Interview with a social entrepreneur
Alexia Parks | Jun 3, 2010
I did a Skype interview with 19-year-old social entrepreneur Bianca Griffith, who at the moment is taking time out from college to build a small six cottage eco-hotel along the west coast of Africa, in The Gambia.
Bianca, a 2008 graduate of Boulder High, is enrolled at the University of Colorado but taking time off from classes for her adventure in, well, helping.
“I’m handling all aspects of the project,” she said, “including managing a crew of 25 in the construction of the buildings, the installation of plumbing and electricity, and the water catchment and sewage system.”
“I’m even laying out the walking paths, the herb gardens, selecting the fruit trees, and creating a menu for the cook. Right now, I’ve hired someone to cook for us, and I’m teaching her how to prepare food for those who eat meat, and for vegetarians.”
It was late at night in The Gambia (as the African nation is formally known), and she sounded so cheerful that I had to ask: “Where are you staying while you build the project?”
“You wouldn’t believe the bugs!”
“I’m living on the construction site. I sleep on a foam mattress a concrete floor in one of the huts. Right now, all water is brought to the site in five-gallon containers by bicycle or in a car. When I take a bath, I use a bucket of soapy water and pour it over myself. There is no electricity, so we use candles at night.” And what about bugs? “You wouldn’t believe the bugs!” she laughed.
Earlier in the year, Bianca had spent three months in Senegal. There, she hired a local assistant, made contact with elders from a local village two hours outside of Dakar, and got approval to create a water and sanitation project for the village.
Using $600 from her nonprofit, SanteNatural.org and 40 men from the village, she guided them in the construction of a two-squat toilet, water catchment system, and banana plant septic system. From start to finish, the project took only four days.
At the village construction site, she used her iPod to broadcast their favorite local music to entertain them while they worked. Village children danced to the music while their fathers and brothers worked. She invited an artist from New York City to design a brochure on guidelines for water use and sanitation that would be culturally appropriate to life in an African village.
Left villagers with work to do
When her first project at the village was finished, she left them with construction plans and the hands-on know-how to build additional water and sanitation systems in other parts of the village. The goal was for villagers to learn how to do these projects themselves. Then too, she told them that the banana plants growing on top of the septic system would provide them with a new source of organic produce, and income.
A month later, without a college or engineering degree, she moved on to her second village. This time, the University of Suffolk asked for seven students to join her. You can see the results on the SanteNatural.org website.
Where did she learn these eco-design skills? At an eco-village in Pirenopolis, Brazil. And her familiarity with Africa? At 17, she graduated a semester early from high school, then spent four months with LivingRoutes.org in Senegal learning about sustainable village design.
You can read more about this project, and other ideas for the social entrepreneur, in my new book, Parkinomics.