In my experience with school and work, I have found that I only give 100% of my attention to something if I am interested in it. Even in high school, I would doodle pictures during class of things that I wanted to build when I got home. This was apparent in the fellowship, when I had any downtime. While in Uganda, our time was split between three different enterprises: Kiva, Solar Sister, and Angaza Design. Although I found the personal interactions with the Solar Sister Entrepreneurs (SSEs) very interesting, I was much more interested in the technology of the Angaza Design product. When people asked me about what I did in Africa, I would immediately tell them about the amazing things that Solar Sister is doing in Uganda, their business model, and the effect they had on the SSEs. I would tell them this because it is truly amazing what this company is doing. But then I would digress to the Angaza Design solar light that we piloted. This is when I would really get passionate and would be able to talk more about the cool, innovative technology that is in these products. I find that when I’m reading the news, I am most interested in the latest advancements in technology. And if that is what I am really interested in, then that is the area I should find a job in. The GSBF was so much more than seven weeks in Africa. I think I learned just as much about myself from the fall class as I did during my time in Africa. The course material changed from social entrepreneurship and developing countries (what we covered in the spring) to vocational discernment and ethical imagination. The program was set up spectacularly, with the spring providing all the background knowledge and the fall giving you the tools to actually figure out what you learned about yourself. The fall readings really allowed me to develop my vague thoughts into more concrete goals and ambitions. Without the designated time from the fellowship and the great teachers/mentors that lead the class, I don’t think I would be where I am today. Well, that’s not entirely true. I would be where I am today, but I wouldn’t know what I want to do tomorrow. I still have a lot to figure out, but with the help of the GSBF I am on the right track.
When I first started the fellowship, I was not really sure what I wanted to do with my life, where I wanted to live and work. After taking the class in the spring, I started thinking that maybe I wanted to just jump into the social entrepreneurship field. How hard could it be? I thought, “I’m a smart guy I have the skills to figure out problems if I was to come across them.” But after my placement and getting some experience under my belt, I realized that I was far too optimistic about my skills. I am still just a college student with barely any real work experience. It is one thing to hear about issues in the classroom, do all your homework and get good grades, but it is a completely different thing to be able to go into a working environment and make a difference for the company. This has prompted me to focus more on getting an engineering job right out of school and hone my skills in a work environment that challenges me and allows me to develop my skills. It is important to have theoretical knowledge, but I think it is more important to be able to have concrete skills, and you don’t get those without getting some experience working in the area you are interested in.
We had a lot to do for the three enterprises we worked for. Unfortunately the work I was most interested in was the work being done at Village Energy, a social enterprise that we only worked with briefly. Now I am doing a senior design project that is related to the work that Village Energy has been doing with 3D printing solar lanterns and keeping the manufacturing process in country. Ideally, I would love to work at some company that works with or around 3D printing. I found myself thinking about designing and drawing lanterns while I was supposed to be focusing on my work for the other enterprises. Not to say that I wasn’t interested in the work that I was doing for them, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the design process of these lanterns. The fascination that I have with 3D printing has changed the outlook I have on my career goals and motivated me to find a job in that field. It is a growing field that I think would challenge me and keep me interested. Without the fellowship to introduce me to the people crazy enough to try 3D printing in the developing world, I would not have the same appreciation for it. That has definitely been a theme of the fellowship for me: crazy. First of all, the idea of going to Africa for seven weeks was pretty crazy. Then the people that taught the class (Thane and Keith) were pretty crazy, the fact they led nearly opposite lives and then worked together to mentor and teach 14 very unique students. Needless to say, the women we got to work with in Uganda were pretty crazy: working several jobs, supporting numerous children, feeding the family every night, and still laughing and having fun while doing it. All the crazy people I have encountered through the GSBF and my experience with social entrepreneurship has inspired me to be a little more crazy. I think crazy is good in small doses. Without it, you will end up living a mundane life without anything to excite you and keep you going. I am not planning to go overboard, but after seeing what all these people can accomplish, I know I can do something pretty special in this world. Now the real question is what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it.
The future is very unpredictable. At the beginning of high school (let alone the beginning of college) I could not have predicted I would be going to Africa. I had some idea of what I wanted to do and I figured it would all work out in the end. And I think it did! Now I am going to take a similar outlook on life after college. In five years, I don’t know where I will be, I don’t know what I’ll be doing, I don’t know who I’ll be with, but I know that it will be the right place for me. The fellowship has taught me a lot about myself and recognizing my talents. Going out into the “real world” after college will be scary, but I feel much more confident about it after this program. I now have some great experience that has not only helped my professional skills, but my personal skills as well. I now look at the world a little bit differently, and it will never be the same. I know that my life will take a lot of twists and turns over the next couple years, but I also know that I will have the same set of core beliefs and values. Although my appearance may change and my ideas may change, I will still be the same person at the end of the day. These changes are just personal development. I can definitely say that during the past nine months, I have gone through a significant amount of personal development, and I plan on continuing that trend. The fellowship challenged me, took me out of my comfort zone, and made me try new things. Through all this, I developed as a person and I will never be the same. Nobody can predict what will happen in the future, but I can confidently say that I am ready for whatever life throws at me and I’m looking for the next big challenge.