Nurturing Young Social Entrepreneurs

I manage undergraduate scholarships for the Open Society Foundations, and I am continually inspired by the students we support who attend EARTH University in Costa Rica.  Most students who come are from humble backgrounds, have strong family ties, and have significant agricultural experience. They have a dedication to community, particularly in their homeland.

For example one student, who grew up without a father and is now one himself, has traveled great distances to teach widows basic farming techniques and to provide activities for orphaned children.  The EARTH students have formed a sort of brotherhood/sisterhood and look out for one another during their time away from home.  All of them have expressed to me a great desire to return home to improve the life they left behind.

Since 2009, we have awarded scholarships to young people from Haiti, Mozambique, Liberia, and Sierra Leone to study natural resource management and social entrepreneurship at EARTH.  Successful applicants have strong academic backgrounds and leadership qualities and have demonstrated a commitment to open society values such as respect for human and equal rights. Students vary in age; first year students range anywhere between 18 and 29 years old.  Their education may have been disrupted by years of civil war or their lives significantly altered due to natural disaster and loss of life.  While they come from different countries with different histories, they share some common, admirable threads.

Another inspiration is the EARTH campus itself. Having spent a year of my life living and working in Costa Rica, I know firsthand how the power of the lush countryside can inspire a deep respect for preservation and the outdoors. The EARTH University campus is verdant and hosts a vibrant learning environment, a true wonderland for scientists of all kinds, as well as those who appreciate the natural world.  Students do field research on the grounds, which include organic gardens and animal farms.  They are also required to work in the surrounding rural community where poverty is visible and climates are intense. Students listen to and assess the needs of the local people, collaborating with them on projects that improve their lives.

EARTH's curriculum is visionary.  Students are encouraged to think critically and to work in partnership.  Students often work in small groups to problem-solve during class and on community projects.  After working with them myself, I noticed how they listened attentively and encouraged each other.  I was impressed by their collaborative spirit and the confidence they were gaining at EARTH.  The new knowledge and innovations they are testing show great promise to pioneer change back home.

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