Miller Center Fellowship

It was an ambitious project and the work was grueling, but traveling and working in East Africa for eight weeks was the experience of a lifetime for seniors Paris Coyne and Shelby Crespi (l-r, photo), who were among the 2015 Global Social Benefit Fellows from SCU’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. “As a student, you sometimes think ‘it would be cool to do something that big someday,’ but Miller Center said to us, ‘why not do something that cool, that big, right now?’” says Crespi, a Public Health major with a minor in Biology. 

She’s referring to the production of promotional videos highlighting two social enterprises, BanaPads, in Uganda, and Solar Sister, in Tanzania. Both enterprises were conceived by local entrepreneurs and mentored by Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GBSI®) to go from business plan to launch. While other undergraduate Fellows continued to work on the business side of the companies, the Coyne-Crespi team developed the key element to help generate investment and establish a web presence and branding for the companies’ products.
In Uganda, to highlight BanaPads (which produces affordable sanitary pads made of dried banana stem fibers), they filmed women describing how menstruation affects them and their daughters, who often miss school during their cycle because they don’t have access to the industrialized pads taken for granted elsewhere. They spoke to BanaPads Champions, women who buy and resell pads at schools and in villages, using a portion of their profit margins to invest in other ventures. In Tanzania, they documented the dire need to replace kerosene lamps, often the only source of nocturnal light and always a risk to health, safety and the environment. Through its solar lamps, Solar Sister fills that need. By providing earning potential for women as resellers and distributors, both companies give them financial agency and, in the case of BanaPads, ownership over a subject that is often as silenced in East Africa as it is in many other parts of the world. 

“The Fellowship opened up for me the whole area of global citizenship. Social entrepreneurs don’t look at problems as such, but rather as opportunities to create more stable and healthier communities. That’s a very different way of looking at the world, and we all need to do some of that,” says Coyne, a Communication major with an emphasis in cinema-making studies. She hopes that their work will empower local entrepreneurs, contribute to the local economy, and make a difference for thousands of families and, particularly, girls and women. 

Their disparate disciplines made the pair an unlikely team, yet they quickly learned to collaborate and depend on each other. In some cases, while Coyne negotiated uneven streets with one eye glued to a walking subject and the other to her Canon XA20’s recording screen, Shelby asked the right questions through an interpreter, continuously worrying about maintaining a good sound feed and making sure that Coyne did not trip while filming. It was exhausting, but nothing was left to chance—their videos had to be professional-grade, as required by their Fellowship.  They, along with the other 16 fellows, showcased their final “action research projects” during a standing-room-only event at SCU’s de Saisset Museum on November 16, 2015. 

Inspired by the experience, Crespi is already applying for a Master’s program in Public Health focusing on women’s health. Fluent in Spanish, her goal is to one day work in South America, tackling “health disparities in marginalized communities through Public Health.” For Coyne, East Africa beckons and she knows that she’ll have to go back at some point. “I’d like to do feature-length documentaries on transformative gender roles and female entrepreneurs because that’s a big trend that needs to highlighted,” she says.  

About GBSI® and Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship
Since 2003, GBSI® has helped launch over 500 social enterprises, collectively impacting the lives of over 130 million people worldwide and attracting over $178 million in investment capital. Learn more at