Entrepreneurship is a challenging journey, and in regions with limited resources, the path becomes even more daunting. Bridging this gap in developing countries, such as Africa, first starts with education.
Drexel University and the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship (Close School) recognized this need for entrepreneurial education and embarked on a remarkable journey to support young female entrepreneurs in West Pokot, Kenya. HER Lab is a place in West Pokot, Kenya where Global Give Back Circle’s holistic workforce readiness programming takes place. Over six months during the Global Give Back Circle (GGBC) HER Lab partnership with Drexel’s Close School for entrepreneurship education, two Drexel students, guided by a Close School faculty advisor, introduced a curriculum designed to foster an entrepreneurial mindset and innovative thinking skills to 50 Kenyan girls, laying the foundation for a transformative experience.
HER Lab: Where Education Sparks Transformation
For Drexel student Victoria Faith Miller, HER Lab illuminated the profound power of education. With a major in entrepreneurship and innovation from the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship, focusing on social entrepreneurship, Victoria is deeply committed to making a positive impact in the lives of women worldwide. Fittingly, she captured her experience, saying:
“Witnessing the transformative power of education through HER Lab reaffirmed my belief in the collective power of individuals coming together to make a difference.”Victoria Faith Miller
Ananya Jain, the second student participant, brought her financial and business analytics expertise to the entrepreneurship program. Working with GGBC at HER Lab was a life-changing experience for both the Kenyan girls she was instructing and herself. She beautifully summarized her experience, “For us, it’s just a few hours of our week, but for them, it was literally life-changing. The program not only taught them but also imparted invaluable life lessons.”
HER Lab: A Fusion of Academia and Impact
The Global Give Back Circle HER Lab educational entrepreneurship course at Drexel emerged from a collaborative effort between the Close School and Global Give Back Circle, a nonprofit organization dedicated to equipping young women from rural areas with valuable skills, such as computer literacy, plumbing, mechanics and other trades.
Ananya previously founded her own NGO in India named Beyond Stigma, which provides free counseling sessions to high school students and addresses mental health stigmas. She emphasized the personal connection both Drexel students established with the Kenyan girls. She said, “I’ve worked with many NGOs before this, but none of them were so personal. We actually got the chance to talk to the girls and learn from them directly.”
Crafting a Tailored Curriculum for Empowerment
The HER Lab entrepreneurship course structure included weekly virtual teaching sessions enriched with engaging visuals, compelling presentations, and interactive assignments.
The goal was to empower young girls through the lens of entrepreneurship, fostering their confidence and broadening their horizons beyond traditional gender roles and cultural limitations. “Every girl in the program has incredible potential, and it became our collective mission to unlock it and nurture their talents through entrepreneurship education,” said Victoria.
“Our mission was for participants to understand the concept of a business model, build a business model, and to be able to articulate that in a pitch – where they only had about three minutes to clearly deliver their message,”Ozlem Ogutveren-Gonul
Ozlem Ogutveren-Gonul, the leading advisor for the HER Lab program partnership from Drexel’s Close School, played a pivotal role in shaping the curriculum. Her expertise in social entrepreneurship – both educational and in fieldwork – ensured that the lessons were meticulously tailored for impact.
Reflecting on the initial hesitations and the students’ remarkable transformation, she noted, “It was incredible seeing the life-changing transformation in our students and how they learned to navigate through the cultural differences.”
From Hesitation to a Legacy of Impact
Initially, many Kenyan girls lacked diverse business ideas and plans, limited by what they had seen in their immediate surroundings for models. However, as HER Lab progressed, their horizons expanded in tandem with an entrepreneurial mindset, culminating in a spirited pitch competition.
“We didn’t just focus on short-term solutions; we aimed to create a sustainable and lasting positive change.”Victoria Faith Miller
Ananya was equally moved by the program and its profound impact. She noted, “I’ve seen gender inequality and its effect on education in India. This program allowed me to raise my voice against inequality and make a difference here.”
Expanding the Horizons of Impact
Ananya and Victoria’s work with GGBC through HER Lab transcended traditional mentorship. They formed personal connections with the Kenyan girls, an opportunity women rarely encounter in typical NGO programs.
This hands-on experience offered the mentors profound moments of joy and fulfillment as they saw their teaching inspire real change. Ananya reminisced on their trip to Kanya, “They (Kenyan students) literally had tears in their eyes when meeting us, and the way they welcomed us, everything was just so perfect and heartwarming.”
Despite facing some inevitable challenges from cultural differences and language barriers, HER Lab yielded significant positive outcomes for both the Kenyan participants and the Drexel students. These outcomes continue rippling through communities in Africa, ensuring aspiring professionals and cultural change-makers have opportunities and support as great as their potential – something that’s much more obtainable in the United States.
“The resilience and determination of the girls in the face of adversity taught me valuable life lessons that I’ll carry with me forever,” said Victoria. The HER Lab competition at the end of the curriculum does offer support for the winning ideas, but Victoria plans to contribute even more by collaborating with another student on a platform or app that would support the women’s business ideas and provide them with essential seed funding. Victoria’s newfound goal is just one example of how programs like this can help students find personal enrichment and a sense of direction in their entrepreneurial journey.
A Future of Enrichment and Empowerment
HER Lab isn’t just a one-time initiative; this is the start of a lasting partnership between the Close School and Global Give Back Circle. This collaboration could potentially expand to other locations, offering more Drexel students unique learning experiences in social entrepreneurship. Victoria’s words resonate with this prospect, “HER Lab and GGBC gave me the platform to use my skills for a purpose greater than myself, and that was incredibly fulfilling. My hope is that others follow suit and get the chance to participate in these programs.”
Both Ananya and Victoria encourage others to participate in similar initiatives. Their experiences in HER Lab have not only transformed them as individuals but have reignited their motivation to advocate for change and empower young women worldwide. Ananya eloquently summarized the program’s impact, saying, “The cultural immersion and understanding I gained through this program was invaluable, and I am motivated to continue advocating for change and empowering young women.”
This partnership serves as a shining example of the innovative, impact-focused education offered by the Close School, where students not only learn but also contribute to making the world a better place through their entrepreneurial endeavors.