Nineteen UW students along with faculty member Cate Goethals and GBC staff member Jess Rush recently returned from a nearly month long trip to India to explore the “half the sky” and “third billion” concepts and more. The group met with women who lead everything from small village councils to Tata Starbucks. Meetings in corporate offices, on the bus, and in the homes of garment workers opened eyes, challenged perceptions and provided incredible inspiration.
Approximately half the students are or are planning to pursue a major in the Foster School. The other half is studying everything from biology to human rights. Regardless of their course of study, the students found themselves uniting through the challenge that traveling through India affords as well as the rich interactions the group was lucky to be a part of. Debriefs focused on big business impacting social change, on the importance of educating girls, on why women are critical to the success of a country in transition, on how to create balance in one’s own life.
Among the corporate visits, a highlight was a visit to Tata Starbucks headquarters on just the second day of the month long trip. CEO Avani Davda is the youngest CEO in the Tata system and is leading the Starbucks brand through its India expansion. Avani and her exec team spoke to the group about the partnership between Tata and Starbucks and the commitment both companies have to corporate social responsibility. It is this kind of common value system that makes the partnership work, they told the group. No visit to Starbucks would be complete without a coffee tasting, but to be led through it by the young CEO was something else.
Beyond learning from meetings with leaders, this group of students was incredibly dedicated to giving back. Over the summer they raised nearly $6000 to fund three projects: a fledgling thread store operated by SEWA to serve their garment workers, a Hippocampus Education Center partnered with Grameen Koota, and a rainwater harvesting system installed by Biome at a village girls’ school. At SEWA the students developed business plan ideas on how the store could best use the donation with the goal of self-sustainability. At the Hippocampus center, three and four year olds demonstrated their proficiency with English through songs and showed the group the value of early education. With Biome, visiting one school with an established system the group saw the great impact their donation will have. At the recipient school, the group was treated to a warm welcome by the whole village.
In three and a half weeks, this group of 21 from the UW visited eight cities in six states. The students return to campus full of the knowledge they gained in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors. But more importantly, they return with a better understanding of who they are and how they might fit into this great, small world.