contributing to sustainability efforts. Given that, many women rely on their home-based businesses to sell crafts because of the societal gender norms that don’t afford them formal means of income. I also understood the prevalent water scarcity in Jordan through my struggle to manage a single jug of water weekly. My hardship was nothing in comparison to the predicament of larger families, who must carefully ration their limited water supply to fulfill cooking, washing, and bathing needs throughout the week.
One of the most memorable parts of my time abroad was going to Jerusalem with my family, who came to visit. This trip was impactful and eye-opening as we explored the ancient holy land. One of our tour guides took us to the Church of Specultre, where Jesus was born. As we prepared to go on our tour, it began to rain. When our tour guide picked us up, he said how grateful he was for the rain because his water tank at home was empty when he left in the morning.
I immediately turned to the political implications, treaties, and debates surrounding the Jordan River that divides Jordan and Israel/Palestine — an inevitable concern when considering the water shortages facing Jordan and its surrounding countries. Meanwhile, Israel has innovatively learned to produce more water through desalination processes. This solution recently prompted the water-for-energy deal between Jordan and Israel. Jordan will export solar energy in exchange for desalinated water.
This deal was the first of its kind and hopefully will spark more cooperation in an area vulnerable to climate change. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder whether these policies would be fair for all parties involved — whether they would fix only part of the problem. Given that some lack enough water for the week and pray for rain to fill their supply.
Thankfully, my work with Miller Center equipped me with the thought process of a social entrepreneur — to think beyond policy and agreements — and focus on what can be done on the ground to alleviate these everyday problems. Suddenly, I found inspiration in Miller Center’s work in uplifting social enterprises worldwide that directly tackle local issues within their communities. I quickly learned that social entrepreneurship may not answer or solve political conflicts, but it can address the vulnerabilities of populations needing resources.
Solutions are evident in the growing social enterprises within Jordan. Who are fiercely finding ways to create clean drinking water, advance women’s economic power, and support youth employment. Beit Khariat Souf is a women and youth-led enterprise providing a platform for local women in Jerash to support themselves financially. They also recruit unemployed youth to develop their life skills and work in their restaurant and shop, whose profits support them. Naua, FORSA, and YARA are other Jordanian social enterprises that similarly engage women and youth toward economic prosperity.
Reflecting on my travels and interactions with various organizations, I realize an important lesson. Social enterprises extend beyond crafting sustainable business models; they rely on deeply comprehending the profound impact of the issues they address. As I immersed myself in this culture and complex challenges, I gained a heightened awareness of the interventions needed to uplift communities. At its core, this is the process of global citizenship, an idea Miller Center is deeply committed to. The holistic approach is admirable, and I am grateful to have witnessed and been a part of their method of ensuring long-lasting change abroad.