This January, during an intensive three-week excursion in Panama, Professor of Anthropology and Sociology Jack Harris and 10 Hobart and William Smith students will collaborate with local citizens, businesses, government and non-governmental organizations to bring entrepreneurship and social change to life. In this asset-based community development project through the ThinkImpact program, the partnerships may focus on the business sector, healthcare, infrastructure, agriculture and more.
The students and local stakeholders will work together to “identify individuals and talents in the village and try to actualize them into sustainable enterprises,” Harris says, noting that the specific plans “will likely evolve as students engage in the developmental process and learn about collaboration, different ways of leading, inspiring and communicating.”
With ThinkImpact — whose model leverages study abroad trips as global social impact opportunities — Harris and the students will arrive in Panama City in late December before travelling to a rural community in the country’s Coclé region. There, they will meet their host families and community members, and begin to get a sense of the local resources that will drive their collaborative projects.
At this intersection of entrepreneurship, community development, leadership and service learning, “the students’ task in this project is to be catalysts,” Harris says. “Sustainable prosperity happens when people are able to own the resources and talents and actualize them. You have to be imaginative.”
Harris, who first encountered ThinkImpact when he met its founder Saul Garlick at an international service learning conference, says that the model offers the chance for students to “truly develop insight and inspiration and innovation.”
ThinkImpact, which has been operating in Panama since 2013, also offers programs in Rwanda and South Africa and has launched more than 100 microenterprises, generating more than 300 jobs.
While the organization offers longer programs, the compressed three-week schedule ensures a focused and rigorous experience, Harris says. “What we don’t have in longevity we make up for in intensity.”
He adds that the trip also serves as a pilot program that is “linked into a web of things we are doing in curriculum” — from entrepreneurial studies, sustainable community development and leadership studies, to global education, civic engagement and service learning.
“It’s a true citizenship activity, where we’re going to collaborate, work with and learn from the community,” Harris says. “It’s the kind of program that has students asking, what does it mean to have a life of consequence? What does it mean to participate in lives that are linked to ours? A life of consequence is something we’re trying to develop for more than just ourselves — all the people we’re working with have lives of consequence, too.”