EASTON, Pa.(www.lafayette.edu), March 10, 2008 — From a pilot project that began through Lafayette’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), the newly formed Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project (EEGLP) will combine engineering and economics and business to encourage economic and social entrepreneurship, helping to reduce poverty in Honduras and promote economic recovery in New Orleans.
Last summer, a group of EWB students, under the mentorship of Gladstone Fluney Hutchinson, associate professor of economics and business, worked collaboratively with residents of the rural village of Lagunitas, Honduras, to establish a coffee farming and production operation that is bringing economic sustainability and greater personal and collective empowerment to the community.
This summer and fall, also under Hutchinson’s guidance, interdisciplinary teams of Lafayette students will be building on that success through EEGLP. They will be employing this innovative entrepreneurial and philosophical paradigm in another Honduran village as well as in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, La.
The student leaders heading up the EEGLP have been invited to discuss its progress at the inaugural Clinton Global Initiative University Conference March 14-16 at Tulane University in New Orleans. They are: Kavinda Udugama ’09 (Kandy, Sri Lanka), Lori Gonzalez ’10 (Bronx, N.Y.), and Katherine Reeves ’10 (Colorado Spring, Col.).
The Clinton Conference will challenge college students and universities from across the country to tackle global problems with practical, innovative solutions. In a note to the Lafayette students, officials from the Clinton Conference called the students’ commitment and future plans “among the most dynamic that was received.”
“I believe what makes the paradigm of EEGLP quite innovative is the co-learning it enables between the students and the members of these communities,” says Hutchinson. “While facilitating the entrepreneurial ambitions of those in impoverished situations, it allows students to deepen their understanding of and overcome the ‘otherness’ of those in poor communities – and, by being so engaged, the students themselves cultivate their own humanity.”
In 2003, Lafayette’s EWB, a student chapter of Engineers Without Borders USA, was founded with the goal of providing clean drinking water for rural communities in the Yoro region of Honduras. Under the faculty guidance of Sharon Jones and David Brandes, both associate professors of civil and environmental engineering, EWB-LC has developed a gravity-fed potable water system with the community of Lagunitas, and is now completing a similar but more sophisticated project in the neighboring village of La Fortuna.
Udugama, an electrical and computer engineering major and the current EWB-LC project manager, recognized that the poverty of the Lagunitas villagers made them unable to maintain the water system, thus compromising their goals of improving the quality of life in their community. Udugama conceived of a possible solution for this problem and acquired an initial $10,000 grant from Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace. During the summer of 2007, Hutchinson and a team of EWB students worked collaboratively with the villagers in the pilot program to use their entrepreneurship and “sweat equity” to successfully establish a coffee farming and production operation.
A team of students will return to Lagunitas this summer to complete that portion of the project and to expand the economic self-empowerment program to the neighboring but more isolated village of La Fortuna. While it suffers from rural poverty and regional invisibility, La Fortuna’s commitment to industriousness and creativity in small scale farming, great water access, outstanding agricultural potential, and enormous coffee-growing potential make them an ideal candidate for entrepreneurial economic development. Mechanical engineering major Gonzalez will serve as team leader for the La Fortuna project.
Another team of students, headed up by economics and business major Reeves, will spend the 2008-09 academic year developing and implementing a project of a similar philosophical nature in the Holy Cross/Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The initiative will serve as a pilot program for Imagining America, a national consortium of colleges and universities committed to public scholarship.
Since October of last year the team has been in discussions with the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association (HCNA) in New Orleans, and the Center for Bio-Environmental Research (CBER) at Tulane and Xavier Universities, on how it could facilitate the HNCA’s ambition of creating a “green” economy in its Lower 9th Ward community. They hope to help contribute to the re-branding of the Holy Cross Neighborhood as a model community and unique destination for people interested in living an environmentally-responsible “green” lifestyle.
Already, Global Green-USA has chosen the Holy Cross/Lower 9th Ward neighborhood to embark on the building of an extensive “green” community, including residential housing, apartments, a community center, and light business retail activities. This effort, which is a critical peg in the rebuilding and re-imagining of the Lower 9th Ward, is co-led by the actor Brad Pitt, and has received substantial legislative, governmental, and private sector support, as well as positive press coverage.
Ben Towne ’09 (Litchfield, N.H.), an electrical and computer engineering major, is a recent addition to the EEGLP team and is currently doing research on the New Orleans initiative, focusing on the social capital the community would require to support its “green” entrepreneurship and lifestyle ambitions.
The philosophy of the EEGLP has its roots in Hutchinson’s efforts, while he was Lafayette’s Dean of Studies, to develop first-year student programming related to exploring issues related to human security, civil society, and liberal learning.
Imagining America, a national consortium of over 80 universities and colleges, used Lafayette’s First-Year Experience as a pilot program for its members.
The EEGLP’s planned efforts for New Orleans were also recently highlighted by Imagining America in the Fall 2007 newsletter. In her letter to IA members, director Jan Cohen-Cruz praised the project’s plans, and said that Hutchinson’s “conception of such entrepreneurial activity captures the value of a humanistic approach emphasizing participatory democracy.”
Former President Clinton will host the inaugural meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference in New Orleans. To receive an invitation to attend the conference, each individual student, or student group, had to outline a major social entrepreneurship project they intend to undertake, and declare a commitment to its fulfillment. The projects and commitment statement of Lafayette’s team is as follows:
EEGLP Commitment Statement:
We commit to using to the fullest, our energies, intellect and skills, to help people in impoverished and/ or devastated situations empower themselves. We make this commitment because of our faith in the belief that people are motivated by a common aspiration for dignity and human security irrespective of their location or circumstance. Towards this end we will work to facilitate the ambitions and self agency of the people of Lagunitas and La Fortuna in rural Honduras, residents of the Holy Cross Neighborhood in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, and people living in situations of crisis elsewhere. We commit to this ideal because of our belief that the self-achievement of a sustainable economy in one’s community will best facilitate poverty alleviation, enhance human security, an expansion of personal and collective freedoms, and dignity and pride in undertaking the responsibility of their pursuit.