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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