Building social businesses in Bali

A frantic itinerary and a litany of seemingly insurmountable language barriers made travel and study in Bali appear nearly impossible. But thanks especially to the welcoming embrace of the Balinese people, more than two dozen Northeastern students on a Dialogue of Civilizations program to the Indonesian island experienced the important role social entrepreneurship and the arts play in bridging massive cultural divides and building strong futures.

“There may be no skyscrapers, wide roads and high-ranking jobs, but the Balinese people are happy with what they have,” said Margarita Limcaoco, a third-year human services and international affairs combined major.

Balinese people, she added, live in a “rich community-based culture where everyone wants to show you how to dance, what to wear, what to eat, how to say something in Bahasa and who to talk to.”

Students conducted field research with Bali natives.

[media-credit id=19 align=”alignleft” width=”350″][/media-credit]Denise Horn, an assistant professor of international affairs in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, led the six-week Bali Dialogue, her seventh. The program focused on social entrepreneurship, in which students conducted field research and presented business plans to the community.

Students, who also took daily classes, traveled with Horn to meet with government officials, museum curators, leaders of nongovernmental organizations and a healer, whose work happened to be featured in the popular memoir “Eat Pray Love.” Students also spent time every day with members of the community, who were eager to share their personal experiences with the Northeastern group.

“We were so overwhelmed by people greeting us with smiles and going out of their way to help us and converse with us that it made us want to rethink about the way we invested in our own relationships,” Limcaoco said.

Half the time, students, worked on creating business plans that could be adopted by the community to improve areas such as tourism, sustainability and education. That focus fits into Horn’s own research: As a political scientist, she studies the impact of social businesses on democracy and civic engagement.

“The students had to go out into the community, do field research, find out what the problems were and then find a solution that was innovative and would be sustainable,” Horn said.. “They had to identify something that would work with these communities, not just push something that might work back at home.”