Tackling development challenges in Africa, three social entrepreneurs join Stanford community

Africa is witnessing a period of impressive economic transformation. Small business growth and technological innovation are bridging the development divide and lifting many out of poverty. Foreign investment has been pouring into the continent, viewed by analysts as one of the few remaining emerging market economies. Google's Eric Schmidt recently traveled to Africa on a technology tour citing Kenya's impressive gains in the ICT sector.

But the headlines and statistics fail to account for the large number left behind in the continent's race to develop. Social problems continue to plague African societies and threaten to reignite tensions, stalling long-term progress.

To address these challenges, grassroots leaders are working across Africa to introduce new models and practices to give voice and representation to marginalized groups, many of which include: women, children, and rural populations.

Referred to as "social entrepreneurs" these individuals work in partnership with local communities to use non-conventional approaches and innovative designs to address development challenges. Unlike traditional business entrepreneurs, their goal is not financial profit but societal gain.

In an effort to harness the collective expertise of these global change-makers, Stanford University's Program on Social Entrepreneurship was launched in 2011 to bring practitioners inside the classroom and on campus.

In April, three social entrepreneurs working to advance social, economic, and political change in Africa will spend the spring quarter in residency at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law.

Turning justice on its head

After emerging from a decade-long civil war, Sierra Leone has been cited as a successful model of post-conflict development and stability. However, the formal justice system has continued to exclude large numbers of the country's rural population who continue to seek customary legal systems of representation. Recognizing this problem, Simeon Koroma co-founded Timap (which translates to "Stand Up" in the national Krio language) for Justice in 2003 to combine the best of both systems.

Through a network of highly trained paralegals and mediators located in 19 offices across Sierra Leone, Timap for Justice is helping clients navigate both systems to seek justice and address community-level concerns. To date, Timap for Justice has represented over 20,000 clients who are often the victims of human rights abuses at the hands of multinational corporations. Their innovative grassroots justice model together with Koroma's efforts to grow the organization has led Timap for Justice to be recognized on a national and regional level.

Transforming ripples into waves

Gemma Bulos - a California native - did not know the impact water would have on her life until she witnessed the world water crisis first-hand while traveling the world on a global peace campaign. A self described "accidental social entrepreneur," Bulos learned by actively listening to the needs of the local community and learning from their experiences. She co-founded A Single Drop for Safe Water in the Philippines to empower local communities to plan, implement, and manage community-driven water and sanitation solutions.

Recognizing the important role women play in the success of water projects, Bulos started her second entrepreneurial venture - the Global Women's Water Initiative (GWWI) - to work with rural women in East Africa to build simple water and sanitation technologies. Tailoring each project to the community's needs, GWWI equips women with the technical skills to build rainwater harvesting tanks, water treatment technologies, and toilets. All projects are constructed using locally appropriate and affordable technologies. Trainings have helped to spur micro-enterprise development, and have provided over 15,000 people with clean water and sanitation solutions.

Putting children's rights first

Malawi made international headlines as the destination for pop singer Madonna's adoption of two young children, but the country has made little progress in protecting the rights of their youngest citizens. Maxwell Matewere founded the organization, Eye of the Child, to advocate for children who are victims of forced marriage, child labor, abuse, and sexual exploitation.

Matewere's innovative model uses litigation, public and policy advocacy, and training of community organizations to lead national campaigns against child abuse. Since 2010, the organization has provided free legal aid to 47 cases of forced marriages, 13 cases of arranged marriages, and rescued 21 children from early marriages.

Through his work leading Eye of the Child, Matewere has challenged powerful actors in business and government to advocate for new practices and legislation to protect the interests and well-being of young children. In recognition of his work, Matewere was appointed as Malawi's special law commissioner to develop a national policy for anti-human trafficking and adoption.

Informing theory with practice

During the spring quarter, the three social entrepreneurs will participate in an undergraduate course (IR142) examining how social entrepreneurs advance democracy, development, and justice. Taught by Kathleen Kelly Janus, a lecturer at Stanford, the course will combine academic theory with the social entrepreneurs practical experience to present a more inclusive model of social change. Students will also be encouraged to partner with social entrepreneurs on service learning projects.

Social entrepreneurs will engage the broader Stanford community through a series of speaking roles on campus during the academic quarter. They will also have the time and space to pursue their own research initiatives, contemplate the next steps on their journey as social change leaders, and document their own models of social change.

CDDRL's Program on Social Entrepreneurship was founded in 2011 by Kavita Ramdas, the former head of the Global Fund for Women and the current representative of the Ford Foundation in India. The program is now led by Faculty Director Deborah L. Rhode, a professor of law at Stanford Law School and affiliate faculty member at CDDRL.

This spring marks the third cycle of the program, which has welcomed previous social entrepreneurs from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Malaysia, Palestine, South Africa, and the San Francisco Bay Area, who together work on critical problems of democracy, development, and social justice in their communities.

For more information on the program, please visit: pse.stanford.edu.