College of Idaho student Aminata Mbodj’s dad calls her a nationalist. Growing up in Senegal, she was exposed to the day-to-day realities of a developing country and learned the mentality of the people as she tried to put herself in their shoes. That experience fostered a passion within her to transform the land she calls home.
That is why she started the SeneBright Initiative, an educational outreach program to encourage young students to become entrepreneurs and leaders, as well as NADIA Group, a social business venture aimed to bring ethically manufactured leather bags, sandals and belts, to socially conscious consumers.
It’s also why she applied and was accepted to attend the One Young World Summit in Bangkok, Thailand this November.
“I have always been animated by this desire to improve and develop my country from within,” said Mbodj, a senior international political economy major. “This conference reflected the self-sustaining model of citizens creating their own way to foster development.”
One Young World gathers together the brightest young people from around the world, empowering them to make lasting connections to create positive change.
Last year’s summit in Dublin, Ireland welcomed 1,250 delegates from 190 countries. At the summit, young leaders looking to change the world are joined by world leaders. Past participants include President Bill Clinton, Nobel laureate Kofi Annan and Sir Richard Branson.
With her experience founding and running SeneBright and NADIA, Mbodj was excited to apply to the summit, knowing it would be a great opportunity to learn from people who have been successful in implementing sustainable, practical and innovative projects.
“It helps learning what has worked in other places, and how that might translate to your own country or region,” said Mbodj, who is now trying to secure funding to attend the conference.
While Mbodj grew up with a passion to change her homeland, her desire was further nurtured at her Davis United World Colleges high school. She was influenced by the international school’s mission to make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.
Two years after graduating from UWC, she and four fellow graduates gathered together in their home of Senegal and discussed how the country’s education system didn’t encourage critical thinking, entrepreneurship or leadership. They felt that if students didn’t have a sense of creating their own future, then the hope of developing Senegal would be lost.
So they formed the SeneBright Initiative, which has offered entrepreneurship and leadership workshops in 14 Senegalese schools over the past two years.
At the end of the training, students are encouraged to create SeneBright clubs in their schools and to submit a project proposal that will uplift their local communities.
“For example, this summer, we’ll be installing photovoltaic systems,” Mbodj said. “So, we’ll be installing solar panels and solar stoves in Thies, which is just northeast of Dakar.”
But Mbodj doesn’t only talk the talk when it comes to encouraging young entrepreneurs. Last summer, she found herself gazing upon mountains of leather as she walked through a Senegalese factory. She watched as the workers massaged the leather, dyed it different colors and treated it.
As she bought her first batch of leather, it officially sank in that she was about to step out and open a new business.
NADIA Group started coming together last spring as Mbodj started looking for leather, talking to people on how to get the company started, finding craftsmen to make the leather goods and discussing pricing. While the company is for profit, its social business venture model aims to benefit its workers. For example, 40 percent of the profits for NADIA go back to the craftsmen and workers, 10 percent goes to SeneBright and the other 50 percent is used to grow the business.
“I feel like that is the new type of development model,” Mbodj said. “It is the one that reaches the maximum amount of people and fosters growth in different areas.”
While starting and running a business is not as easy as she thought, Mbodj said it has been satisfying to run a company that is making Senegalese goods from the ground up.
“The Senegalese market is flooded with products from outside,” she said. “We have such talented craftsmen, and giving them the opportunity to showcase their talent and get economic benefits from it has been really, really rewarding to me.”
And she proudly displays her NADIA leather purse on her shoulder, a beacon of Africa infused craftsmanship that shines light onto how a continent that is rich in natural resources can also become rich in industry, one young entrepreneur at a time.
The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.