Bringing hope to others . . . and themselves

Enactus takes the most basic motivations of generosity and philanthropy to another level

Editor’s note: This story appeared in the debut print edition of Lambton Shield Just a few days after it appeared, it was announced that the team from Lambton College won the Enactus World Cup, where students competed in live rounds of presentations against 34 other international college and university teams. Lambton is the first Canadian college to ever take home the top prize.

Parents may be wondering (as many do) if the current up-and-coming generation has “lost its soul,” perhaps the result of any number of changes to society, including moral decline, or any manner of differences compared with their own experience.

A piece of advice: look to Enactus as an example of how things are actually getting better.

Yes, perhaps even better than they were when you were much younger than you are today.

And what is Enactus?

Originally known as SIFE—Students in Free Enterprise—the organization, which has its headquarters in Missouri, was formed nearly 40 years ago and has 1,730 campuses engaging some 72,000 students.

Enactus—which stands for ENtrepeneurial ACTion US—found its way to Lambton College in 2012, the result of two faculty advisors, Jon Milos and Carly Vandenende, who is a professor and program coordinator in the business department. Rob Kardas, then dean of the School of Business, was also instrumental in the launch.

Milos, initially the local chapter’s faculty advisor, remains involved in a big way, according to his successor, Matt Hutchinson, who is also an associate professor in the Business & Creative Design Department.

Courtney Neilson, who is earning a degree through Nipissing University’s connection with Lambton College, serves as president of the local chapter, even as she is also working part-time at Lambton.

Sounds busy? That seems to be a running theme when it comes to Enactus Lambton College.

It certainly was for Hutchinson, who came to Lambton College after earning his MBA at University of Windsor and before that, a Bachelor of Commerce at McMaster University. He also earned a graduate certificate through an international coop partnership at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

But it was Enactus that has provided Hutchinson with the kind of energy one could only hope for a career that began nearly five years ago.

That was when Hutchinson first heard about what Enactus was about and expressed an interest to Milos, who in typical fashion started giving him “menial tasks to prove my worth.”

Hutchinson is chuckling even as he tells the story that ended up in Milos handing over the faculty advisor role to him in 2016.

How Enactus Lambton College first got its footing is a story worth telling, one that involves a student from Zambia, Tom Chona, who approached Milos with a real need in his community, the installation of a micro grid based on solar power.

Milos agreed and began to do the research, taking the first of what would turn out to be about 30 trips to Zambia since Enactus was formed at Lambton College.

Chona went on to earn an advanced diploma in Alternative Energy Engineering from Lambton, followed by a bachelor’s degree in Adult Education and Digital Technology from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and a Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology, Engineering degree from Western University.

Neilson relates how the Zambia project grew far beyond what was initially in Chona’s mind.

“We quickly discovered that the villages weren’t at the point where solar power would have made much of a difference,” she said.

In fact, their biggest need was food. “They couldn’t feed themselves,” says Neilson, who with her group went back to Sarnia-Lambton where they began to consult with an agronomist at South West Ag Partners, a company based in Chatham. That resulted in valuable insights into new farming techniques that lead to crop yields three to five times what they were previously.

The project’s name—One Seed—reflects how one of the most basic needs is being met.

“We’re now seeing the community able to invest in infrastructure, including schools, health clinics and irrigation systems,” adds Neilson.

Enactus Lambton College now has a portfolio of some eight projects, something made possible with about 30 members and a system that assigns a project to one of the student leaders.

How those projects get managed is very much up to the students themselves, although guidance comes from Hutchinson and others.

“Even when students leave Lambton, they have the option of staying involved as alumni,” notes Neilson, who expects that will happen when she graduates.

One of the ongoing projects is “Strength in Numbers,” a financial literacy curriculum that is being taught locally and in Zambia.

There is also an entrepreneurial training program that Enactus members are extending to First Nations students at Walpole Island, Aamjiwnaang, and Kettle & Stony Point. As part of that initiative, a business pitch competition was held at the end of the workshop this past year, with plans to continue the initiative on a regular basis.

Hutchinson says one of the strengths of Enactus is its inherent ability to breed innovation and excellence in multiple ways as students gain experience and are inspired.

“It’s really amazing to see how the students rise to the occasion,” he added.

The organization is also sensitive to the workload of students, who manage peak times with their school activities, not unlike a “real world” experience where there are busier times than others.

And speaking of “real world” benefits, Neilson says she’s been able to take her knowledge gained in the classroom to an entirely new level as a result of her involvement with Enactus.

“On the academic side, l was able to take everything I thought I knew in the classroom and really learned it outside the classroom through Enactus,” she said. “Things like supply chain management, international relations, the value chain, being able to apply those concepts through our work in Enactus is something where overcoming obstacles is a big part of the learning experience.”

Although Neilson, who previously attended university where she studied human resources, says she’s still not entirely sure what she will do when she graduates.

But that’s okay too.

“With Enactus, you graduate with a background that’s so well rounded that there’s really no limit to what a student can get involved with. They can achieve anything through this program.”

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