Summer Centered: Rebecca Fisher ‘18 Practices Social Entrepreneurship in Uganda
The romance languages major is working with financial tech start-up Ubuntu Capital as a Whitehead Intern.
Just north of the equator, Rebecca Fisher ’18 is living in a fast-moving city with people from all over the world. In Uganda’s capital city of Kampala, perched on the shore of Lake Victoria, Fisher is using support from the Center for Career and Professional Advising’s Whitehead Internship Program to work at the financial technology start-up Ubuntu Capital, which strives to provide small and medium enterprises with digital marketing in emerging markets.
Uganda, like similar countries in East Africa, relies heavily on an informal economy consisting of people (such as tailors, maids, drivers, or carpenters) rendering unregulated and untaxed services. Because roughly 80 percent of the economic market in Uganda is in this informal sector, explains Fisher, “it’s a huge challenge to find legitimate service providers and in general, there is a lack of transparency and lack of information, especially since so few people have an online presence.”
Fisher, a romance languages major at Bryn Mawr and a peace, justice, and human rights concentrator, is interning at the company to help them further their goal of supporting legitimate local enterprises in Kampala, connecting them with customers and boosting the surrounding economy. Her daily tasks are wide-ranging: she visits and assesses local service providers (especially tailors and carpenters), recruits customers, researches markets and competitors, and meets with local businesses and entrepreneurs.
“I'm constantly meeting people, really spending time in the city, visiting local business, and learning so much,” she said.
Fisher’s path to Uganda follows an eventful year in which her interest in social entrepreneurships was piqued. While enrolled in “Social Enterprise for Social Change” at Swarthmore in the fall she participated with Haverford classmate Joey Leroux ’18 in the Haverford-Swarthmore Design Thinking Workshop Series, sponsored by the Microfinance and Impact Investing Initiative (Mi3) and the brand new Haverford Innovation Program (HIP). Fisher and Leroux developed a model for their own social enterprise by creating a food product created out of crickets that provided a sustainable protein source. They won the series’ pitch competition, and would go on to take second at Swat Tank, a student business plan competition at Swarthmore.
“I’m really interested in social entrepreneurship and how the for-profit industry can be leveraged for positive social change,” said Fisher, who just spent several weeks in May with Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics Shannon Mudd researching entrepreneurship and access to finance in the Balkans. She is considering incorporating social entrepreneurship through the lense of tourism in Italy in her upcoming thesis.
She now has the opportunity to bring her interests to a brand new environment that is, as she explains, “both fast and slow.”
“You walk on the street and everything is in constant motion—people, cars, bikes, boda bodas [small motorcycles that function as informal transit in East African cities],” she said. “But at the same time this is a place people will sit down for a two-hour lunch and it's completely relaxed.”
She is enhancing her 10-week position with local mountain biking trips, camping, and a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables (especially mangos). She is living in an expat community house with international diplomats, NGO employees, and researchers. Her work allows her to learn more about the local economic market at the people who comprise it.
“I can't think of a more fun place to spend a summer,” she said.
-Michael Weber ‘19
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.