On the 6th of October a group of 13 students from a diverse range of schools across the university embarked on a 27-hour journey to San Jose, California for the Enactus World Cup. Enactus is a global organisation comprised of students, businesses leaders and academics who strive to make the world a better place through entrepreneurial action. In Edinburgh, our society is made up of 80 students who run social enterprises with the aim of empowering people with the skills necessary to change their lives for the better.
Every year, our society travels down to London to showcase the social impact of our enterprises in the Enactus UK National Competition, where we compete against Enactus teams from 58 other universities in the UK. In April, we were crowned National Champions, winning us the opportunity to showcase our work to a global audience in Silicon Valley, along with winning Enactus teams from 30 other countries. It was a great honour to be representing the United Kingdom in Silicon Valley, a hub of enterprise and innovation, but more importantly we were thrilled to have the chance to meet other Enactus students from around the world, and to learn from, and celebrate, their amazing social impact.
At the competition, we decided to focus on two of our international projects; Aiding Change and Lilypads. Aiding change is an enterprise developed to combat the life limiting issues of hearing impairment in Ghana through the sale of affordable, solar powered hearing aids. In Ghana alone, there are over 250,000 people living with hearing impairment, many of whom aren’t aware of the symptoms. Through our partner charity, we conducted needs assessments in Accra, and found that the extremely high cost of hearing aids and the need to purchase expensive, disposable batteries weekly made them simply unaffordable and inaccessible. To devise a sustainable solution, we partnered with Solar Ear who manufacture solar-powered hearing aids. These hearing aids are five times cheaper than commercial alternatives and remove the need for expensive, disposable batteries, making the hearing aids affordable while preventing batteries from going to landfill. We also developed a curriculum with a local hearing assessment centre to help schools identify the signs of hearing impairment and to break down the stigmas which leave hearing impaired people isolated from society.
The second project we presented was our sanitary pad initiative, Lilypads. This enterprise was set up in Kenya, where girls are made to feel ashamed of their periods and sanitary products are unaffordable. Our research found that girls as young as 11 years old engage in transactional sex in exchange for sanitary products. To combat this issue, we developed a reusable sanitary pad, recycling towels that Nairobi hotels would otherwise throw away. This allows us to keep our costs low, making the pads around 96% cheaper than commercial alternatives and reuses nearly 11,000 towels destined for landfill. We partnered with a charity in Homa Bay, Kenya and work with over 30 local women who are dedicated to eradicating period poverty in their communities. The women sell our reusable pads and teach sex and menstrual education in schools and health centres in their community, helping to break down the stigmas surrounding menstruation.
While in California, we had the opportunity to network with corporate sponsors and other Enactus teams and to gain advice and support for our projects. We attended panel discussions and focus groups with companies like Ford, The World Trade Centre Organisation and Unilever, engaging with global issues and solutions for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We were inspired to learn about the life changing enterprises that students around the world have developed to tackle social issues within their communities; from reverse osmosis systems in Indian slum communities, to high yielding farming solutions in rural Zambia.
We were also lucky enough to visit a social enterprise in San Francisco: Bakeworks, who provide employment and training for people with disabilities, who are homeless or at risk. We were given a tour by the general manager, Mark Bailey, who inspired us with his simple motto: keep doing good in the ways that you can. Our visit served as a powerful reminder of why we had come to California; to develop and improve enterprises that will create lasting, sustainable change for vulnerable people in our community and around the world. Returning to Edinburgh, we are more determined than ever to expand and improve our social enterprise projects.
For us, our trip to California was a time of reflection. Watching the presentations on the final stage, we felt a great sense of collective achievement, of being part of a global community who shared a vision and took action to make a difference. It was a moment of great pride, but also a stark reminder of how much more needs to be done. Since returning, we have worked harder than ever to make our social enterprises sustainable and to scale our impact, but most importantly to keep doing good in the ways that we can.