Did you know that over half a million people in the United States experience homelessness on any given night? It’s a staggering statistic that can be hard to comprehend. That’s why it was such a powerful experience for the connectUS23 delegation to participate in a volunteering activity at the Friends of Boston’s Homeless, on April 10, 2023.
Upon arrival at the shelter in Boston just a two-subway station ride away from our stay, we split up into three groups, each with a different task to accomplish. One group cleaned beds in the shelter, while the second group was assigned the task of preparing lunch and assisting with food distribution at the cafeteria. The team worked diligently to ensure that everyone had access to a nutritious meal, and it was heartening to see the gratitude on the faces of those we were able to help. The third group sorted through piles of donated clothing, preparing them for the homeless people who may need them.
As we worked, we learned about the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis. We heard stories of people who had lost everything and have no one to turn to. It was heartbreaking to realize how easily one can fall into homelessness, and how difficult it can be to climb back out. At the end of the day, we left feeling fulfilled and grateful for the opportunity to give back to the community. It was a reminder of the power of volunteering and how it can bring people together to make a positive impact.
Are you interested in learning more about how Switzerland connects with the world in education, research, innovation, and the arts? Swissnex is an organization that has made it its mission to connect Switzerland and the world in these important fields. On April 11th, the connectUS23 delegation had the opportunity to visit Swissnex’s New York City location. We had the privilege of hearing from Brendan Karch, who spoke to us about the many ways in which the organization is facilitating collaboration and innovation on a global scale. From connecting startups with investors to promoting scientific exchange between countries, Swissnex is making a real impact.
Our visit didn’t stop there. We also had the honor of hearing a presentation from Elisha Hodgson from Kiva Microfinance, who shared the powerful impact of microfinance in empowering individuals and communities around the world. The stories shared were both inspiring and humbling, and it was clear that Kiva is making a significant difference in many people’s lives. Kiva is helping to break down the barriers that often stand in the way of economic growth and development, by providing small loans to those who wouldn’t otherwise have access to financial support. They recognize that the people they’re working with are not just recipients of aid, but rather entrepreneurs with a vision for their own future. By providing them with the tools and resources they need to succeed, Kiva is helping to unleash the potential of countless individuals around the world. Kiva’s work is particularly impactful because it focuses on the power of community. By working with local partners and organizations, Kiva can identify the needs and opportunities within each community and provide tailored support. This approach ensures that the impact of Kiva’s work is felt not just by individual borrowers, but by entire communities.
Afterward, we had the chance to visit the Harvard Innovation Lab for a tour. As the delegation stepped into the Harvard Innovation Lab, we were immediately greeted by the electric buzz of creativity and invention. Everywhere we looked, teams of brilliant minds worked together to bring their ideas to life. The space was a melting pot of disciplines and backgrounds, with engineers, designers, and scientists all working side by side. As we made our way through the lab, we were struck by the diversity of the projects being developed. What was particularly impressive was the way in which the lab encouraged collaboration and cross-disciplinary work. Teams were constantly bouncing ideas from one another, and it was clear that each member’s diverse perspectives and skills were being leveraged to create truly innovative solutions.
The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the Harvard University campus. From the beautiful historic buildings to the bustling student life, Harvard was an impressive example of education and the pursuit of knowledge.
After our trip to Boston, we returned to New York, where we received an introduction to the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at the campus of the Columbia Business School. This was also our last official part of the 2023 connectUS Seminar Abroad. After that we had time to explore the city, enjoy an original Broadway Musical of Choice, or just wander around and enjoy the wonderful and warm (some would say hot) weather. On Friday we then returned home to Switzerland. We are very grateful for the journey we had, the lessons we learnt and that everyone got home safely.