Sarah Lawrence College first-year students Jackie Assar and Garin Kessler and two students from NYU were among ten teams selected from among worldwide finalists in the "RISE (Road to Innovative Social Entrepreneurship) Pakistan" competition, which was held at the University of Chicago May 19-22. The students placed second in the competition and received "tremendous praise" for their concept.
Titled VOWs (Village Opportunity Workshops), the SLC-NYU team’s project design combines the concepts of direct foreign investment, microcredit, and local sustainable production. The goal for each workshop is to employ residents of a given community to create handmade crafts, which will be sold through partnerships developed with businesses that have similar missions such as Macy’s Shop For A Better World and Ten Thousand Villages as well as university bookstores.
The VOWs organization, explained Assar, will also establish clubs at colleges and universities that will actively sell the products and subsequently educate their schools and communities on the impact of social entrepreneurship. Assar elaborated on their concept, which envisions powering the workshops with micro-hydro power: "A Village Opportunity Workshop employs residents of a given community in Pakistan to create many of the handmade crafts endemic to their culture, and provides them with a gateway to the opportunity of the Western export market. VOWs will directly address issues of flood relief and prevention in several ways. First, they will employ those whose economic livelihoods were destroyed by the floods with living rather than minimum wages that will allow the employed to not only survive but to save money and improve their quality of life. Second, their profits will give villagers the resources to proactively respond to the long-term threats of flooding. Additionally, outside of the field of flood relief, VOWs provide the potential for an economic revolution in Pakistani villages—a revolution that employs men and women, and helps educate their children, all through the power of exchange rates."
The students are currently looking for ways to make their idea become a reality.