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Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Spark @ USD Hosts Dignitaries from Saudi Arabia to Highlight Social Entrepreneurship and Intercultural Collaboration

Written by Michelle Kamau

If you had predicted my journey of impact when I moved from Nairobi, Kenya, to San Diego two years ago to pursue my Master of Arts in Peace and Justice, I wouldn't have believed you. But now, as a proud alumnus from the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc School (Class of 2023), I am proud to assume the role of Social Innovation Fellow at Spark @ USD, our Institute for Social Innovation. With these two significant achievements, I find myself embarking on a new journey, focusing on gaining a deeper comprehension of the interplay between impact-driven efforts, advocating for sustainable development goals across various tiers, and effectively conveying these narratives through various creative forms - which now includes writing blog posts!

The Kroc School has been a place of learning, and my new position allows me to implement what I've learned thus far. It has been attested by both peers and alumni that what truly sets Social Innovation at the Kroc School apart is its foundation in the principles of peace and justice. Its guiding values emphasize inclusion, sustainability, and teamwork. Navigating my identity as an alumnus, and now as a Social Innovation Fellow, I'm humbled by the chance to contribute to a world driven by empathy and positive change. My journey echoes the ever-evolving landscape of social innovation, where the strands of justice and creativity intertwine to weave a fabric of meaningful transformation.

A remarkable chapter in my new role came just a few weeks in, when Spark @ USD hosted dignitaries from Saudi Arabia, who had traveled to the United States via the International Visitor Leadership Program, organized by the San Diego Diplomacy Council in partnership with the U.S. Department of State. This diverse group, whose trip sought to learn best practices concerning the promotion of social entrepreneurship and cross cultural collaboration, mainly composed of accomplished and inspiring Saudi women. They left an indelible mark on me. I learned that Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 has propelled various changes, from boosting tourism and technology investment, to empowering women in the workforce, enriching cultural experiences, and attracting foreign investments.

Dignitaries of the International Visitor Leadership Program pictured with Dr. Andrew Biros and Michelle Kamau

Their pride and confidence shone as they spoke about the doors opening up for young social entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia. Danah Hamad Alodhabi, who works closely with the autistic community and youth education, reflected that for her, 'Social Entrepreneurship reflects empathy.' This sentiment struck a chord with me as we delved into conversations about social impact and sustainability. It was the way it focused on the empowerment of others that I thought was a good foundation to have as we face escalating global challenges. Integrating skill development, through exposure to diverse knowledge, and empathy into how we teach young people about social innovation is paramount to cultivating a more mindful and equally eager generation of innovators. Education is evolving, and if we fail to adapt to these changing times, we risk being left behind.

The conversation seamlessly shifted to the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge (Fowler GSIC), set to be hosted here at the University of San Diego from May 3 to May 6, 2024. The Fowler GSIC serves as a rallying point for student social entrepreneurs worldwide, encouraging them to unite and devise creative business solutions for pressing social and environmental challenges. During our conversation, many of our guests expressed excitement about how to involve their students and stakeholders in this year’s Fowler GSIC Finals. The conversations sparked reflections that resonated deeply, underscoring the value of platforms that unite diverse perspectives to foster innovative thinking and action. “We are thrilled to host you here today,” Kroc School’s Dr. Andrew Biros, extolled. “We are inspired by your work, and grateful we can share ours. But today is one day. We will have collectively failed, if this day comes and goes, and we don’t capture this momentum and excitement to work together, plan next steps, and together, cultivate more social entrepreneurs.” Meetings are already on calendars with the visiting dignitaries in the coming weeks to accomplish just that. 

Bringing together fellow changemakers, including representatives from Spark @ USD and dignitaries from the Saudi Arabia, underscores how we actively foster a global and ethical community. This event stands as a testament to Spark @ USD andhe Kroc School's commitment to nurturing ongoing collaborations. With a shared dedication to social innovation and a collective grasp of its transformative power, I am excited for the year ahead in my new role, and to be a part of impact work that  seeks to positively shape our world.

Learn more about Spark @USD and the opportunities available to students and entrepreneurs alike.

Michelle Kamau

About the Author

Michelle Kamau

Michelle Kamau is the 2023-24 Social Innovation Fellow for Spark @USD and an Alumnus of the MA in Peace and Justice Program at the Kroc School.