Social entrepreneurship is all about disrupting equilibriums, and to me, it feels that this plays out in who is involved in social entrepreneurship as well. At the beginning of the Miller Center fellowship course, we learned that there is no term for “entrepreneur” in Swahili, but the women refer to them as “women who dare.” Many industries that I am interested in are male-dominated, which can feel intimidating when you walk into an interview, sit in a class of all men and are consistently talked over, or feel like you need to work so much harder to prove yourself. If an industry is not reflective of you, it is a barrier to entry. In various leadership positions I’ve taken on, I’ve reflected a lot on what it means to be a female leader. There are so many different ideas of how women should act and look always, but particularly in positions of leadership. A great example from the 2020 primary elections was in the process of choosing a Democratic nominee. The women on the debate stage were constantly scrutinized, and there was a lot of rhetoric along the lines of “she just doesn’t seem like a presidential candidate” for every woman candidate. This is incredibly problematic because it reinforces the balance of power that exists in our systems. I never felt like this when entering into the fellowship and working with enterprises. It became clear to me that social entrepreneurship is different — it is inclusive, and strives to bring everyone to the table to tackle global issues. This could be because of the type of people social entrepreneurship attracts, but regardless I have always felt a sense of belonging. That being said, there is still plenty of work to be done in making social entrepreneurship more inclusive so that everyone has leaders they can look to in this field.

It has meant so much to me to work with and for strong women during this fellowship. Development in Gardening (DIG), the social enterprise I worked with, functions under the confident leadership of Sarah Koch and Lauren Masey, and I worked alongside my friend Julia for the past nine months. Each of them exemplifies what it means to be an incredible leader and person. Working with them, and going through the fellowship has made me a more confident leader, and has enabled me to advocate for myself: my ideas, my capabilities, and my accomplishments.

Part of this has been the landscape of social entrepreneurship, and part of it has been the structure of the fellowship. As fellows, we had full ownership of our projects from start to finish. We designed the research projects, executed the research, pivoted when we saw fit, and created valuable deliverables that will have a real impact on our enterprises and their stakeholders. It was our responsibility as fellows to create a project management plan and hold ourselves accountable for meeting the deadlines we set. We were encouraged to reflect on our skills, and learn to communicate those skills. The fellowship directors, Stephen and Keith, instilled all of the confidence in the world in us, which made me leave meetings feeling like I was capable of everything I set out to do.

When I entered the fellowship, I was eager to enhance women’s agency for the female farmers we were working with. Many DIG farmers are ultravulnerable women, and they are able to feel a sense of belonging, be nourished with the vegetables they grow, and supplement their income by selling excess produce. This allows them more autonomy in making decisions about their lives, which they may not have had before. Now, I realize how much agency I gained as well by being a fellow. The confidence that I have gained in my work and in myself will translate into everything I do moving forward. I find myself confident in my leadership approach as Vice President of Into the Wild, Santa Clara’s outdoor recreation organization. I have more trust in my project management abilities and in other skills that I have employed throughout. Finally, I now have more confidence to take on any ambiguity that presents itself in my personal and professional life. For all of these reasons, I am so grateful for the fellowship and eager to exercise my agency in whatever comes next. ​

Written by Bryn Pellowe | Miller Center Student Fellow