Alisha Fredriksson says the multiple enrichment opportunities and volunteer requirements at Prince of Wales Mini-School is what prepared her to live and study abroad in rural India at United World Colleges Mahindra. But the recent PW graduate didn't just spend her time in India cooped up in a library. She also found the time to launch her own social enterprise, a non-profit organization called seema.
Seema started with a single pair of paper-quilled earrings made by a thirteen year-old girl from a program named Akshara, but over the years, it has grown to include over forty women from eleven villages who are practicing both paper and silver jewelry making techniques. A collection of the jewelry is expected to make its debut this Fall.
All of seema's jewelry feature semi-precious stones, Swarovski crystals and sterling silver components, which are sourced from stores in Pune and Mumbai, India and are handcrafted by local silversmiths
"Seema along with similar social enterprises are not service or charity work but instead are platforms to empower underprivileged women and transform them into income-generating members of their communities," says Fredriksson. "It is important to break through the common misconception that developing countries are desperate and incapable of economic advancement. This mindset prevents people and companies from investing in these countries because they perceive them to be unstable and economically unviable. If we can break through this barrier and support these countries in harnessing entrepreneurs and innovators, the long-term effect will be far greater than any charity work could ever have."
Fredriksson says her work as a social entrepreneur in India was inspired by her experience at Prince of Wales, which she lauded for its excellent leadership development programs, award winning yearbook program and trips both abroad and into the community.
"Last spring, it provided its senior students with the incredible opportunity to partake in a service trip to Ecuador. There, I, along with 24 of my peers, experienced life in a different culture, language, and even family," she says. "This experience, coupled with the years that we spent serving the community in numerous ways, helped prepare me for life in a country as disparate as India."
Fredriksson says the biggest challenge for her non-profit has been navigating a culture that is unlike any she's ever experienced before.
"It was challenging to arrange meetings and jewelry making sessions, as organization and punctuality are more relaxed as compared to Canadian culture," she says. "In addition, the language barrier presents an additional obstacle, however by including students from the local villages in the project team as translators, this issue has been addressed."
She says the rewards for her and many of seema's participants are bountiful, particularly when she gets to witness the joy and satisfaction they receive from creating beautiful jewelry, expressing themselves through group activities, and connecting with women from other villages.
To learn more about seema, click here.