Written by Leah Victorino, Development coordinator at Empowered Solar and alumna of St. John’s Global Development and Social Justice Graduate Program.
Nine St. John’s University graduate students embarked on a journey to Buenos Aires with three faculty members this June for a real exercise in international business. Dean Katia Passerini, Assistant Dean Kevin James, and Dr. Basilio Monteiro identified an opportunity for us to travel, network, and participate in an introduction to the entrepreneurship field through the International Council for Small Business Academy and World Conference.
As an avid traveler and Spanish speaker who fell in love with Argentina on a visit years ago, I welcomed the invitation to return; but the draw for me this time was the proposition of attending the ICSB Academy and meeting professionals and students from all over the world. Our group of nine students formed teams around two businesses for development of a business model canvas and pitch competition; I was incredibly blessed to have an outstanding and supportive team representing USA, Sweden, and China work with me to promote Empowered Solar. I came into this week with a budding social enterprise, and through pre-trip preparation team meetings and exercises facilitated in the Academy, I went home with global exposure for our company and a talented mix of people now involved in advancing our mission of sustainable energy for all through business-for-good.
Empowered Solar is a residential and commercial solar installation company based in Idaho offering U.S. customers a source of renewable energy for their home or business and a direct contribution to clean energy in developing communities via Empowered Solar’s impact investments. Since its founding in 2015, my two co-founders and I have worked to build a business that is not only our livelihood, but one that allows us to do the most good in the world as we possibly can. For the first two years, we have been primarily focused building a viable product with our solar panel installations. We understand that profitability is what enables the enterprise to survive and thus the only way we can continue to promote sustainable development in the long-term, but from day one we have always kept the triple bottom line at the core of what we do: people, planet, and profits. It was fantastic to spend the week with hundreds of other businesspeople who work to leverage the power of entrepreneurship to achieve the same ends and understand that sustainability is not only doing the right thing, but the wise thing.
As Empowered Solar enters into growth stage for both the revenue-generating activities and increased social impact in developing communities, the goals of this ICSB Argentina experience were to take in all the ideas and advice I could and to grow the network behind our movement. I hope to apply what I’ve learned about innovation and marketing to our new venture promoting women’s entrepreneurship to augment sustainable energy access in underdeveloped communities. Above all, I hope to maintain and extend the enthusiasm behind Empowered Solar’s work through the ICSB and St. John’s networks.
This trip has been particularly unique for me because of my dual role with the university and with my business. This summer, I completed my Master’s in Global Development and Social Justice, which means that now I will turn more attention towards the business. I was pleased that this adventure showed me how, even in my transition from student to alumna, I continue to forge strong relationships with fellow Johnnies and realize what it means to represent and be represented by this institution (and undoubtedly, we represented in full force!).
My greatest takeaway from the week was making new connections from New York to Shanghai, from São Paulo to Montréal. We, the students, could not be more grateful to have faculty who constantly seek experiential learning environments in the global community and provide support to make these possibilities a reality.