OSU’s Craig Watters Delivers Entrepreneurship in a Backpack
By Lori Williams
Craig Watters circles the globe. His journey may take him to Pakistan or India before he stops to form rings in Africa. Along the way, the Director of Oklahoma State University’s new Riata Institute for Global Social Entrepreneurship connects individuals to technologies uniquely suited to their communities and cultures. “I like what I do because it gets to the heart of what I think entrepreneurship should be,” he says. The rings in Africa are an ideal example of that connection.
“Technology is limited in South Africa,” says Dr. Watters. “I spent nine summers teaching there, and it was challenging. How do you help develop a marketing strategy for a business owner in an outdoor market where there is no internet connection? We had to go to an internet café, and even then it was dial up.”
So Craig Watters took the problem to Syracuse University, his alma mater, where they worked on a solution. “We created an internet backpack,” he explains. “When individuals wear them and spread out, it forms a ring. A hot spot. So the internet becomes part of their appropriate technology and they are able to build their businesses out.”
But the backpacks include this caveat: “Individuals have to explain how their business is going to help their community, their tribe, their country,” states Watters. “When we have those conversations, many have changed from just saying they are going to make money to saying they will train people and/or hire women.”
“That’s significant because my students and I help people in countries where women are not allowed to read or learn.”
That’s one reason why those places are not always accessible to the students in the Riata Institute for Global Social Entrepreneurship program. But until that changes, there’s a solution for that problem as well.
“My students at OSU are part of a social entrepreneurship club and class called Enactus,” explains Craig. “The goal is to incubate businesses in other places. So the students are actually working as consultants for entrepreneurs in countries like Pakistan, Peru, Costa Rica and India.”
Still, there are more solutions to be found. “My class did all this work around waste in India. And we quickly learned the importance of understanding the culture.”
“Even though the caste system is supposed to be abolished in India, it’s still very much alive. That means if you’re not from the lowest caste, the untouchables, you’re not allowed to touch waste.”
“So that made us go back to the drawing board and think some more.”
As Craig Watters continues to circle the globe and connect the dots between social impact and global entrepreneurship, he and his students will have to be creative. To be successful, their technologies need to be culturally specific and appropriate to the situation. “Our solutions must be locally owned so that the community has ownership,” says the Director of the Riata Institute. “We also have to create technologies that are environmentally safe and gender safe.”
“Most of all, we remember that it’s not just about making money. It’s about social impact and social mission.”