Alumni, SigEp Blog

SigEp Alumni Spotlight: Supporting Small-Enterprise in Kenya

By Alex Villec COL ’13

Hey brothers!

As part of DC Gamma’s growing emphasis on alumni involvement, I wanted to say a few words to introduce myself, what I’ve been up to, and how SigEp fits into the picture. I spoke to some of this in a recent e-mail, so please excuse the redundancy where it exists.

Since graduating in May 2013, I have been working with an NGO that focuses on small-enterprise development in northern Kenya. The BOMA Project provides grants to groups of three women toward the objective of income diversification and drought resilience. Whether measured in nutrition, savings, or prevailing cultural notions of wealth, livestock is central to the pastoralist way of life. Climate change and conflict undermine the strategy of herd accumulation that defines “the pastoralist dream”, if there ever was such a notion. First, BOMA provides the capital ($100) needed to launch a small business. Second, participants receive training (e.g. record-keeping) and on-going support (e.g. weekly business visits) from local mentors who live in the very communities where BOMA operates. At six months, women receive a second grant ($50) to expand their enterprise, at which point groups form savings associations and begin extending credit to group participants and within the community. Our model rests on the idea that liquidity constraints and poor access to markets present pastoralists with high levels of risk that make it hard to plan and even harder to withstand negative shocks. Our model introduces a sustainable livelihood that complements pastoralism and equips women with greater financial freedom to fund medical expenses, invest in their children’s education, and purchase food.

My work with BOMA centers on monitoring and evaluation (M&E). In short, this means using data to improve our program. In the office, this involves designing surveys with relevant indicators, analyzing datasets, reporting internally and externally on changes in household characteristics and business performance, and then using our findings to inform how we define success among program participants. In the field, the monitoring component entails continuous communication between our local mentors, field officers, and office staff. Back checks, data collection, mentor visits, grant disbursements, and savings group meetings are all key components of our work in the “field”, either because I’m directly involved in their execution or because they serve as opportunities to better understand our program and its operations.

If you’re still awake at this point, I should simply mention that BOMA has not only been a stellar introduction to international development, but also to post-graduate life more broadly. It’s shown me what an organic and locally-run program can accomplish when development practitioners understand the communities in which they operate. It’s also shown me how fundraising needs, inter-NGO competition, and shortsighted planning can hinder non-profit actors in lifting large portions of the population out of extreme poverty.

I began with the BOMA Project by applying for a Princeton in Africa (PiAf) fellowship during my senior year at Georgetown. PiAf is part-placement organization, part-network, part-professional development program that places recent graduates with organizations based in Africa across the fields of humanitarian assistance, micro-enterprise, public health, and agriculture, to name a few. After the initial application and interview process, PiAf staff engages you in a personalized conversation about specific fellowship posts and potential fits, at which point you’re put forward as a fellowship candidate to interview with the decided-upon organization. It’s a fluid process that can last anywhere from 4-6 months.

A Georgetown degree will present you with incredible opportunities. Most important will be identifying what it is that you want from your first few years off the Hilltop. As I searched left and right, I placed a high value on gaining international experience, honing language skills, and developing a portable toolkit that would easily transfer across disciplines (e.g. data analysis, leadership, organizational/strategic planning). Once you can clearly articulate what you’re after, you’ll dive into the job hunt with a sense of direction and purpose. To me, these initial steps out of the Georgetown nest are prime for learning as much as possible, for growing my network, and for pondering how I wish to develop professionally over the next 5-10 years – all within a context where I have enough peace, flexibility, and freedom to think. Don’t underestimate how valuable it can be to live and wrestle with your own thoughts for a year or two! I’m talking about thoughts influenced, informed, and dictated by your judgment alone, not by a rigid syllabus, a mind-blowing extracurricular schedule, sacred words like “cum” and “laude”, a rapidly dwindling checking account balance, or a friend’s CV…)

Take this all with a grain of salt. Among those reading this are studs with a far firmer grasp on where they’re headed. Plus, there are so many other paths with so much to offer. While 90-hour weeks would make it tough to indulge in recreational reading on a Wednesday night or spend Sunday evenings learning a new language, I’d guess that a high-intensity career track can be one superhighway to long-term success. And, unless you join the Jesuit order, you’re not taking a lifelong oath to one fixed career path. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the beauty of post-graduate life – at least at the outset. Know that with momentum and motivation, you’ll be able to pursue Plan B if Plan A was a flop; just keep pressing ahead. It’s easy to turn a moving car.

Restore balance where it lacked in college, fill your brain, put yourself in uncomfortable situations, ask yourself difficult questions, and never stop meeting people.

Most important of all, don’t forget your brothers. The most meaningful exchanges I’ve shared since graduation have been with SigEps, and there’s a good chance I’ll be saying this 20 years from now.

As always, my door is open. Reach out with your thoughts and ask me questions – I’ll be challenged, more focused, and better because of them.


SigEp Blog

Phis Reach New Heights On A Trip To Great Falls Park

By Kevin Lo, College ‘16

One of the last things that many of us want to do is to wake up early on a Saturday morning, especially after a night out celebrating the grand occasion of a Friday night. But, that’s what a group of brothers did on October 26th. Seeing a bunch of guys, clearly not yet awake from their slumber, trudge through the cold morning to the front gates at 9 AM was an interesting, and somewhat impressive, sight. We boarded a dangerously large van and hydrated—to replenish for the night prior and to prepare for the events upcoming. This was all in preparation for a hike coordinated by Christian Chung (SFS ’15) at the I-can’t-believe-it-is-only-twenty-minutes-away-from-Georgetown Great Falls Park.

After a van ride of failed attempts at sleep and some brothers refusing to allow dormancy by blasting music, we arrived at the unbelievably scenic Great Falls Park in Virginia. Though the hike started as almost unbearably cold for a Californian like me, it became beautiful as the day progressed.

On the hike, in addition to the beautiful scenery, we saw amazing things that allowed us to change our thinking for the better. First, as we were surprised by the challenging terrain of the trail and subsequently moved slower than anticipated, we saw a 60ish-year old woman traversing through the boulders without a problem. She seemed so full-of-life and at ease that it made us realize that a hike with friends really is not the worst thing that could happen. Second, we saw a man with disabilities with crutches make his way through the very same path we took. Enough said.

One of the most important things we strive for in SigEp is personal growth through self-reflection, and in a bustling environment such as D.C. and Georgetown, it is sometimes very difficult to take a step back from life and to contemplate the events and happenings in our life. Every year, we organize multiple events designed to give us the opportunity to do the reflection that is so important in a person’s development. Surrounded by nature that was incomprehensibly beautiful, brothers were able to escape from their clubs, internships, social commitments, and academics to just relax and contemplate. For myself, I—as I often do during a time of reflection—thought about how lucky I was to be in the position I was in. To be at Georgetown and to be surrounded by men that I know will be my true friends for life, I sincerely appreciated where life has taken me. Life often seems to be going at a break-neck pace and SigEp has always provided a comfortable shelter whenever needed; this hike and bonding was no different.

Oh yeah, the tradition of going to Chick-fil-a with any excuse available was nice too.

Alumni, SigEp Blog

Grand Chapter President Phil Cox Visits Georgetown

By Colin Walls ’16

Yesterday we were honored to welcome Phillip Cox, Grand Chapter President of Sigma Phi Epsilon to Georgetown. During what was the first visit to any SigEp chapter in the DC area by the Grand President since our chapter’s creation, President Cox met with several brothers to discuss Sigma Phi Epsilon and it’s impact on the lives of brothers across the nation. Brothers discussed the strengths of our chapter and the directions in which we plan to head in the coming years, and President Cox offered his input on our plans. With a wealth of knowledge about fraternal affairs, President Cox’s insights will undoubtedly prove helpful in the years to come. Above all, it was an honor to welcome Grand President Cox to our chapter and to show him SigEp’s place at Georgetown.




SigEp Blog

Fall Retreat and White Water Madness

By Colin Walls ’16

This year’s fall retreat saw a trip to Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania for whitewater rafting. After an early departure Saturday morning, the day was spent on traditional retreat activities and sports. Didactic encounters went especially well this year, and the new Sigmas did a great job offering new perspectives to the circles. After an important and lengthy goal setting session, we continued our traditional activities outdoors. Following a long period of brotherly bonding, we returned to the cabins. Some brave brothers ventured to McDonalds in the bustling metropolis that is Uniontown, Pennsylvania at 2 am. After a successful raid of their chicken nugget supply, these brothers rejoined the rest of the group and spent a little time relaxing before getting some sleep. The next day started early and was complimented by a fantastic breakfast next to the river. Soon after, we were given life jackets, helmets, and instruction on how to whitewater raft and were quickly brought down to the river. In squads of four or five, brothers were given rafts to pilot without guides. This proved to be difficult for some rafts (Chung’s) and easy for others. Many rocks were avoided, but many more weren’t, and plenty of brothers tested their swimming abilities. The trip consisted of around 8 miles of river with a lunch break in the middle. We were lucky to get a picture perfect day and the trees were the best they would look all fall. The brothers tackled several class four rapids with help from the stalwart raft guides that we had chosen. At the end of the trip, everyone had had a full afternoon and the raft guide’s mediocre jokes were just the way to finish the day. After a bus ride back to the village, brothers split up and headed back to Washington. In all the weekend was a tremendous success, and it set the bar high for retreats to come.