It was about five o’clock in the evening when our van took a curve a little too close to the edge of the dirt road and managed to wedge itself in a muddied ditch. I was a Field Leader at the time, working with a group of students in the Dominican Republic, and we were eager to drop off the last pair with their homestay families before it got too dark. As so often happens when traveling abroad, however, plans tend to be more aspirational than concrete, and this time was no different. We were stuck, miles from where we had come from and still too far to walk to the last house at the end of a winding mountain road.

But if one constant in traveling abroad is unpredictability, another is inevitably people’s natural instinct to help. Almost immediately, neighbors came out to have a look and poke fun at our sulking driver, who moments before had boasted how he’d never been in an accident. After everyone made clear what they thought of his driving, the neighbors quickly set about filling in the ditch and bracing the van to be pushed out. A truck with some guys stopped to help. The students and I took up positions along with the rest. And with a mixture of exertion, exhortation and expletives grunted in Spanish and English, we came together in that moment to overcome a problem that no single person could have solved on their own.

Not a solo job. Students and neighbors give their van a push, Dominican Republic 2013.

Not a solo job. Students and neighbors give their van a push,
Dominican Republic 2013.


The #ProjectEmpowerment core value for the month of February is Collaborative, of course. It’s our fifth core value, and as our followers know, it forms a part of the #ProjectEmpowerment social media campaign that highlights the core values that inspire our work at Social Entrepreneur Corps. Our core values shape the way that we approach empowerment in all aspects of our work. And how could we even begin to talk about empowerment without mentioning all of the different professionals, organizations and clients that collaborate to make change happen?

When it comes to collaboration, our job is to leverage strengths and mitigate weaknesses so that everyone has an opportunity to both add and derive value.

Here, I’ll give you a few examples.

Social Entrepreneur Corps partners with Deloitte to connect high-quality professional consulting services with local nonprofit organizations and social enterprises in Latin America. We act as the figurative bridge between stakeholders that live and work in very different environments. Everyone adds and derives value in this proposition. Local organizations benefit from breakthrough advice targeted at some of their toughest strategic problems.

Social Innovation Leader Elena Laswick poses in traditional outfit with her host family. Collaborating with our host families lets us create the most dynamic program possible!

Social Innovation Leader Elena Laswick poses in traditional outfit with her host family. Collaborating with our host families lets us create the most dynamic program possible!

Deloitte consultants report immense satisfaction from volunteering their time and professional skills in a way that maximizes the potential for impact. Even Social Entrepreneur Corps benefits from forging these strong connections, positioning itself as a leader in high-quality and skills-focused consulting for partner organizations. The three stakeholders—client organizations, Social Entrepreneur Corps and Deloitte—generate tremendous value by working together rather than going it alone.

As an organization, our bread-and-butter is linking university students with the local communities where we work year-round. Collaboration is critical to building and running strong Social Entrepreneur Corps programs. Just think of all the people that come together to make a single program run. Local families open their homes to students through our homestay program. Our local regional coordinators are out every day identifying needs and designing projects where we can integrate Social Entrepreneur Corps interns.

Screen Shot 2022-01-28 at 10.50.00 AM

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Then there is our global team, spread over three continents, which works with professors, administrators and students from our university partners to put together programs sometimes years in advance. Students themselves work in teams that often include local community leaders and entrepreneurs. In short, all of our efforts are interconnected. We try to build these programs in such a way that everyone involved, from the client in a rural Ecuadorian village to the academic dean who signs off on a partnership, adds and derives value.

So whether it’s a multi-year partnership or an afternoon vision campaign in one community, our goal remains the same: we want to see positive outcomes for the client. We want to see measurable change, and those involved should feel empowered through the process. To get there, collaboration is key. I don’t think it’s cliché to say that in our line of work, the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. When students are producing great deliverables, working side-by-side with community counterparts; when homestay families feel enriched by sharing their homes; when our global team collaborates to come up with an elegant project design, I can’t help but feel inspired. That’s when we’re at our best.