Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Starting a new SIFE Team

After referring to it a few times before, I'll finally tell you some more about my experiences setting up a new team of Students in Free Enterprise at George Washington University. SIFE GWU is a student driven organization that strives to make a difference in the local and global community through stimulating, implementing, and teaching the principles of free enterprise. It is a chapter of the international organization Students In Free Enterprise that is active in 40 countries.
Actually, I wrote the following post for a newsletter of SIFE the Netherlands, but it covers pretty much I would have written here anyway.

It all started with an information-meeting of GWU’s Global Language Network, where I was supposed to volunteer as a Dutch teacher. However, I decided that instead of teaching, I’d rather set up a new SIFE team that would implement projects to support small enterprises for years to come.

Of course I ran into all kinds of bureaucratic procedures that I had to go through, but in general the support for studentorgs is well organized here, for example with an online-tool to create our own website (see A bigger challenge was to get people motivated to get on the team, actively contribute to the organization and stay on the team. Of the twelve people who initially showed interest in SIFE GWU, only five are still active now! The biggest problem is that many students here are so eager to build up a lengthy resume that they rather engage in a time-consuming internship (even unpaid ones) than in a student organization. The job market here in DC is just so competitive that many people think you won’t make it without numerous internships under your belt.

On the other hand, we have just recruited eight new members and they seem to be very motivated. Our team consists of a nice mix of American and international students, graduate and undergraduate and business and international affairs students. We are working on three projects now, one to help artists in Washington, DC to market their art, one to teach children how to sell the crops of their school’s vegetable gardens at a local market in DC and one to set up a network of tourist guides in Mexico City who will show their own barrio to tourists. It is hard to get everything going and to get people involved into something that they don’t know much about, but I think we have a great team, some good ideas and very capable support. I just had a meeting with a professor at George Mason University who is also a consultant in International Finance. She is willing to be part of our Business Advisory Board. So are an alumnus of the ITIP program who is now working on project monitoring and evaluation for Africa at USAID and an ITIP alumna who works on small business support in China.

Next to the fact that I now have the opportunity to shape a new SIFE team and help students turn their project proposals into reality, I am very excited about the professional approach of students and faculty here in DC. The Elliott School, and of course the business school, takes a much more hands-on approach than Leiden University. Students are very eager to look outside of the academic environment and work on something that will have an impact on society. As long as their eagerness to get into the Department of State doesn’t interfere with this, SIFE GWU can respond to this demand and really add something to the university and its students.

Monday, March 09, 2009

My light...

So it's been already three months since my last update! And indeed, this semester has been crazy, I've been working on my courses, SIFE GWU (, Arabic and trying to find an internship this summer, and it has all kept me busy as always. More about that in a next post, for now I want to tell about the most important thing that has made this semester very special: my girlfriend.
We've already been together since October, but it has been developing into something more and more special over the months. Actually, it became clear pretty soon that we're made for each other - there's almost nothing we're not both interested in, ranging from development economics and buddhism to good vegetarian food and hip-hop. I never thought I would run into such a great person!
But luckily I did, so we spend more and more time together, and in April I will even move in with her! Well, I'm at her appartment most of the time anyway, so it won't be such a big difference, but of course it's still a big step. But I'm confident that it will be great: coming home to find her there, or being there when she gets back from work, cooking together, listening to music together, waking up together...
Chloe (my girlfriend) currently works at Ashoka, an NGO that stimulates social entrepreneurship, to set up a low-cost healthservice franchise. The first pilot should be launched in India in the next few months. She also studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs, like me, and that's where I met her. However, she studies International Science and Technology Policy and she'll be done in May - lucky girl - and will then start working full-time at Ashoka. Right now she's in Kenya with three classmates for her capstone (final) project, evaluating the use of diagnostic software at the Kenyan Ministry of Health - lucky girl! She is focussing on the perception of usefulness and ease of use of the software. So in the meanwhile I'm just studying for my midterms, and once they're over on Wednesday I'll work on my Arabic, because that's never good enough... I can't wait until she comes back on March 21st!