NH International Seminar explores social entrepreneurship
Published: Friday, September 28, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 16:02
After traveling to developing countries, Greg Van Kirk realized that some of the goods that are easily attainable for Americans are much more difficult to acquire in other countries. In order to make reading glasses, stoves and restaurants more easily attainable, the MicroConsignment Model was developed as an economically sustainable solution for a better world.
Van Kirk spoke to UNH students on Tuesday about the impact of social entrepreneurship and what he has done to make the world a better place. He spoke at the first of three talks being held on campus this semester for the annual New Hampshire International Seminar (NHIS) conference sponsored by UNH’s Center for International Education.
Van Kirk is the co-founder of Community Enterprise solutions, which is a foundation that helps people to garner their resources. He also helped to establish the Social Entrepreneur Core, which engages with universities and students and promotes education on various business aspects.
After graduating from college, Van Kirk worked in Japan for a few years, where he realized he wanted to make more of a difference in the world. Van Kirk decided to quit his job and join the Peace Corps in Guatemala.
He said that he needed to understand the people and their situation, so that he wouldn’t sympathize with them, but rather empathize. This, he explained, was of utmost importance.
“I needed to understand their situation,” Van Kirk said. “I needed to get empathetic.”
Van Kirk began helping with the development of the Internet in Guatemala and helped to make it accessible for people. It wasn’t until he had spent some time in this developing country that he realized the country’s lack of Internet access was just one of many problems.
He realized there wasn’t much for people to do.
“Every problem is an opportunity,” Van Kirk told the room full of students.
Working to find a solution to this problem, he started a restaurant where all of the profits went toward helping the community. The restaurant was successful and became a place where the people could congregate and enjoy each other’s company, Van Kirk said.
There were still other problems in the community that Van Kirk was intent on changing. Stoves were commodities that the community members did not have at their leisure. The people of Guatemala would have to fetch wood and cook their food on the ground. This was something Van Kirk found completely unacceptable.
Van Kirk came up with a model for entrepreneurs to sell stoves, called the MicroConsignment Model.
The model served as a tool to help people get ordinary objects like stoves or eyeglasses. The ultimate goal of this model is to keep people from going into poverty.
Van Kirk said that microcredit is an idea in economics that provides loans and access to capital as a result. This is not part of the model. Instead of microcredit, the model uses consignment.
According to Van Kirk, the model “converts uncertainty to risk.” This means that uncertainty makes one feel paralyzed and without options, but a risk presents the opportunity to take action.
This economic model provides a secure opportunity as long as the community moves forward. The model focuses on localization where local people in the community are able to take on the entrepreneurship and make an impact.
This model has helped to bring resources to people throughout the community, eyeglasses being another successful venture.
Though certainly a successful concept coming from a brilliantly innovative mind, Van Kirk left the attendees with some food for thought.
“You just gotta get out there,” he advised the students. “And make a lot of mistakes.”