Fulbright Scholar Katrina Van Gasse
Katrina Van Gasse '14 is a marketing major from Phoenix who will travel to Fiji to study barriers to women-led micro-enterprises.
When was your “aha moment” when you realized you could be a Fulbright candidate?
For me, it was less of this “aha moment.” Fulbright was something that was actively tossing and turning in the depths of my mind since graduation, just waiting for the right time to surface. The concept of a Fulbright became more of a reality for me once I gained the skills/experience that I thought would make me the most effective in empowering entrepreneurs. For me, a Fulbright was much more than a project proposal. I knew it would be this very intentional, directional change in my life – it would be making the decision to dedicate myself to something I'm extremely passionate about – creating entrepreneurial ecosystem around the world – and I realized that Fulbright could be the catalyst.
What sort of “high impact” experiences did you have at SCU and how did they prepare you for being a Fulbright?
SCU prepared for me for Fulbright by giving me perspective. Perspective of what matters to my core, how complex, beautiful, fragile and resilient this world is, and that living with purpose is important. My orbit at SCU became other students, professors, and groups who were focused on service, international exploration, entrepreneurship, and innovation. SCCAP (Santa Clara Community Action Program) was an organization that was extremely influential in my path. Through SCCAP I started volunteering with a multitude of community service organizations. Human justice was something I started to live out—daily—with this group. I became the Special Olympics director my sophomore year, and those experiences will forever hold a place in my heart.
The unique international opportunities SCU provided helped me discover my own interest in working in developing countries and how much we can learn from cultural experiences. I went to Panama with Global Medical Brigades my freshman year, which was the first time I had a really immersive experience in a different community, and I realized that I loved that, the opportunity to actually experience a different culture in an intimate way. We set up health clinics in rural areas in Panama – which showed me the stark reality that families and children are suffering out there when basic needs such as healthcare are not met. I also studied abroad in Cape Town. That was another experience that solidified that I wanted to be involved in something international. I spent a semester there, and I taught at an orphanage and interned for Outward Bound South Africa. Getting involved on the community level was extremely rewarding.
The experience that by far had the most influence in my path was the Global Social Benefit Fellowship. As a part of the fellowship I studied social entrepreneurship and then carried out a project in Uganda, working with three social enterprises: Solar Sisters, Angaza Design, and Kiva. They're all a little bit different, but in essence, all try to empower women with business skills to sell solar lanterns in communities that are “off the grid” in Uganda. To actually closely work with a social enterprise for an extended amount of time, and then spend two months in country, on the ground, trying to execute what you put together, was really tough, truly incredible, and life changing.
It was through this fellowship that I also got to learn more about other social enterprises and the brilliant entrepreneurs building them. This was when I first felt this pull, this overwhelming feeling that signaled this is what I want to do, this is how I can use business in creative ways to actually effect change. There are really innovative business models out there that are not just profit-driven, but rather are mission-drive, and use business models to move people, society, and human development forward. It gave me a realistic view of what it would be like to pursue international development and social entrepreneurship.
3. Where did you observe SCU’s values most in this process?
The social justice and service component that was woven into classes and the holistic curriculum that SCU provides really allowed me to gain this perspective that we are people of this shared world—we are all connected. Figuring out how you can contribute to the world and better the universe is a value that SCU stands for, and I really adopted that. This value makes you look at the world differently, you feel a connection with people, cultures, and this planet that propels you forward in discovering your own self and how you want to partake in this human life experience. That value of ‘we are a part of the world, and there are ways to contribute in whatever career you pursue,’ is something that allowed me to take my natural inclination for business, and figure out how I can use that to make a difference and impact change.
How would you describe the responsibility you were given as an undergrad at SCU?
Santa Clara really supports leadership, and I think they give people the opportunity to throw themselves into things. With the Fellowship, for example, the fellows get to partake in the Global Social Benefit Incubator when we get back from our respective summer field placements. They partner us up, the students, with an entrepreneur who is going through the incubator. These world-class entrepreneurs are learning skills and are preparing to give a business pitch to audience of investors at the end of the two weeks. And we—the fellows—are each assigned an entrepreneur and get to be their go-to person during the incubator sessions. We can help them with their PowerPoint presentation, discuss their business plan with them, or assist in any other way that would be helpful. That was just shocking to me, that, ‘oh, I'm this fellow, and I get to be partnered up with this amazing social entrepreneur to advise them?? Really!’ The entrepreneur I worked with is still in contact with me today, and I was able to help her with her PowerPoint and graph out some of her key impact metrics. She’s this renowned, really impressive entrepreneur, and I'm just this student trying to figure out life, but that sort of opportunity makes you feel like you actually have valuable insight to contribute—and that is empowering. I think they create opportunities like that, that give you the power and the opportunity to explore what you're capable of.
They force you to tap into your best self, to dig deeper. These unique experiences allow you to discover your strengths, become more confident, and therefore continue to take more risks.
What sort of support did you get along the way?
The leaders of the Miller Center and the Fellowship—Keith Warner, Thane Kreiner, and Spencer Arnold—have provided me with so much support and inspiration, not only during Santa Clara, but after too. They continuously made an effort to stay in touch, making it so apparent that they were still there, throwing different opportunities my way, and inviting me back to events that the center was hosting. Just keeping me in that circle was extremely valuable, and kept me focused on this dream. They also connected me to my first job after college, working for a social enterprise, Artisan Connect, that went through an in-residence program at the Miller Center. Beyond the Center, my current manager, Tom Hertzberg (Head of Silicon Valley Bank’s Central Life Science Team), has not only provided me with continuous support, but has also played an instrumental role in strengthening my lending skills/knowledge, helping me develop the financial skill-set needed to execute this Fulbright project. And there are many professors, friends, and family members who also supported me throughout my journey and inspired me to apply for Fulbright – no part of this journey was trekked alone.
There was one particular moment with this woman entrepreneur in Uganda, whom I was interviewing as part of these profiles we were compiling to put on the Kiva website. This women entrepreneur blew my mind with her talent and attitude. She was a mother, a talented jewelry maker, and also a Solar Sister entrepreneur in her community. I saw how this one small Kiva loan was something she was really excited about, it was going to help her buy more solar-lighting inventory and expand her business. I saw all this light inside of her—all the potential she had became so apparent to me—and I wanted to free this light, this potential, so it could fully shine through. This is where I got my biggest inspiration to explore how and if microfinance could be a tool to help underserved entrepreneurs start and grow their business. There are so many entrepreneurs out there who have so much potential and they just need to be fueled. If I could be a part of that journey, and help build that bridge for them to succeed, that feels meaningful. So that is what I am trying to do with my Fulbright project, carefully craft an accelerator program, backed by research, that aims to help women entrepreneurs address their biggest barriers so that they can grow their business and reach their full potential.