Students and faculty packed the Cooper Auditorium last night for Marietta College’s third PioPitch session of the semester. The session focused on global and social entrepreneurship, and featured two leaders of the nonprofit sector.
The session’s first presenter was Meike Schleiff, founder of The Grow Project and director of research for Future Generations University. Her work focuses on improving the public health and educational opportunities afforded to low-income communities in Haiti.
“The grow project is an international community-to-community partnership working on local initiatives in healthcare, wellness, and education,” student organizer Katie Hall said, as she introduced Schleiff.
Schleiff described some of the projects she had begun in Haiti, breaking them down into various “phases” of work. Each successive project corresponded to a different challenge the Haitians have faced over the past decade. One such challenge was the 2010 earthquake, which caused an estimated 230,000 deaths, leaving the country in disrepair.
“Hundereds of thousands of people died. Many more were left without shelters, injured, or displaced.” Schleiff said. “It’s been a very long process to recover from that.”
She added that while there have been many well-funded relief projects since that time, many of them have failed to leave a lasting impact on Haitian communities.
“It’s very much a patchwork, people don’t really integrate,” Schleiff said. “It doesn’t feel like collectively we’re moving forward.”
Schleiff believes that organizations should focus more on the long-term solutions for improving Haitian communities. She is now working to address the country’s trash problem.
“Trash is a massive problem in Haiti,” Schleiff said. “If we are able to clean up the island, it would be a powerful change at the behavioral level that everyone could take part in.”
Schleiff asked for suggestions on how to incentivize a full-scale cleanup effort, particularly in the city of Cap-Haïtien. She explained that doing so would be beneficial, not only in improving living conditions and the environment, but in generating tourism as well.
“Haiti has beautiful beaches [and] beautiful areas inland as well, with agriculture and mountains,” Schleiff said.
Audience members had a variety of ideas for addressing the trash problem. Senior Gabe Crowe referred to a Kenyan organization named Ocean Soul that repurposes discarded flip-flops, turning them into art and selling them to consumers.
“I’m wondering if there’s a way to take that idea and adapt it to the recyclables in the area – to make it a competition where you create art and sell it to the community,” Crowe said.
Other students provided suggestions for growing Schleiff’s organization, such as partnering with colleges to offer internship opportunities.
The second presenter was Charles “Chip” Pickering, founder and CEO of local company, Pickering Energy Solutions. Pickering frequently travels to parts of Africa and Haiti, where he helps tribal communities install and maintain solar photovoltaic power systems.
“Photovoltaics, basically, are the big panels on the roof that convert sunlight into electricity,” Pickering said. “A lot of the places that we go into to do [installations], there is no electric power grid.”
Pickering explained that many of the villages he visits do not have a regular supply of electricity. His team both oversees the installation, and educates the locals on how to repair and maintain the systems.
“We’re often the first permanent power [source] to come into a community,” Pickering said. “We spend a lot of time educating.”
Pickering sought solutions for educating and assisting locals in the development of long-term energy programs. He hopes to provide villages with the resources and knowledge to develop their own energy solutions, apart from volunteer assistance.
“Fundamentally, by taking one trip a year… How do I engage with them in building a sustainable program?” Pickering asked.
Several students emphasized the importance of introducing a “STEM” curriculum to schools, exposing children to energy system concepts at a young age. Others identified the need for developing jobs and infrastructure in those tribal communities.
Discussion centered on navigating the educational and communication barriers that Pickering and his team routinely face. Several audience members pointed out that effective “visuals” can be a powerful tool when navigating those barriers.
“You showed some of the examples that are used in healthcare, when you know that people can’t read… Is there a possibility to do that for the process that you’re teaching in a hands-on way while you’re there?” Alane Sanders (associate professor of communication) said.
Marietta College’s full Facebook Live recording can be watched here: https://www.facebook.com/MariettaCollege/videos/10155860299314561/?hc_ref=ARTIZ_UAJ7Xpx_Ozb5d_kKuhZeGy8RZMBfnPHFJrUHvUe362TqxCYFQ-nkQwwX58kOU