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Skidmore College

Girl power in Africa

April 11, 2013


Volunteering in Uganda for Soccer Without Borders led Kelsey Yam ’13 to devise a new SWB program focused on girls—and to enter it in this year’s Kenneth A. Freirich Business Plan Competition. 

They are poor and uneducated. HIV/AIDS is rampant. Many are refugees. Violence is never far away. They are girls in Uganda who face a bleak future.

Kelsey Yam
Kelsey Yam '13

Kelsey Yam ’13 knew all of this before she volunteered last summer at a Soccer Without Borders (SWB) program in Uganda’s capital city of Kampala. But being there in person made it real, beyond statistics or news reports. It made her see the privilege of her life compared to theirs, and how it makes no sense and just isn’t fair and can’t be left alone.

A business major and three-time Liberty League soccer selection, Yam “fell in love” with SWB’s concept of using the “beautiful game” to effect positive change for at-risk youth across the globe. “Mostly, though, I loved the girls.” she says. “I saw and heard how much they wanted more girls to play soccer and more opportunities to play competitively. And how they dreamed of going to university and learning English and making friends. These were such simple requests, things I took for granted.

“After witnessing how much of an impact Soccer Without Borders has on the kids and their families,” she determined, “if I could deliver on these simple requests, I would do whatever it took to make it possible for them.”

Her idea is to extend SWB’s impact to the rural community of Fort Portal, Uganda—with a focus on girls, who represented just 25% of the Kampala program. Her hope is to help girls “develop the confidence that will better prepare them to integrate into and contribute to Ugandan society, as well as perhaps change the country’s traditional view on female rights.”

Yam is one of six finalists vying for $50,000 in cash and business services in Skidmore’s Third Annual Kenneth A. Freirich Business Plan Competition, launched by Ken Freirich ’90, a “serial entrepreneur” who is president of Health Monitor Network. The prizes are intended to catalyze students’ starting or growing their own businesses. The final round will be held Friday, April 12, at 2:45 p.m. in the Payne Presentation Room of the Tang Museum.

Yam estimates that it will cost $20,000 to launch her program, which aims to serve 50 impoverished refugee girls under the age of 15 in year one and with hopes to grow to 500 participants in five years. She says it will provide a rare opportunity for these girls to play organized sports and receive a free primary education, potentially preparing them for boarding schools, universities, and the workforce. For more on the SWB Fort Portal project, see this brief video:

Throughout the business plan competition, Yam says she has been heartened by the support of professors, peers, and friends. But she adds, “The learning curve has been the biggest surprise. I’m constantly coming across new pieces of information and revising and editing my plan. And despite the sometimes harsh feedback, I’m always eager to keep working on the project, because I’m constantly learning how to improve it—and will be for years to come, I imagine.”

Advising Yam is Rich Flaherty, president and CEO of Cove Risk Services. “Fundraising is the most critical component to sustaining Soccer Without Borders,” says Yam. “Rich has been a huge help with great ideas for donors and fundraising events, and even discussions about building a dormitory. He really believes in the program and has helped me to put the idea into action.”

Looking a decade down the road—and across the Atlantic Ocean—Yam sees SWB Fort Portal as self-sustainable and operating as a solely community-led program. But wherever she is and whatever she’s doing by then, she hopes she’ll still be working with girls abroad, playing soccer, and teaching kids.

The other finalists:

Magdalene Andreoni ’13, a studio arts major, aims to establish “the only specialtycookie mobile shop in Chicago,” an enterprise she calls The Cookie Jar. Using gluten-free, nut-free, and vegan recipes she has developed from scratch for such flavors as chocolate chip, “oatmeal monster,” peanut butter chocolate chunk, and ginger snap, she’s targeting the Loop, where foot traffic is highest. Advising Andreoni is Mary Vail ’80, president and chief designer, Joyelles Jewelers.

Seth Berger ’14 aims to grow East Coast Lacrosse, the single-member LLC he established in 2010, into a leader in custom athletic apparel. Advising Berger is Jim Rossi ’82, managing partner of the Saratoga Polo Association and chief marketing officer for the United States Polo Association.

Alexander Nassief ’16 and Brianna Barros ’16, having established Rum Dogs Inc., aim to implement a proprietary method for aging rum in barrels submerged in the Caribbean Sea and produce a premium brand, called Black Cap Rum, for the Dominican market. “The product line will serve as a symbol of Dominican ingenuity whilst adhering to local values of eco-friendliness,” they say. Advising them is Catherine Hill, F. William Harder Professor of Business Administration at Skidmore.

Samuel Schultz ’13, who spent a year in Beijing, hopes to provide residential summer-camp placement services in the U.S. for English-speaking Chinese nationals through his Summer Destinations Company. Advising Schulz is Nancy Wekselbaum ’73, president of the Gracious Gourmet.

Jasmyn Elise Story ’15 is an anthropology major launching a new Atlanta-based LLC, Forcast. It aims to change the way casting agents hire extras through a new smartphone app that enables casting agents to quickly and easily browse profiles created by a large pool of non-union actors. The app will be developed by Justin Colvin ’14, a computer science major who will share in the partnership. Advising Story is Jody Klein ’85, president of ABKCO Records and a Skidmore parent.

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