Deborah and Alorah Harman (2011, Course 1) took an early winter trip and traveled to Cambodia, partnering with the Harpswell Foundation, a women’s dormitory and leadership center located in Tuek Thla, Phnom Penh, to teach a series of workshops aimed at fostering creativity and innovation through engineering and leadership. By teaching some of Cambodia’s most talented students how they might apply their leadership to problem-solving in engineering, aim to (a) develop a network of women equipped to solve any problem creatively, with the critical thought of an engineer, and (b) motivate more women to consider studying engineering.
BLOGGING FROM THE FIELD
December 24, 2011.
During a conversation with our new friends from ITC, we determined that entrepreneurial students in Cambodia face a unique set of challenges. In the aftermath of the political turmoil caused by the Khmer Rouge regime, the culture encourages keeping quiet and taking care of your own affairs, rather than building relationships with strangers, developing a community, and publicizing your work.
We decided to discuss this as well as ideas for positive future change in local communities at a workshop hosted by SmallWorld.
By discussing the challenges we faced in our universities, we developed a framework describing how MIT’s student network was different from ITC’s student network. MIT has well-developed communities around dorm-life, student groups, and project-based classwork, whereas ITC’s on-campus student life is nearly non-existent. Again, SmallWorld members highlighted the fact that there are no dormitories on-campus, so students go home to rented rooms (usually shared with several other students) all over the city. There is no system set up to fund student groups, so if they want to hold an interesting event or lecture, they cannot pay the speaker or order food. Often they cannot even get their school officials to lend them space in a classroom for a student group to meet.
We discussed several of the ways that the students could use the Internet to garner publicity and support for themselves and their organizations. We looked into international funding opportunities for social entrepreneurs in particular, pulling up applications online while brainstorming about what seeding a small business in Cambodia might look like. We also shared theories on personal branding to develop an effective online persona. Rithy, one of the SmallWorld Founders, wrote this article, publicizing the event.
Over the course of leading this workshop, we were able to discuss potential point of growth and improvement with each of the attendees. Although at this point, much of the advice I gave repeated advice that I, as an MIT student, have received frequently, much of it was new to the workshop attendees, and we enjoyed sharing our experiences with them. Furthermore, more than half of the participants were female students working to develop networks in their universities and communities. this encouraged us in terms of our plans focused on encouraging women’s support networks and women entrepreneurs in particular.