About the Author: Laura Alami serves as a Program Officer in the Office of Academic Exchange Programs in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).
Approximately 150 Fulbright foreign students from over 70 countries convened in Seattle, Washington, for a Fulbright enrichment seminar, “Global Challenges, Local Solutions: Fostering Change through Social Entrepreneurship.” The U.S. Department of State, which sponsors the Fulbright Program worldwide, hosted the April 8-11 Seattle seminar. I attended the seminar, one of 16 enrichment seminars for Fulbright foreign students across the United States in 2010, as a Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) program officer.
Many of these seminars, including the one in Seattle, focus on social entrepreneurship as a model to address shared challenges in the areas of environmental sustainability, public health, education, and economic and social equity. Bill Clapp, co-founder and chair of the successful international microcredit non-profit organization Global Partnerships, gave the keynote address. During the Q and A session, one of the Fulbright students presented an idea that left me wondering. Repeating what his professor told him, he said that fostering social entrepreneurship sometimes requires convincing people to "quit their day jobs" and approach what they are doing in a different way.
Bonodji Nako, a Fulbright foreign student from Chad studying for her Ph.D. in Education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, provided the response to my concern. She presented her story during a panel discussion on “Creating Positive Social Change in Education.” Before becoming a Fulbrighter, Bonodji was a teacher and curriculum coordinator at the N'Djamena English International School, one of the few English-French schools in Chad. Several years ago, the school's overseas sponsor withdrew support, leaving only the books and furniture behind. Bonodji was concerned about the lack of a bilingual institution for her children and decided she needed to recreate the school from the ground up.
With the help of the parent-teacher association and local funding and support, she successfully built a self-sustaining school where her children and over 100 other pupils learn in a bilingual environment. Bonodji will return to Chad and her home community with a Ph.D. in Education.
Fulbright enrichment seminars are an integral part of the Fulbright experience and support the overall mission of the Fulbright Program -- to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Through seminar activities, including community outreach programs, student-led activities, and panels with leaders from the public and private sectors, Fulbrighters discover how social entrepreneurs impact communities in the United States and work with their peers to explore how social entrepreneurship principles, structures, and resources can be applied in their home countries.
As the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship wrapped up in Washington earlier this week, I thought about the ways in which our Fulbright Enrichment seminars complemented the efforts being undertaken by the more than 50 countries represented at the Summit. By learning about how we are tackling challenges in the United States through social innovation, Fulbright students like Bonodji Nako return to their countries with new perspectives and ideas, allowing them to bring positive change to their communities, their countries and the world.