Empower Generation was lucky enough to have three summer fellows this year: Graduate Program and Development Fellow Hannah Girardeau from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and Miller Center Global Social Benefit Fellows Ashraf (Ash) Hammad and Clarissa Nguyen, undergraduate students at Santa Clara University. Ash and Hannah spent the summer conducting monitoring and evaluation research and are currently writing an impact report for us while Clarissa wrote entrepreneur profiles for our 2015 annual report and is now developing videos for our website.
Immediately following the trip, Ash wrote a reflection about his experience. Here he discusses being in Nepal for the first time and learning more about the women entrepreneurs in our network and the hardships they have had to overcome.
I currently study Political Science and Arab, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies at Santa Clara University. My interest in the MENA region led to enrollment in a semester-long program with the School of International Training (SIT) in Rabat, Morocco, which culminated into a three-week project where I was able to conduct qualitative research on young Moroccans’ definitions of individual freedoms. While a short period, I found the experience tremendously valuable and academically exhilarating. The nature of my studies has always drawn me towards action research on socio-political and economic issues. Early level undergraduate work, however, often involves a small amount of primary research, and it was a very challenging and fulfilling experience to conduct primary research for the first time while abroad.
My time in Morocco ignited a fire inside of me that could not be extinguished, and I felt lost as to how to proceed next. When I discovered the Global Social Benefit Fellowship and the opportunity to work with Empower Generation in Nepal, I felt as if fate had driven me to a solution to the dilemma of how to continue my professional and personal development through the application of my passions.
Admittedly, I knew very little of Nepal when I applied for this fellowship. Through further research, I began to understand the tremendous challenges of energy access within the country and some of the societal pressures preventing women from succeeding in a patriarchal society. While I have always had a passion for social justice and action research, I could never have anticipated just how difficult and gratifying impact research in Nepal could be.
Through our research and publication of an impact report, we hope to help Empower Generation better understand its social impact on women-led enterprises, their sales agents, and customers in order to better serve them. In this pursuit, I have found impact assessment research tremendously challenging and equally rewarding. Our questionnaire varied in depth from simple economic inquiries such as estimated familial income to complex questions regarding empowerment, communal respect, and status as a result of business ownership. Naturally, these questions led to stories about the personal background of each entrepreneur.
I continuously found myself marveled and inspired at the trials and tribulations of daily life and business ownership that these women overcome and continue to face in the context of a male-dominated society, exacerbated by the devastation of last year’s earthquake. The conclusion of each interview left me awestruck at the poise, perseverance, and kindness displayed by each woman.
Discussing topics such as domestic violence, human trafficking, conjugal power structures, and educational and vocational opportunities for women in Nepal was extremely difficult. As much as I try and learn about the oppressive nature of living as a woman in a patriarchal society, I can never truly understand it. I consider myself a feminist, but I will never have to face the same hurdles that women face globally. I can sympathize, but not empathize. I am honored and feel privileged to hear the stories of these women and garner their insights.
The past eight weeks have flown by faster than I ever could have anticipated, and although I’ve been back home for a week now, it still feels like I am still digesting my entire summer experience. Being in Nepal was an immensely positive experience for my professional, academic, and personal development. Empower Generation has a profound social impact on the lives of the entrepreneurs that it supports, and I am extremely excited to articulate my findings into a monitoring and evaluation report.