On September 28th University of Washington students Niki Kiga, Elizabeth Reisner, Emalina Berkshire, and McKenzie Schnell presented at the Washington State Summit on US-India Trade & Commerce about their experiences during the “Half the Sky” India Exploration Seminar. The students had traveled to India for one month studyingwomen’s leadership and issues related to social business – corporations, entrepreneurs, non-profit organizations and individuals creating business solutions to poverty and environmental issues persisting despite explosive growth in the Indian economy. The students brought a fresh perspective and personal insights to the summit which was focused on deepening trade ties and building awareness of opportunities between the state of Washington and Orissa.
The students shared stories about the highlights of their trip including visiting the innovative Aravind Eye Hospital, helping build a rain-water tank at a village school, joining a group of women at their weekly rooftop micro-finance meeting, and a papermaking business employing and empowering people with disabilities using tea-plantation waste materials. They emphasized that although they came from different academic disciplines and backgrounds that they all saw the influence and interconnections of business in all facets of society and were inspired by the way business can be a tool for empowerment.
During the Q&A the audience was especially interested in the long-lasting impacts the trip will have on their career choices, connection to India, and views of gender roles. The students talked about how before the trip, the group fund-raised $4,000 to buy a water tank for a village school and to open a pre-school in a rural area through the organizations they visited and how this experience inspired them to continue to support and be connected to similar organizations.