By Phil Goodwin, Executive Director of Lifeline Technologies
My mother was less than happy that I chose to study product design rather than obtain a BA degree at a top South Africa university. I promised her at the time that I would – after graduating in product design, my passion. I never imagined it would take me almost 20 years – and certainly not that I would find myself in one California’s finest universities.
This year I was privileged to be awarded a scholarship, along with 18 other social entrepreneurs, to attend the Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) programme at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley. GSBI, now in its 10th year, is the signature programme of the Centre for Science, Technology and Society at the university. The five-month online programme, working with Silicon Valley mentors, is followed by an intensive two-week residential course geared to assist socially minded entrepreneurs to amplify their impact.
After so many years, I wasn’t sure what to expect getting back into a lecture room. Whatever my expectations might have been, they were dramatically exceeded. Our cohort consisted of 19 social entrepreneurs from across the globe and with a focus including education, finance, solar lighting, biofuel and women’s health. Further, it was extremely encouraging to note the balance of the group – more than half were women and more than half from Africa. It was wonderful to share experiences from other Africans working in Africa, as well as people from other countries dedicating their skills to mitigate some of the many challenges faced in Africa – from food security and agriculture to biodiesel production, efficient cooking stoves, solar lighting and sanitary pad manufacture from banana tree fibres.
In addition to the opportunity to collaborate with other like-minded social businesses facing similar challenges, we all benefitted from interaction with excellent academic staff and a team of speakers and mentors comprising successful executives from Silicon Valley and beyond. For entrepreneurial initiatives, especially involving technology, there in nowhere better to learn, and no better group to learn from. I was surprised at how engaged, passionate and genuinely committed everyone was to the programme – and to helping advance the work of all 19 entrepreneurs through an open sharing of knowledge and experience.
With the tools and support extended through the GSBI programme, I’m not only more focussed and energised, but excited to be standing at a pivot point. Lifeline Technologies is poised to vastly improve the lives and opportunities of tens of millions of children in the developing world through our clean energy products. I am grateful to the team at Santa Clara, led by Eric Carlson, for the opportunity to be a part of the GSBI ecosystem. I look forward to helping reach the collective goal of positively impacting one billion lives.