Whether working with homeless youth in Minneapolis who want to understand credit, or helping village women in Kenya develop an income-generating project, John Sankara ’15 (Nairobi, Kenya) is driven to partner with people who are dissatisfied with the status quo and determined to change it.

This summer, as a Chuck Green Fellow, Sankara, an economics major, worked with two programs in Minneapolis—Meda, which consults with minority-owned businesses, and the African Development Center, through which he conducted financial literacy workshops.

Meda assists minority-owned businesses in taking the next step in their growth, which often requires financing. Sankara analyzed the businesses they work with and found that Meda clients outperformed the average minority-owned businesses in growth, revenue and number of employees, a track record that should help these clients to obtain the financing to expand.

The African Development Center helps African immigrants and refugees achieve economic security. Working with two other students, Sankara developed a peer-to-peer curriculum for high school and college-aged students. The program was designed to be interactive and responsive to what students really wanted to learn, whether it was how to save for some great shoes or how to manage money to pay the rent. Some of the students were from middle-income homes; others currently homeless.

“The youth who were homeless brought a lot more experience with money than those from middle-income homes,” says Sankara. “It was very rewarding to see the different groups build bridges across their experiences.”

Asked what he got out of his summer, Sankara says, “It gave me perspective on the different faces of the U.S. I understand more about the culture and the history and how some groups came to enjoy more privilege.” It’s all good preparation for Sankara’s future goal: to be involved in forming public policy.

Sankara is the first Macalester student to come from the African Leadership Academy in Honeydew, South Africa, founded by Macalester alumnus Fred Swaniker ’99. “We studied social entrepreneurship and different kinds of leadership,” says Sankara. “Entrepreneurship is not just about business and profit, but about thinking differently about how to solve a problem.”

As a sophomore in high school, Sankara was already thinking like an entrepreneur when he helped village women in Kenya organize as a sort of cow’s and goat’s milk cooperative. No longer did women individually carry their milk to market to sell; Sankara arranged for all the milk to be picked up and delivered to the marketplace. Not content to stop there, he started a ranch, raising animals on a small plot of land that had belonged to his late grandfather. Quickly the ranch grew to 58 goats and sheep to be sold at holiday time.

“The group is now run by the women themselves,” says Sankara. “They came together and changed the vision of women. They are now seen as business savvy; able to create value and improve their lives.”

January 9 2014

Back to top