Sometimes it’s very simple to help other people. You can volunteer, give money to charity or even help your friend move into a new apartment.
But when you want to help a whole country or group of people, it can get a lot more complicated.
Enter the Campus Y at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, which matches students with social activism groups.
“The Campus Y has been at the forefront of student social change initiatives for a long time,” said Lucy Lewis, assistant director. “And it takes a number of forms.”
One of those forms, she said, was the social entrepreneurship approach to social change, in which business knowledge is used to try to fix social problems, instead of solely turning a profit.
Nourish International (NI) is one such organization. It started at the UNC-CH as a weekly “hunger lunch,” where Nourish International sold rice, beans and cornbread for $3 a plate in order to fund a nutrition initiative in Hyderabad, India. Now there are more than 400 NI students at 19 campuses across the country.
Jonathan Tarleton will be one of the Nourish International co-chairs next year. “The original idea was to pair staple crops with the campus, in order to support our international projects,” Tarleton said. “All our ventures are part of the whole social entrepreneurship idea.”
NI Executive Director James Dillard became involved in the program in 2005, when it was still primarily a local venture. When he became director in 2008, there were only four active chapters. Last year, 15 chapters were added at campuses across the U.S.
NI poured $100,000 into communities between 2003 and 2008, and 80 students went abroad. Last year alone, NI invested $45,000 in projects, and 59 students traveled to foreign countries.
As part of the Campus Y, all groups go through a similar process. A socially conscious idea is taken to the center, where an advisor discusses and evaluates it. If it is deemed to be viable, it becomes a special project of the Campus Y. Current special projects include Advocates for Grassroots Development in Uganda (AGRADU), the Coalition Against Sex Trafficking (CAST) and World Micro Market.
If a project stays around for a couple of years and keeps a steady following even after the founders graduate, it can become a committee, which is an established student group, such as Homeless Outreach Poverty Eradication, (HOPE), which uses student-raised funds to face poverty on a local level.
Currently, there are 18 committees at the Campus Y, including HOPE and NI.
Some committees expand even further. For example, NI is also an independent nonprofit, which has allowed it to expand and coordinate multiple chapters across the country.
One of HOPE’s newest projects could lead to the committee expanding in a similar way.
The Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) is a joint initiative of HOPE and the Carolina Microfinance Initiative. For the pilot program, which began this summer, the groups started providing small loans to local homeless individuals.
The aim is to build in-house credit and provide the tools to re-enter the workforce. The initial loan has to be repaid on a strict schedule, but the program adds money to a savings account at the same time.
The loan also comes with a supportive services program, where the borrowers get a chance to improve their business knowledge.
“It’s training in something they need, from financial literacy to personal finance to budgeting and business planning,” said Maggie West of HOPE. “Whatever the borrowers are interested in, we try to make a workshop. Although that usually means we bring in a person who’s better at it than we are.”
By investing in an individual’s ability to work, the program has social entrepreneurship characteristics, unlike a charity.
The program is funded completely by the student group from the proceeds of an event called Box-Out, which this year raised $6,000.
West said the goal for next year is $25,000, money that will be even more desperately needed as the CEF program continues to grow.
The group took 14 borrowers in a two-month span, and it looks like it will continue to grow. Durham County has invited the group to expand into Durham, and once the pilot grant expires, the group will have to rethink the organization of the project.
“It has grown enormously, and we’re only two months into it,” West said. “I’m sad to be graduating, because I only have nine months to work on this thing, and I could spend a lifetime.
“Campus Y understands what students are capable of, which is the biggest thing for administration,” West went on. “They really appreciate what students can do if you let them.”