RU Grad student earns experience as social entrepreneur
Heather Bowden, a Radford University Master of Social Work graduate student, brings unique and hard-earned experience with her to RU as she moves ahead with her career.
Bowden comes to the School of Social Work after a personal social entrepreneurship initiative in Ghana in which she started the Nsumensa Village Primary School and an organization to sustain it.
“The biggest lesson has been in expanding my cultural competence. I realize that my way of thinking is not the only way,“ Bowden said. “It helped me to open up to all sorts of experiences and perspectives and then forced me to keep growing.”
Not only did Bowden open up to the experience of foreign study, she embraced the tougher challenge of helping provide education for the children of the Ghanaian village in 2010.
Four years later, Bowden is the president of the Pocket Project Inc, a 501(c)(3) organization that supports the school. In that time, she shepherded her school through the American process by which it is recognized as a legitimate charitable organization, raised more than $25,000, added a third teacher to the original faculty of two, helped construct the current school building and provided school supplies.
Now, she is working with Ghanaian authorities to incorporate it into the national educational infrastructure and sustaining the vital fund-raising activities to keep it going strong. Bowden said that donations to the Pocket Project are used directly for teacher salaries, school supplies and fees to facilitate the process of transferring the school to the Ghana Education Service.
As she embarks upon her graduate work, she described her understanding of social work.
“Our roles are to empower, support, and provide tools to individuals and communities, then have enough faith that they will be able to continue without the social worker and be successful,” she said.
For Bowden, the return to RU marks a homecoming. Raised in Southwest Virginia and with a B.A. in art from Hollins University in 2011, Bowden has traveled to Ghana twice and lived in other parts of the United States.
She said she is glad to be at RU and that the School of Social Work’s focus on working with rural populations combines nicely with her desire to be close to family in Floyd and Blacksburg and with her experience in the rural village of Nsumensa.
“I am here because I want to stay in the area. I want to be in a place I love,” she said.
Now that she’s literally ‘been there and done that,’ Bowden said she values the experience. Beyond living in a beautiful, but ecologically endangered, place and immersing herself in a distinctly different culture and community, she got to know, work with and, sometimes, differ with local leaders.
“It was a hard process, one that is not exactly black and white. The flow of getting things done was often times confusing and unstable,” she said. “But there is a school there now and I hope that education will help them. I hope that the student’s knowledge of reading and writing will help them understand what is happening in their village and country and the ways in which they can protect themselves and their community.”
Wiser for her experience as a traveler, a student and social entrepreneur, she looks forward to the opportunity to build upon them.
“I am more realistic now about the pluses and minuses and surely more aware. In general I believe that people who want to help others have motives that are good, but the ability to predict the consequences is not always so good.” Bowden said. “I am lucky to be able to take what I am learning now and apply it based upon my experiences.”