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Entrepreneurial mindset used to combat poverty

Emma Rubbins-​​Breen did not plan on doing her first co-​​op in a for­eign country. But after an inter­na­tional co-​​op advisor spoke to her Intro to Co-​​op class, she could not shake the idea of working abroad.

“I have to do this,” the third-​​year inter­na­tional affairs major recalled thinking. “If I had this oppor­tu­nity, I knew I should take it.”

So she sched­uled a meeting with a member of the inter­na­tional co-​​op staff, who later iden­ti­fied the per­fect oppor­tu­nity for the Ver­mont native: Fun­dación Paraguaya, a social enter­prise in Paraguay that aims to combat poverty.

Fun­dación Paraguaya focuses on three core areas—microfinance, entre­pre­neur­ship edu­ca­tion, and sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture. Rubbins-​​Breen was involved in the first two, working as an assis­tant loan officer and leader in the foundation’s Youth Ambas­sadors pro­gram. The pro­gram pre­pares high school stu­dents to attend a lead­er­ship con­fer­ence in the United States and then form their own non­govern­mental orga­ni­za­tions aimed toward improving their communities.

Rubbins-​​Breen con­ducted inter­views in both Eng­lish and Spanish to iden­tify the high school stu­dents who would make the trip to the U.S. When they returned to Paraguay, she facil­i­tated the cre­ation of a library, cul­tural center, and envi­ron­mental cleanup ini­tia­tive. “The work these young people are doing is just amazing,” she said. “They work hard for these oppor­tu­ni­ties, so it was great to give them the tools they needed to make real change.”

In her work with the organization’s micro­fi­nance ini­tia­tive, Rubbins-​​Breen taught loan recip­i­ents the entre­pre­neurial skills to build pros­perous ven­tures. “We wanted to get them involved in the market and thinking in an entre­pre­neurial mindset,” she said, noting that many of her clients were women.

Rubbins-​​Breen returned to North­eastern this semester, her appetite for social entre­pre­neur­ship whetted. She will par­tic­i­pate in the Social Enter­prise Insti­tute’s Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram to South Africa this summer and plans on doing her next co-​​op with a Boston-​​area orga­ni­za­tion that focuses on social enter­prise or eco­nomic advo­cacy. “These expe­ri­ences will pre­pare me to work for non­profit orga­ni­za­tions in the future,” she said.

– by Matt Collette

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