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Entrepreneurial mindset used to combat poverty

Emma Rubbins-Breen did not plan on doing her first co-op in a foreign country. But after an international co-op advisor spoke to her Intro to Co-op class, she could not shake the idea of working abroad.

“I have to do this,” the third-year international affairs major recalled thinking. “If I had this opportunity, I knew I should take it.”

So she scheduled a meeting with a member of the international co-op staff, who later identified the perfect opportunity for the Vermont native: Fundación Paraguaya, a social enterprise in Paraguay that aims to combat poverty.

Fundación Paraguaya focuses on three core areas—microfinance, entrepreneurship education, and sustainable agriculture. Rubbins-Breen was involved in the first two, working as an assistant loan officer and leader in the foundation’s Youth Ambassadors program. The program prepares high school students to attend a leadership conference in the United States and then form their own nongovernmental organizations aimed toward improving their communities.

Rubbins-Breen conducted interviews in both English and Spanish to identify the high school students who would make the trip to the U.S. When they returned to Paraguay, she facilitated the creation of a library, cultural center, and environmental cleanup initiative. “The work these young people are doing is just amazing,” she said. “They work hard for these opportunities, so it was great to give them the tools they needed to make real change.”

In her work with the organization’s microfinance initiative, Rubbins-Breen taught loan recipients the entrepreneurial skills to build prosperous ventures. “We wanted to get them involved in the market and thinking in an entrepreneurial mindset,” she said, noting that many of her clients were women.

Rubbins-Breen returned to Northeastern this semester, her appetite for social entrepreneurship whetted. She will participate in the Social Enterprise Institute‘s Dialogue of Civilizations program to South Africa this summer and plans on doing her next co-op with a Boston-area organization that focuses on social enterprise or economic advocacy. “These experiences will prepare me to work for nonprofit organizations in the future,” she said.