Fabia Rothenfluh arrived in the South African village of Huntington with $33 in her pocket and an overwhelming desire to make a change.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” she admits today.
The Rollins College senior economics major happened upon the small, sprawled-out village of small brick houses and dust-laden roads as a scholar of ThinkImpact, a global social enterprise organization that immerses American students in rural African cultures to help promote social entrepreneurship.
To learn more about different and new social entrepreneurial initiatives at Rollins College, visit www.rollins.edu/mba/entrepreneurship.
For eight weeks, from June to August — winter in South Africa — Rothenfluh lived with a three-generation host family in their home with no insulation or running water. She quickly realized Huntington had little to no infrastructure other than a middle school and two shops selling only non-perishable goods.
“We went into the village and wanted to find out what kind of assets they have and what they didn’t have,” she said. “If you just give people stuff, that doesn’t really help them long term, so we were looking for other solutions.”
Through the teachings of ThinkImpact and her and her partner’s own realizations, the pair decided to combine their funds, giving them $66, to help the village bake their way to a change, opening and training community members to run their own bakery.
Baking a change
“We wanted to provide something that would really generate income for them, but to also make it healthy,” Rothenfluh said.
With only a handful of ovens in the village and no real baking supplies available without making the 40-minute trek to the closest town, she said getting the Sunrise Bakery up and running included a lot of trial and error.
From drafting their own recipes to converting measurements and using everything from emptied out sardine cans and jelly jars to bake in, she said from the time the sun rose at 6 a.m. to when it set at 6 p.m. she and her partner, Vincent Feucht, were busy working.
“I wanted to show the women that if they worked really hard and were dedicated, they could really make a difference,” she said.
She drafted a brochure for the 10 women to hand out and advertise the bakery business. It boasted birthday cakes, banana-peanut muffins, meat pies and apple pies.
The team would wake up early to bake, to then be able to sell their goods out of plastic bags and buckets to the others in the village.
“The woman were really dedicated,” Rothenfluh said. “They even decided to put all the money that they earned within the first year aside to put into more ovens and supplies.”
With no electricity in the village, she said it’s hard to keep in contact with the women, but a husband of one of the women who works at a resort with Internet access updates her every couple of weeks by email.
“I hope they will keep it up and really see what a difference they can make,” she said.
Impact at home and abroad
ThinkImpact, based out of Washington, D.C., is a global social enterprise organization that provides a program for college students and young professionals to immerse themselves in rural African culture and promote community and economic development.
Kate Loose, community director for ThinkImpact, said the program looks to shape the next generation of social entrepreneurs. “We’re out to change mindsets and help people,” she said.
For more information, or to apply for the summer 2012 program, visit www.thinkimpact.org. “We’re looking for a lot of great scholars like Fabia for next year,” Loose said.
Rothenfluh, an international student at Rollins from Switzerland, initially came to Rollins to play on the golf team.
“At home it’s nearly impossible to go to school and play a sport,” said Rothenfluh, a member of the Swiss national golf team. “I was curious how good I could get (at golf), so I said ‘Let’s see if I can go to school in the U.S.’ ”
And though she does compete on Rollins golf team, she said going to school at Rollins has provided her with so much more than she ever expected outside of golfing and grades.
“I’m really thankful for all that Rollins has done for me,” she said.
Rothenfluh received a grant from the Rollin’s president’s office to help fund her ThinkImpact trip this summer as part of the college’s growing initiative for social entrepreneurship and social enterprise. As her “give back” for the grant, she is now interning at Crummer’s Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship to promote social entrepreneurship on campus.
Tonia Warnecke, the assistant professor of economics at Rollins and Rothenfluh’s academic adviser, said she is every teacher’s dream student.
“She’s never content with the status quo,” Warneke said. “She’s always trying to reach out to all the other facets of her interests in her education.”
Warneke is also an adviser of the Rollins Microfinance Fund, which focuses on raising awareness and funds focused on small-scale economic development projects in developing countries. Rothenfluh is the special project coordinator. Warneke said Rollins is working really hard on getting recognized nationally for its movement for social entrepreneurship and change.
“There are pockets of positive change all around campus,” Warneke said, which she said help students such as Rothenfluh get involved and make a difference at an international level. “Her education provided her with the bits of information she needed about the issues, and those combined together for her to pursue her passion for change.”