To the class of 2012, with admiration and gratitude from the Social Enterprise Institute

by Esther Chou

For most of us, our meet­ing place was spe­cial because it started in Pro­fes­sor Shaughnessy’s epic class­room but was for­ti­fied while we were abroad. At the inter­sec­tion of devel­op­ment and busi­ness, we found a shared inter­est in social entre­pre­neur­ship, a pas­sion for learn­ing, a spirit for giv­ing, and a love of travel. In this, you found a home at SEI.

In South Africa, we learned about ubuntu, the idea that “I am because you are” and that we share what we have, always, with those who don’t, per­haps for sur­vival but more for sol­i­dar­ity. We put in to prac­tice what we learned and we shared our expe­ri­ence with our friends at TSiBA, who taught us even more in return. We jour­neyed to a spe­cial place in KwaZulu-Natal where 68 chil­dren hold a spe­cial place in our hearts forever.

In Belize, we learned that micro­cre­dit comes in dif­fer­ent forms and that social col­lat­eral isn’t uni­ver­sal. We sweat through long days on long bus rides on trusty Red Vel­vet. We nav­i­gated the rain­for­est with our head­lamps and stayed up nights where we roomed with taran­tu­las and blue-eyed spi­ders. We pushed through the rain uphill, slosh­ing in pitch-black dark­ness and mud because when the bus broke down it was nec­es­sary, but most impor­tantly, it was fun.

In the Domini­can Repub­lic, we cap­tured lessons from what we read in “Banker to the Poor” to see the impact of micro­fi­nance on the col­mado owner and her fam­ily at that first bor­rower meet­ing. On a rooftop in the heart of Santo Domingo, we were full of hope as we mar­veled, “this works!” at an evening reflec­tion ses­sion as the sun went down behind us. Years later when the world pro­claimed that micro­fi­nance was over­stated, we under­stood that access to credit pro­vides eco­nomic free­dom in a finan­cially inclu­sive sys­tem that was pre­vi­ously unavail­able to more than 150 mil­lion peo­ple worldwide.

In Mata Los Indios, we walked sev­eral miles in rain and mud and met a fam­ily that had their first meal at 5:00pm that evening. We were heart­bro­ken but thank­ful. In the spirit of ubuntu, we chose to give and today, we con­tinue to learn.

In fact, when we returned, you never stopped learn­ing. In this—you gave your time in ser­vice to chil­dren in Hyde Park, Rox­bury, Dorch­ester and Charlestown. You bought many clum­sily con­structed hats, bags, t-shirts and sun­glasses. You put together a con­cert to raise money for the earth­quake in Haiti and you did it in three days. You had fun all the while. You wrote count­less cases, review arti­cles and newslet­ter fea­tures. You built web­sites and fundraised… a lot. You served soup, packed books and farmed on the week­ends. You went to Kenya, you went back to the Domini­can Repub­lic. You worked in IT con­sult­ing and non-profit con­sult­ing and in the cor­po­rate sec­tor on co-op, but found that your heart was still invested in social enter­prise. But most of all, you con­tin­ued to hang out on the couch and study at the com­put­ers in our office even though the tem­per­a­ture in here was never quite right. You persevered!

To the class of 2012 – you will all be sorely missed but we hope you con­tinue in your path of learn­ing, giv­ing, trav­el­ing and social entre­pre­neur­ship. We are thank­ful that your human­ity and com­mit­ment to social jus­tice brought us all together.

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