Campus News

Students travel to Tanzania for social innovation course

UB students visiting Tanzania will have an opportunity to take part in a guided safari through the Serengeti Game Preserve. Photo: Cliff Kemper, via Wikimedia Commons

By BERT GAMBINI

Published July 14, 2017

“We never know what will happen; what we will see, how the students will react and how they will integrate and leverage their experiences within their broader plans and goals.”
Mara Huber, associate dean of undergraduate research and experiential learning

A small group of UB undergraduates committed to acquiring the knowledge and understanding necessary for discovering and developing new avenues of social change will travel to Eastern Africa on July 15 as part of an intensive, experiential, social innovation and marketing course in the United Republic of Tanzania.

Immersed in a different culture and surrounded with the opportunities provided by place-based learning, the seven students will spend two weeks in Tanzania’s Mara region, along Lake Victoria on the edge of Serengeti National Park. The course will challenge students’ assumptions, clarify their own sense of purpose and develop within them profound learning experiences, says Mara Huber, associate dean of undergraduate research and experiential learning.

Social innovation, the course’s overarching theme, is an evolving term that considers the problems faced by entire societies and explores the multiple factors that might contribute to pioneering solutions. It is a novel and transforming method of responding to long-standing struggles by engineering positive, comprehensive and sustainable social change built from a foundation of ingenuity, originality and creativity.

Upon their return from Tanzania, the students will reflect on their experiences and work in teams or independently on marketing/social innovation projects that will seek to make a meaningful contribution to the university’s Tanzanian partners, based on what they learned and experienced during their time there.

“We never know what will happen; what we will see, how the students will react and how they will integrate and leverage their experiences within their broader plans and goals,” says Huber, who will accompany the students on the trip along with Empire State College associate professor Dan Nyaronga and Debora Grossman, clinical assistant professor of marketing in the UB School of Management.

“This is the promise of experiential learning — and when you look at UB through the lens of vast experiences and connections that our faculty and staff offer — there are infinite opportunities to help students touch the world in a way that will benefit all involved.”

Bak USA, a social enterprise that builds mobile computers in Buffalo, donated 25 new computers to the group. The Atlas 10, Bak USA’s 2-in-1 laptop built specifically for use in education, will be used to explore and engage high-tech learning opportunities in Tanzania.

“Enhancing education and activating social change are in our DNA,” says Bak USA President Ulla Bak. “We’re also a proud partner of the University at Buffalo, and so we are extremely excited to provide the technology that will support the university’s efforts to create sustainability for deserving communities around the world.”

The course is part of the UB Curriculum, the university’s new curriculum for undergraduate students focused on preparing students for life, career and citizenship in a diverse and dynamic world.

Through their readings, discussions, activities and meetings with local villagers, community leaders and educators, the students will expand their knowledge of Tanzanian culture and history. They’ll gain new insights into the ethical, social and environmental challenges within global systems and sharpen their awareness of how Western perspectives differ from those of other cultures.

A guided safari through the Serengeti Game Preserve also is part of the course.

“I have dreams to become a doctor someday and would love the chance to work for Doctors without Borders,” says Danielle Nerber, an anthropology major with a pre-medical concentration who is among the students enrolled in the course. “This trip will push me out of my comfort zone and allow me to be fully open to helping those in need and making an impact as a young global leader.

“I am so thankful UB has given me this chance,” she says.

Applying a marketing lens to the challenges the students will see in Africa is part of UB’s growing focus on social innovation.

“During this trip, we will observe, listen and study the partners’ businesses,” says Grossman. “As the students learn about the challenges faced by our partners, I will encourage them to think about how to apply marketing skills to make meaningful social changes.”

Alison Balind, then a UB MSW student from Canada, speaks with a local student during a trip to Tanzania in January 2016.

The School of Management and the School of Social Work have launched an initiative to bring entrepreneurial and socially minded students together with faculty from both schools to learn from one another, broaden their skillsets and perspectives, and help mission-driven organizations. So far, the partnership has yielded the sold-out Leading Innovation in the Social Sector conference, a series of workshops and a co-taught class, and the Social Impact Fellows, an eight-week internship program offered in partnership with the Blackstone LaunchPad at UB.

Members of the UB community have been traveling to the Mara Region since 2009 to engage in learning, support and collaboration. Beginning in 2014, that project, known informally as the Buffalo Tanzania Education Project, became a study abroad opportunity for UB students to explore community development through the interconnected lenses of education, health, economics and infrastructure.

These frequent trips over the past seven years have fostered relationships between the UB community and a number of partners in the region, including the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa, who first invited Huber to Tanzania, and the Nyamete Women’s Group.

“I connected the [Nyamete Women’s Group] with American Women for International Understanding, an organization I’m affiliated with,” Huber says. “They have since secured two mini-grants to support their efforts around a poultry project. This is an example of small-scale social innovation having the potential to make real change.

“It’s impossible to know what will come up since every trip is different,” she says. “Reflecting on last year’s trip, I can say that every student had some pivotal experiences that really touched them in profound ways. Many are struck by how happy the children and people are despite having so little. This seems to be a major theme that comes across and causes the students to question their own lives and choices.”