WHITEWATER, Wis. — This is the story of a glazed donut, and how it helped cure blindness.
You heard that right. So go ahead, pull up a chair.
You see, when Jason Jaworski was a freshman at UW-Whitewater, he attended the annual Involvement Fair, where he was inundated with various sales pitches from various student organizations, all wanting Jaworski to join their group.
“There was this one guy who was super energetic,’’ said Jaworski, “and he had a box of glazed donuts. And the only way he would give me a donut is if I joined Enactus and went to a meeting.’’
Hunger ruled the day, so Jaworski took the donut, then took the meeting.
He had no idea that Enactus was a worldwide organization with 72,000 student members across 1,730 campuses in 36 countries. He learned this was a nonprofit organization that was supported by business leaders from around the globe, and guided by educators, whose mission was to have students identify needs within a community, then use business principles they learn in the classroom to solve these issues.
But there was one important caveat; it would not be enough to simply make a difference in the world for a moment in time. Their business solutions must become sustainable and, within a few years, be able to stand on their own with the business models they created and refined.
Oh, and one more thing, they would not receive any course credit for this work or get paid.
But the idea that he, while a student in college, in a small Wisconsin community of less than 15,000, could make an impact on the world?
He was all in.
“Enactus was my passion in college,’’ said Jaworski, who was president of the club his senior year and, though graduated, has stayed on as an advisor. “It’s what I did. It’s what I did every day. I would skip class because of Enactus. ‘Oh, we have something going on with Enactus? I’m going to go do that instead.’’’
The donut that led to Jaworski joining Enactus led to being tasked with finding a solution to curing preventable blindness in India and, along the way, empower women who didn’t have opportunities to become vision screeners and also become part of the solution, while at the same time providing an income where they would be able to support themselves.
It was a big ask, made even more of a challenge because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But Jaworski, and six of his fellow students, pulled it off. They not only found a workable, sustainable solution working in collaboration with other entities but also enabled UW-Whitewater to become the first Wisconsin school to win the Enactus United States National Exposition. UW-Whitewater will now represent the U.S. in the Enactus World Cup, joining 34 other teams from across the globe, from Oct. 14-21.
The recognition was nice, but it’s not what they’re here for.
“It really is the business model that all these corporations and nonprofits that want to make a difference in the world need to follow,’’ said Chase Boudreau, a senior finance and Spanish major from Sussex, Wis., and the current Enactus club president.
“That people, planet, prosperity; ensuring that the bottom line isn’t just about profits anymore. It’s the people you help and can impact on a daily basis. And that’s what we’re really aiming to do.”
There are an estimated 36 million people who are blind in the world, and 90% of it is preventable according to Combat Blindness International, a Madison-based nonprofit whose mission is to eliminate preventable blindness across the globe.
In India, where nearly half the world’s blind reside, the problem only became exacerbated with the pandemic.
“When we started talking to our partner in India, people in rural communities were too scared to come into the city to see a doctor,’’ said Reena Chandra Rajpal, president, and executive director of CBI. “And they were worried of those people falling through the cracks.’’
Their partner was Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital in New Delhi. CBI had a tool in place – a Certified Ophthalmic Paramedic (COP) training program – where the hospital would train screeners to go out into the rural communities and collect data. But the process was rather primitive and unreliable, and over the previous two years, the hospital didn’t have enough jobs for the workers trained in COP.
Enter Choton Basu, a UW-Whitewater Information Technology and Supply Chain Management professor who also sits on the CBI board of directors.
“And I told them, ‘I don’t want to sit on your board because every year you raise money you deal with the projects. You go back and raise money. You deal with the projects,’’’ Basu said. “I said, ‘You need to be taking on a much more sustainable approach.’ They said, ‘We don’t know how to do that,’ and I said, ‘My students do.’’’
The challenges they faced were plentiful, and the chances of failure were great. But that is exactly how Basu wanted it; if you’re going to fail, fail fast.
“So, the entire concept is, don’t sit around and come up with a perfect plan, just execute and we will figure out some of the things along with the way,’’ he said. “We have expectations and certain goals, but the beauty of it is we set an environment to allow them to fail to make it perfect.’’
And it’s an environment where Hannah Zanow, a junior general management and marketing major from Monticello, Wis., felt it enabled her to thrive.
“When we fail, we learn something, and that’s what we’re supposed to do,’’ she said. “So which is why I grow every single day. Every time I go to a meeting, I learn something new. Every time we fail, we learn something new. And we learn how to overcome those things and grow as an individual. And, I think that’s going to help me in the long run, no matter what job I decide to pursue, or where I end up.’’
Jaworski will tell you the iterations of this project were many, that the ideas tried were plentiful and so, too, was the running into walls.
But here is what they accomplished. They recruited eight COP trainees and, through the use of cellphone technology, expanded their training over a 10-day period. Then in March, in a span of 12 days, these screeners conducted eye exams for 2,841 people, distributed more than 200 pairs of glasses and made over 500 referrals to enable patients to receive further care or, in some cases, surgery.
“You can give a cataract surgery for $25, for 20 minutes, and someone has their sight back in 24 hours,’’ said Jaworski. “So, that’s the driving purpose behind our team.’’
For the screeners, it’s not only empowering them to fight blindness in their communities, they are earning four times the average salary for women in rural areas.
“As well, we’re changing their family’s life,’’ said Jaworski, “because usually if somebody is blind, they have a community member or a family member — often a young child is not able to go to school — because they have to stay home and help this person, guide them around the village, guide them around their home, so that’s super impactful.’’
The sustainability of the project comes from the sale of eyeglasses and when the screeners refer a patient, the hospital pays them a fee. Exams are free, and if a patient requires surgery, CBI covers that cost.
“You may ask, ‘Why do you charge for the glasses?’’’ said Rajpal. “Actually it’s a cultural thing. When you give something for free, it’s seen as subpar, like there’s something wrong with it. They’d rather pay even a little bit, even if it’s a dollar, or two dollars or something like that. They would rather pay that than get something for free.’’
Phase 2 of the project is already underway.
“Just honing, or perfecting our recruitment model, making sure our training is exactly on point for what they need to know and that they have re-training as needed,’’ said Rajpal. “Also, looking at the sustainable business model. Is it the sale of glasses and referrals; it is enough to make this sustainable in the amount of time we think it can be?
“And once we finish that phase, at that point, using that data, start to create that model in other areas of India and replicate that in Nairobi, Kenya.”
The group has logged some 2,000 hours on the project, which included working through the summer months.
But through it, they’ve gained an education that simply wasn’t possible in the classroom alone.
“You can do simulations, you can do test runs all you want,’’ said Grayden Gruchow, a junior supply chain management and Spanish major from Oregon, “but the ability to go out there and learn and actually do it is incredible and so beyond meaningful and valuable. And, I think, that’s a model for the future in education, kind of that experimental-learning element that Enactus provides.”
Winning the national competition earned them each a medal and the team a championship cup, but that was nothing compared to the side benefits.
“As soon as we won the national competition,’’ said Basu, “I had four, five companies call me immediately and say ‘Can I get access to your students.’’’
As well, CBI initially gave the UW-Whitewater Enactus group $25,000 to fund phase 1 of the project but now, with its success and the sustainable business model is giving them over $200,000.
“And we will be screening over 90,000 people in the next six months,’’ said Basu.
Jaworski and Gruchow said they each came to UW-Whitewater with the idea it would provide an education that would one day help them land one of those corporate jobs with the corner office and the breathtaking view.
Today, their view of their education and the corporate world has changed. They now know what is possible and what can be accomplished. And that, to them, is breathtaking.
“That’s just so powerful because we’re sitting in a tiny town in Wisconsin, going to school together, and we’re having an impact across the world that potentially has the opportunity to grow across the world,’’ Jaworski said. “That’s just so powerful, and that has changed the way I look at where I want to work in the future. I don’t want to work for a company that’s not going to have an impact on the world.’’
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