Portraits of Service
Elizabeth Nakato ’13
Empower African Children
When her parents passed away, Elizabeth Nakato thinks she was in the third grade. The details are sketchy. To this day, she’s not sure how they died.
Nakato may have had a difficult childhood in a country, Uganda, with a turbulent history, but she doesn’t want to be burdened by her past. “It is what it is,” she says. “It’s a part of who I am, but it does not define me. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me.”
Nakato volunteers with Empower African Children, a nonprofit that supports Ugandan children in need. Empower is close to Nakato’s heart. In the trying times that followed her parents’ passing, the organization was there for her. Among other support, it gave her scholarships to a Ugandan boarding school and then to an American community college, an experience that ultimately led her to Babson.
Nakato is grateful for all that Empower has done. She intends to help the organization any way she can for the rest of her life. “They’re the reason I’ve come so far,” Nakato says. She speaks on behalf of Empower to various groups and, in Uganda, serves as a guide for volunteers working with the nonprofit. For years she danced and sang with Empower’s touring company, Spirit of Uganda, which performs throughout North America to bring attention to the plight of Uganda’s more than 2 million orphans. Earlier this year, she helped bring the Spirit of Uganda to Babson’s campus.
Nakato eventually plans to move back to Uganda. She wants to start a cosmetics company that uses natural products and employs women from the villages. She also hopes to work in real estate and help move the country’s marginalized people into affordable housing. “They need me back home,” she says.
Above: Elizabeth Nakato (center) in Uganda.
Left: Photography by Tom Kates
David Ashworth, MBA’08
Bindaas Social Ventures
David Ashworth doesn’t like the word slum. It’s disparaging and dismissive. When he visits Nairobi, Kenya, he focuses on the potential of the city’s destitute areas and the smart people who live there. He’s the founder of San Francisco-based Bindaas Social Ventures. Its goal: to provide training and support to residents of poor communities so they can work in the growing industry of business process outsourcing.
Ashworth’s path to Nairobi began in 2006 during a break from the corporate world. “I started to question things,” he says. Taking off for a six-month road trip, he traveled to the Rocky Mountains to ski and then headed south. Eventually, he ended up in Guatemala. Touring a nonprofit set up on the edge of a city dump, where children rummage for recyclables, he saw severe poverty firsthand. “I was a suburban kid who only saw poverty on TV,” he says. He contemplated how to help people living in such crushing conditions.
Years passed. Ashworth continued visiting Guatemala, attended Babson, and taught entrepreneurship in its Ghana program. After graduation, he interned in Kenya with an organization employing the impoverished in Web-based jobs. Armed with these experiences, he launched Bindaas in 2011. So far he has partnered with for-profit outsourcing companies that can funnel Bindaas work and with nonprofits that can help workers with issues that can hinder long-term employment, such as a lack of family services.
The last piece to making Bindaas a reality is also the most capital intensive: setting up computer centers in poor communities. But once that happens, Bindaas will be a sustainable enterprise aiming to make people self-suffcient. “We want people to take a life of action,” Ashworth says.
Above: David Ashworth (right) in Kenya.
Right: Photography by Annie Tritt
Melissa Rancourt, MBA’01
Greenlight for Girls
Being a woman in science can be challenging. In college studying industrial engineering, Melissa Rancourt was part of a student group for women engineers. Once, while handing out her group’s fliers, she was accosted by some male students trying to intimidate her. Another time, her group’s poster was defaced with vulgar graffti. Rancourt promptly hung a new one. When starting her career, she worked on the shop floor of a big company, leading a team of engineers. One day, a worker stopped putting together the motor in front of him and challenged her to finish it. She marched over and did just that, and he never challenged her again.
This perception, that women aren’t meant to work in science, still too often is perpetuated—and girls too often accept it. For 20 years, Rancourt volunteered to encourage girls to enter engineering. She mentored, and she participated in science and math competitions, but she eventually questioned the impact of such efforts. “The number of girls going into engineering was decreasing,” she says. “That bothered me.”
Taking action, she founded Greenlight for Girls in 2010. Based in Brussels, the organization promotes science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the so-called STEM fields, to girls of all ages by offering workshops and scholarships. The organization engages an army of volunteers, more than 600 in its first 18 months, and it runs programs in a host of countries: India, Brazil, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the U.S., and five more in Europe.
When reaching out to girls, Rancourt hopes they keep an open mind to the sciences. “If you can inspire a child early on, you can at least keep the doors open.”
Above right: Melissa Rancourt (left) in India.
Above: Photography by Natalie Hill
Habitat for Humanity
Building homes in the heat of El Salvador isn’t easy. “In five minutes, you’re covered in sweat,” says Lisa Thomas, director of faith and service at Babson. Twice a year, Babson teams of students, staff, and alumni travel to the El Salvadorian town of Getsemani to build homes for Habitat for Humanity. Adequate housing is needed in Getsemani, an impoverished community where houses lack plumbing and are made of sticks, tarps, and sheet metal.
Babson has been coming to El Salvador since 2006, and through the years, has helped construct 21 homes in Getsemani. The program’s overseer, Thomas treks annually to the town and has made many friends there. Working alongside local builders and the family who will move into the new house, she and the Babson team members carry cinderblocks, mix cement, and slather on chispa, a mixture of cement and rocks.
Thanks to the work of two recent graduates, Rosa Ortiz ’11 and Emilio Siman ’12, the program has added an entrepreneurship component. During breaks from building, team members talk to local women and high school students about how to start a buisness. The team also consults with three local startups, which have made great strides. “Entrepreneurship gives them hope and a future,” Thomas says. “They see they can make extra money to help their families.”
At the end of the trips, the town throws a fiesta with a cake, band, and dancing. “It’s about thanking us for being there,” Thomas says. “It’s a big celebration.” For Thomas, the program’s great reward is witnessing the impact of Babson’s efforts on Getsemani’s people, in seeing the increased self-esteem of the new homeowners and the growing confidence of the entrepreneurs. “Their heads are held high,” she says.
Above: Lisa Thomas in El Salvador.
Right: Photography by Tom Kates
Li Li ’00
Li Li’s career isn’t typical for a Babson alumna. She works as a physical therapist at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Milton, Mass. Caring for patients who have suffered heart attacks, strokes, brain injuries, and fractures, she helps them ease their pain and learn anew how to do many of life’s basics: getting out of bed, walking, going to the bathroom. This is work far removed from the business world, though Li still uses skills—including problem solving, analysis, and effective communication—that she learned at Babson.
Li’s profession takes her to faraway places. Every year she accompanies physical therapy students from Northeastern University traveling to Ecuador. They volunteer in a Quito orphanage where many of the children have disabilities.
She’s also on the board of advisers of HandReach, an organization that cares for poor children who have suffered severe burns and amputations. With the group, she takes trips to China, meeting children who have been injured so badly they often aren’t allowed in school. Their appearance causes too much disruption. “When they go to school, the kids make fun of them,” Li says. “It pains my heart.”
Li tries to provide her young patients with confidence and independence. She remembers one child who couldn’t walk because he lost leg muscles from a severe burn. During therapy, she put him on a scooter, which allowed him to lie on his belly and move around using his hands. “He had a big smile on his face,” she says. “I still remember it.” Li admits her trips are emotionally draining. She tries to put her feelings for the children aside and focus on the tasks at hand. “In the moment, you have to do what you need to do,” Li says.
Above: Li Li (left) in China.
Left: Photography by Tom Kates