A week or so ago a friend approached me and said “you’ve grown and changed so much since the fellowship began.” I shrugged off his comment, but as I walked home that evening, I began to realize he was right. If you looked at me right now, you’d likely see the same old smiling Sammi on the outside. But beneath that smile, there is a newfound burgeoning interest to lead a life focused on enhancing social impact and working on a grassroots scale.
My first introduction to social entrepreneurship stemmed from reading “Getting Beyond Better” during spring break as I backpacked the lush NaPali Coast in Kauai. As I soaked up the sun and the warm tropical air, I read of visionaries and of leaders who were driving the transformation of society. I thought to myself, I want to be involved in this world. The book speaks of four key stages:
understanding the world
envisioning a new future
building a model for change
scaling the solution
As I poured over the book, I was unaware that I would experience some of these stages of social transformation through my fellowship experience and the rest was to come.
In the field I experienced the stage of understanding the world, as I met new people with different perspectives and my mind was broadened to understand what it means to live a meaningful life.
I found that the social engagement that brings me the most joy is when I am interacting directly with people, sharing laughter, eating together, asking questions, and seeking solutions. I seek to be in community and conversation with others.
I have come to understand that the role of entrepreneurial thinking in our world is of utmost importance. As we face challenges, we need creative thinking that pushes beyond the boundaries of what is possible. Entrepreneurial thinking does indeed disrupt unjust equilibriums. I’ve seen so many examples of this in the past 9 months and I believe I want to be a part of this movement, which fits well with my creative capacities and my willingness to be adaptive and adventurous.
I moved toward the stage of envisioning a new future as I began to reflect on my experiences in the field. Hearing the stories that women artisans shared painted a vivid picture of the positive effects of enhancing women’s agency in rural communities. I can still picture the grins of excitement with which women shared their stories of advanced economic empowerment because of their work with All Across Africa.
I became so inspired by this working theory that I applied for a Fulbright fellowship focused on women’s agency in the clean energy sector in India. My fellowship experience illuminated an intersection that fascinates me: women’s agency and clean energy solutions. My Fulbright research aims to identify factors that constrain women from participating in economic activities related to the clean energy sector through an ethnographic case study of Pollinate Energy, a social enterprise in Bangalore (where I was originally supposed to go this summer before the pivot).
The process of applying for a Fulbright was a challenging but ultimately a powerful exercise in vocational discernment. I truly experienced the concept of “learning through writing.” With each new draft I created, I learned something about what I wanted to study and how my personal story has coalesced to my current hopes and dreams. Another important lesson I learned from this vocational decision is how to incorporate feedback from a variety of different mentors.
Looking back, I recall walking into the innovation space in the Miller Center and seeing “Feedback is a gift” written on the white board. I now fully understand the writing on the whiteboard. Feedback is one of the greatest gifts we can receive, we must only open our ears and our hearts to then take action. I feel beyond grateful for the amount of support I received from several mentors throughout this vocational journey. No matter the outcome, the process of applying for a Fulbright has further grounded my hopes to work in the social impact space, with an emphasis on women’s agency and clean energy.
This fellowship has validated me and my intellectual interests in many ways. I’ve always had a diversity of interests, so much so that I strive to make connections between these interests. I am fascinated by how humans interact with the natural world and how behaviors can be shifted.
Additionally, creativity and the arts have always been a passion of mine, though before the fellowship I was sure there was no overlap between being a global change-maker and performing. But at the SEM showcase, I met an entrepreneur who utilizes theatre to empower women refugees. I was flabbergasted.
I am now further inspired by the infiniteness of possibility that exists as I move forward in my journey with the support of the Miller Center and all the friends I have made during these past 9 months.
Social entrepreneurship, I have found, stands at the nexus between a few of my interests while seeking transdisciplinary thinking in order to thrive. And it’s not all about money or technicality. It’s also about collaboration, community, creativity, and deep-seated spirit. THESE are what drive social change. And this is where I think I fit into this equation.
As I look back on my fellowship experience and move forward into my future, I do so with a smile that has widened as a result of beautiful memories from a transformative experience that has touched my heart deeply. Though I have no idea where I will be 9 months from now, I am comforted by the idea that my “life is but a weaving.”
My experience as a Global Social Benefit Fellow conducting research on women’s economic advancement was a transformative experience. I listened to women’s stories about their lives improving due to their involvement in the economic development of their country. I saw women’s agency animated dynamically by artisans, and I became inspired by the theory that empowering rural women in developing countries economically gives women more social agency and creates more social equality. Therefore, I was thrilled to hear about the launch of the Women’s Leadership Fund for the fellowship. This fund will provide support to female fellows working with women-led or women-focused enterprises in 2019.
The sustainability and value of the fellowship program is illustrated by enterprises continuing to request student fellows. All Across Africa, the enterprise I had the opportunity to work with, is again hosting two fellows from the GSBF program this summer in Ghana. I am so excited to see how the fellowship will touch their hearts and transform their lives and to see their hard work create value for All Across Africa.
This year for Day of Giving, your gift will support this Women’s Leadership Fund. By donating to the Miller Center this Day of Giving, you can ensure that this vibrant and challenging experience is possible for students in the future.
About the Author
Sammi Bennett is an adventurous young woman fascinated by how humans interact with the natural world. This June, Sammi will graduate from SCU with degrees in Environmental Studies and Psychology. As a 2018 Global Social Benefit Fellow, she worked with All Across Africa in East Africa, conducting research on opportunities for scaling the business in Uganda. Next year, Sammi is hoping to pursue a Fulbright fellowship in India to study how women participate in the clean energy sector. She later aims to work in the social impact space in international development with a focus on climate resilience, clean energy solutions, and women's agency.
See Sammi’s blog here.