The Small Enterprise Education and Development program (SEED) is an international internship program within the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. The program is incredibly well respected within the university and beyond, having received a Most Innovative Program Award in the USA and a Top 5 recognition in the world for entrepreneurship education. SEED provides Utah State University students the opportunity to teach and apply basic business and entrepreneurial skills to those around the world with less fortunate circumstances. The program connects skilled students with the opportunity to hone in on their entrepreneurial skills by teaching and mentoring other individuals and families, with a focus on business creation and development. In teaching the fundamentals of business and entrepreneurship, interns can empower less fortunate individuals on their economic endeavors and simultaneously gain valuable knowledge within the field.
Through a referral process, O.U.R. is able to give survivors that have a desire to become entrepreneurs and create a business or are wanting to expand their current business, the capacity to do so.
Once the survivors have been accepted into the program, O.U.R. provides trauma-informed training and education to the program participants on how to support survivors and how to offer a safe and supportive environment for them. Once training and expectations have been met, survivors are given weekly assignments and budgets to complete throughout the 12-week online business program. The staff and students are there to help partner with the survivor to find creative solutions and identify successful tactics for bringing the survivor’s dreams to reality.
While a survivor is in school, there are many other aspects in their life that can become challenging without the financial or emotional support of a parent or relative. O.U.R. is right alongside offering continual support for their basic needs, such as gaining access to therapeutic help, providing funding for childcare, and covering expenses such as rent, food, and medical bills. Aftercare staff has also invested support in providing connections and mentoring for them as needed.
From the beginning stages of facilitating referrals, hand-selecting the students to work with the survivors, educating the interns on expectations when working with the survivors, and providing financial and emotional support during and after the SEED program, O.U.R. is there every step of the way to ensure the survivors are safe, cared for, and given an environment to truly flourish in.
When SEED interns were asked to speak about their experience working with survivors in Uganda, Rachel Thunnel was honored to share.
“Expecting to change the lives of many individuals living in poverty there--instead I was the one that was changed,” - Rachel Thunnel, SEED intern with a Social Work Major and Entrepreneurship Minor.
Rachel continued, “Last October, I was asked to be on a small team of interns to help virtually mentor a group of women in Uganda that had recently been rescued by Operation Underground Railroad. These girls had all expressed interest in starting their own business. When we teach the business classes, we use a curriculum developed by Mentors International, a nonprofit partner of USU’s SEED program [and O.U.R.]. Some of the principles outlined in the curriculum include things like attracting customers, setting prices and planning for the future. Beginning with only 3 clients who I took through the business curriculum, it soon grew to about 25 women all wanting to pursue their inner entrepreneur. From poultry farms to hair salons, the drive and passion each of these girls have to follow their dreams is inspiring.
Three of the women in the beginning were able to get business capital through O.U.R. This is not your typical pay-back loan, but rather, a gift to them…”
One woman in particular who received one of the first of these loans in Uganda said, ‘Wow, feel wanna give you a huge hug and everyone helped me. You people you are blessing to the world. Even tears is coming from my eyes...tears of happiness.’
The impact of these business classes for them is much more far-reaching than we can even imagine.
Wondering how these individuals can be so motivated and happy after the darkness they’ve faced, I’ve finally learned why. Hope. Each of them have an ambitious and bright hope for their life. Hope for a brighter future and a better tomorrow. The resilience they display has been truly humbling for me to witness and it’s something that inspires me each time I get online to mentor them,” Rachel concluded.
Mikey Henderson, an International Business Major with an Entrepreneurship Minor, also added, “To help these people turn their dreams into reality has been one of the most fulfilling missions I have ever been a part of.”
O.U.R. is honored to have a partnership with the SEED program, and being able to bring together highly skilled interns with our passionate survivors in the aftercare facilities, is a gift. We could not have done that without our incredible partnership organizations, the in-country staff, and interns at Utah State University.