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Aug 15, 2013

Studying Human Centered Design

Today our week of challenging research culminated in presentations to our social enterprises. Despite having a limited window in which to get to know our social enterprise, identify their needs, conduct field research and compile our findings into a comprehensive deliverable, our class’s work was truly impressive. At first I was unsure of how a group of undergraduates could develop a meaningful deliverable for seasoned social entrepreneurs in under a week, but I soon discovered there was a method to the madness.

The first day of meeting our entrepreneur felt like a whirlwind of questions. My group was lucky to work with Peter Shrimpton of Heart Capital, a man who gave us excellent, clear direction as to what he needed to learn from us about food security. After one day to develop informed research questions and strategies we spent an entire day in the Philippi Township, a largely impoverished area. Despite our group reflection on managing working outside our comfort zones, my group was apprehensive about how the day would go. As a group of five young foreigners walking through the township interviewing a random sample of people about their food purchasing habits, we expected to get some strange looks.

It turns out our field research went far better than expected and was one of the most interesting, educational days of the trip. In the beginning, our interviews were awkward as we approached women in the middle of their days work to ask them a series of strange questions about their food purchasing habits. Luckily for us, most of the people we approached were willing to set aside time, some excitedly and others more reluctantly, to humor us.

We were initially hesitant to interrupt people in their busy day and felt nervous to ask some personal questions, but we soon learned that people were much more open and willing to talk with us than we had expected. They understood that their answers might potentially inform a future pilot program, and many took advantage of the chance to voice opinions that may not otherwise be heard. As the day went on we settled into the flow of asking questions and our awkward interviews developed into mutually beneficial conversations.

Armed with quality research and the human centered design tools we learned in class, our team consolidated our findings and developed several options for Heart Capital moving forward. By presentation time we were proud of our findings and, to our surprise, we were so eager to answer our entrepreneurs questions that we did not feel like we had enough time even when we went beyond the scheduled allotment. It was a rare feeling brought on by doing real life, meaningful work that could one day become reality rather than remain theoretical as so many of our undergraduate projects do. The experience was a series of feeling a bit in over our heads to feeling confident in the quality of our work. It was gratifying to end on such a note of confidence. 

- Kelly Ward

Aug 3, 2013

Consumer Guilt or Awareness?

On Saturday some of us went on an optional shopping excursion to the Old Biscuit Mill (for Boston readers – it’s kind of like the SoWa Market in the South End.) It’s a semi-outdoor, semi-covered market selling food and goods in the Woodstock neighborhood of Cape Town. We were all immensely thankful for the “semi-covered” aspect, as the weather that day was erratic and kept alternating between clear skies and torrential rain.

While on the outside it’s a seemingly innocent community market, Old Biscuit Mill is also one of those Cape Town enigmas that really highlights the lifestyle inequality and disparity of opportunity within the city and throughout South Africa as a whole. And the worst part is, you usually don’t notice it right away.

The Mill is divided into two main sections: a food market, and an area with permanent storefronts as well as makeshift stalls for consumer goods. I was immediately attracted to a booth in the latter section selling leather bags. As I marveled over a beautiful backpack with fabric printed to depict the map of the world, I noticed that the bag proudly stated that it had been “made in South Africa.” So I asked the guy selling them, and he informed me that the bags were actually manufactured close by in the neighborhood. At the time that was a good enough answer for me, and I ended up buying the bag, satisfied that I had made an awesome purchase while simultaneously supporting a local enterprise.

But thinking back, that purchase I made makes me a little uneasy. And to an extent, so does the entire existence of Old Biscuit Mill. As we took a cab back from the Mill, I noticed that the majority of the Woodstock area was nowhere near as nice as the inside of the market, and the people walking around the streets were definitely less well-off than those I had just observed while shopping.

Several questions come to mind: Why is there such a difference in population as soon as you exit the gates of the Mill? Is this the part of the neighborhood where my new bag was made? Who works there? How much do they get paid? Is that why my bag was so expensive, to pay the workers a decent living wage? Or did the majority of that money go to the charismatic white guy who sold me the bag?

And on that note, why were all of the artists and designers at the Mill white? In a city where black and coloured people make up the majority of the population, that is a suspicious and troubling circumstance. I know that talented black artists exist in Cape Town; we’ve visited enough enterprises and markets to establish that fact. So why were none of them represented at the Mill?

Now I find myself almost regretting the purchases I made at Old Biscuit Mill, because I feel like I just provided money to a segment of the city’s population that is already well off when I could have been supporting those who truly need it. It’s a bad feeling, and it’s one that I’ve experienced frequently on this Dialogue – guilt and awareness. As amazing as this experience has been, it has definitely sparked intense and conflicted emotions.

We all came on this trip to study social entrepreneurship, which should ostensibly make us good people, right? So should I feel bad when I make a big purchase from a business with no apparent social motives? Or when I pass a homeless person on the street and try not to meet their eyes? Or when I’m exiting Old Biscuit Mill in the rain and climbing into a dry cab, while a little boy stands outside in the downpour holding out a cup for change?

Questions like this have plagued me, and probably everyone, since we first arrived in Cape Town a month ago. And although the program ends tomorrow and we’re returning back to our normal comfortable lives, I don’t think the questions or feelings of guilt will entirely disappear as we settle back into our usual routines. But that’s okay – it means that our experiences in Cape Town have indeed taught us something that will last.

 - Peyton Veytia

Aug 3, 2013

For the Love of the Game?

After spending almost five weeks in South Africa, I am leaving with an appreciation for this country as a whole and more specifically Cape Town.  Being able to work on two entirely different projects while immersing myself as much as possible in South African history and culture has led to a fruitful experience for me.  Even before leaving Boston, Professor Shaughnessy emphasized the poverty disparity we would see in country almost everyday.  I just didn’t quite believe him.  By taking a tour of Cape Town Stadium during my final weekend, it became clear just how big this issue is (literally!).  Granted the World Cup brought this country many jobs during the preparation and actual events from 2007-2010.  But with a price tag of R 4.5 billion, this colossal structure filled with only the seven person tour, seemed like a sore thumb in a country grasping for money to help those most in need.  I heard from multiple cab drivers taking me to and from Mouille Point, sitting in the shadow of the stadium, that many people have negative feelings for it.  They disprove of the lack of use of the stadium, and I was told that some people even boycott the events that do happen, hoping to prove a point that the stadium doesn’t deserve a place in Cape Town. 

Like Johnny Anderton said at TEDxCapeTown, all that money spent to build the World Cup Stadium could have housed over 2.5 million people in his affordable and sustainable township shacks.  How can a country, which made unbelievable strides in social justice to break the struggle of apartheid, fall so woefully short in the area of economic justice?  Starting in the first few days taking a trip to Langa and seeing kids play in the street with the only thing they had, old couch cushions.  To walking through a ghostly empty Cape Town Stadium, where since the World Cup it has been vastly underutilized.  Economic inequality could not be more obvious in this country, and yet it doesn’t seem like any progress is being made.  With Nelson Mandela near his end, it marks the end of an era.  It just seems like with the end of one era another one will have to begin, one that might include some uprising or revolt to fix the economic woes.

- Alec Shanahan

Aug 3, 2013 / 2 notes

Sunrise from the top of Lion’s Head

Aug 3, 2013

Notice the Stars

I saw the stars for the first time tonight, despite being here in Cape Town for a month. I have been so engrossed in the projects and activities that I simply over looked them. I must have assumed that in a city it would be so difficult to see them, but low behold, I actually pointed out the Southern Cross constellation, which can only be seen in the southern hemisphere (learned that yesterday!). Sometimes when you are so caught up in things, you easily forget the little things around you.

Cape Town is the epitome of the juxtaposition of land, race, and wealth, and this whole trip has been the same. This month has been about studying urban poverty, apartheid’s legacy, micro entrepreneurship, and social enterprises. People welcomed us with their hands wide open, sharing their culture and deeply personally stories and struggles. Passing through the streets, the remnants of colonialism can be seen in the architecture of the city and spatial segregation is glaringly prominent. Apartheid’s legacy is alive and well, and we have been thoroughly educated. Yet, we travelled in a big bus, showing up to townships as spectators. We lived in apartments at Mouille Point, shopped at the Waterfront, and went everywhere in cabs. Our privilege was glaringly obvious.

I have been in a bubble for the last two years, where the topics of race, gender, and class are always discussed. Everything in this country is amplified by a million and it clearly noticeable. I have never thought about race so extensively before as I have in this country. Everywhere we go, I notice how many blacks and whites there are in a given place and why the reason may be for so many whites. Last weekend we went to TEDxCape Town, but the audience and speakers were not representative of the city.

And if there is anything that I can take back from this trip, it is that just because you go to another country, immerse yourself in social dynamics, and feel more for the depth of poverty that permeates the city, you cannot ever forget your home. You cannot continue to be ignorant of the issues that surround you. Regardless of where you go, it is the same wishes, desires, dreams, needs, and wants the people have and the only difference is the severity of their situations.

So thank you Cape Town for an incredibly intensive, yet amazing month.  I have learned a lot, done a lot, and ate a lot, but sometimes it is nice to take a break from it all and just notice the stars.

- Shivu Shah 

Aug 3, 2013

Not So Far From Home

An exhilarating 5 weeks in Cape Town, South Africa has come to an end. Having had our farewell dinner with our TSIBA peers on Saturday was a great way to end our dialogue. The students we studied with have made such a great impact on our time here and our dinner at the exotic Africa Café was a great way to bid farewell.

I have taken a lot away from this trip, but one of the things I reflect on fondly is the people we’ve met here. Having never travelled to the continent of Africa before, I had a lot of biases/stereotypes in mind and didn’t know much about South Africa. From day one, meeting the TSIBA students on our tour of the Langa Township, I knew it would be a great month. The TSIBA students opened up their school and hearts to us foreigners like we had been friends for the longest time.

Our consultation programs as well as our tours of the townships and the people we met here all showed this sense of resilience. For a country that has been through so much and only come off apartheid in 1994, there is a lot of positivity and so many have a smile on his or her face. The entrepreneurs we worked with were ambitious and didn’t see anything as impossible, only an obstacle they had to tackle. Our readings and the privilege of meeting with Ahmed Kathrada and Archbishop Desmond Tutu taught me the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation and how far it can go in one’s life.

Our final innovation program further showed me that there are people that want to make a social impact and change South Africa for the better. India and South Africa have always had a rich history; from Mahatma Gandhi being a major influence on the greats such as Nelson Mandela to the vast Indian population in South Africa there is a rich history. Being from India and wanting to do good for my country and see positive change, there was a lot I learned on this trip that can apply to India. Both countries are part of the BRICS nations and have so much scope to do better for their people and bridge that income inequality gap.

It is safe to say that we will all miss this pretty warm winter we have spent in Cape Town! 

- Prasan Shah

Aug 3, 2013

Cape of Good Hope continued 

Aug 3, 2013

Finding Common Ground

On Sunday, the group spent a beautiful day visiting penguins and then proceeded to bike the coastline of the Cape of Good Hope in the company of TSiBA students. Coming around the final bend of the bike ride, with the view of the expansive ocean opening up all around us was awe-inspiring. This day will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable days the group has spent in Cape Town, enjoying its natural beauty, but I was thrown off of my excitement by an interaction I had just a few days later.

Interacting with students at a local social enterprise, Etafeni, my classmates and I were asked what we had been doing in Cape Town. We gave several responses, one of which included our trip to the Cape of Good Hope. We were met with a response by one of the students if we thought it was fair that we were able to go to the Cape of Good Hope and he, a resident of Cape Town, had never been able to due to the high toll price. We were left speechless and very uncomfortable.

Just the day before we had discusses stepping out of our comfort zones, and here we were very much out of our comfort zones. We tried to deal with the situation as best as possible, expressing that we did not think it was fair whatsoever, but were upset that we could offer no solution or further consolation. It was yet another reminder of the large gap of both social and economic injustice in this country. A sense of guilt enveloped us but an important theme for the group this week was not only stepping out of your personal bubble, but what we can learn by doing so.

Here in Cape Town, we take the time to be conscious of our words but there is no reason we should not be doing the same thing at home in the United States. There can be someone we sit next to in class that has not been presented with the same opportunities and may never be able to. Students in the United States may also not be as vocal with these issues, but this situation showed that honesty is important on both sides. At the end of the day we can still find common ground in being 20-somethings with our whole lives ahead of us and if this trip has taught us anything it is the importance of listening, understanding, and learning from each other just as much, if not more, as we can from lessons and lectures.

- Liza Semenova

Aug 3, 2013

Abalimi Urban Farming Project

This week we were able to visit a community garden in a very unlikely place, located in the oldest township in Cape Town, Langa. Vuna, the garden’s name, is an initiative backed by Abalimi Bezekhaya a non-governmental organization that focuses on urban agriculture in the townships, and also the focus of my 10- meter view project with Professor Gordon Adomdza.  This project is the second segment of our academic program during the trip and is centered around the analysis of an organization from a wider perspective, or using a 10 meter view.  The day before, my group and I were able to visit seven different community gardens connected with Abalimi trying to outline the characteristics of what makes a successful garden and where some gardens are missing the mark.

Through our conversations with Rob, an Abalimi representative, we had hypothesized some target points that we thought were clear indicators of success including, staffing, management and training. However, our conversations with the farmers resulted in different findings.  Each garden that we visited, the groups of (mostly) older women were all approachable and welcoming to our probing questions. Although some of the more realistic concepts that we assumed would emerge did, we did encounter some surprises.  With each successful farm that we visited, we realized that in fact markers of success are not as clear cut and tangible as we had previously thought. For the gardens that held their bounty in neatly arranged, weeded and well-tended rows, the love of gardening and the passion for community involvement and improvement shone through in the gardeners that we interviewed. When asked whether he liked gardening, one garden leader who boasted a 2800 square meter garden producing vegetables to sell weekly, responded, “I love it. I just forget everything when I’m out here.”

Now, backtrack to Vuna, the community garden in Langa. Vuna is located on a huge plot of land, but failing to operate to capacity. Rob from Abalimi had asked my team to investigate why we thought this is. Upon arrival, we were greeted by two farm workers one of which had conveniently started that day. When the garden leader arrived, the differences were staggering. She sought to place blame on things that hadn’t been done for her by the City of Cape Town, the department of Agriculture, and Abalimi. Instead of focusing on what the group could do better to improve- to sell more vegetables, to expand their gardens, to get more rich soil or whatever it may be, she focused on the actions of others that failed to give her something that she thought she deserved.

As we’ve been exploring on this trip, the topic of handouts is controversial for many reasons. Will those in poverty become accustomed to what had been given to them, never working provide for themselves? Or is a handout just a stepping-stone to get someone off his or her feet? As exemplified in the contrast between the multiple urban gardens we’ve researched, those that succeed don’t succeed because of something as simple as management or getting seeds. They succeed because of their intrinsic love of gardening, their drive to feed their family and make a sustainable income; not because they’re waiting for someone else to do it for them. 

- Emma Rubbins-Breen

Aug 3, 2013

Cape of Good Hope - southwestern most point of Africa