Academics For Development (AFD): social entrepreneurship for students

Executive board AFD Antwerp 2020-2021.

Hi, my name is Roxanne Mols. Last June, I graduated as a Master in Biomedical Sciences: Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the University of Antwerp. It was a wonderful journey where I got to broaden my interests and meet lots of new people. I learnt so much and grew tremendously as a person. I was given lots of opportunities, and one initiative that I found particularly helpful was Academics For Development (AFD).

AFD is an international student organisation, focused on social entrepreneurship. It provides students the opportunity to work in a multidisciplinary team on a project designed in collaboration with a social entrepreneur, start-up or NGO. AFD aims to have durable societal impact and it also helps students gain relevant practical and international experience.

The ultimate goal of each project is to create sustainable and meaningful societal impact.

Through our projects and events at the AFD Antwerp branch, we aim to familiarise students with social entrepreneurship, provide an opportunity to put their academic knowledge into practice and have a real societal impact. In social entrepreneurship, the aim is to develop and implement sustainable solutions to social, cultural and/or environmental issues. Unlike non-profit organisations, social entrepreneurs will make a profit to sustain a business. However, the goal of AFD is not to make a profit (which is the case for regular entrepreneurs), but to create a stable source of income that will support and sustain a business. 

I  got the opportunity to be a Project Coordinator for AFD Antwerp. As a Project Coordinator, I had various tasks and responsibilities such as organising workshops, presentations and team buildings for the project students, monitoring the progress of the project teams, problem solving, following-up with the project students, coaches and the project partners through evaluation forms and meetings, serving as a facilitator for coaches, project partners and students, providing guidance, and providing information. As AFD Antwerp does not have a Human Resources department, recruitment of the project students and coaches is also done by the Project Coordinators. This includes looking through applicants’ CVs, reading cover letters, interviewing candidates, and providing feedback to the applicants. I discovered that I really enjoy doing recruitment interviews (both as a possible hire and as an interviewer) and I also learnt new marketing skills using Canva software.

Sometimes, my function was a full-time job, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. It is so heart-warming to see your students grow in various ways. They might not realise how much they have grown and how much they’ve achieved in a year. An AFD project is truly a learning experience. It won’t always go the way you planned, you will inevitably encounter various obstacles and may need to make small steps instead of making big plans, but in the end you are making an attempt to positively change people’s lives. Whether you have made great progress or are just starting out, you are actively participating in a project and you’re trying to make a difference. After all, you are working on a real project, a real business. 

Two of the projects I worked on were Mouvement Miel and Purposeful Incentives. Mouvement Miel promotes sustainable farming practices such as argoecology and agroforestry in Benin. Purposeful Incentives is an organisation that aims to promote sustainable tourism in Uganda. They develop and promote sustainable, inclusive tourism that helps with regional development.  I’m really grateful to my team members from these projects. It was great working with this team! Thank you for striving to make a societal impact, for making a difference! I am really proud of you all!

An online teambuilding session.

I hope that in the coming years, AFD will become a well-established initiative in Antwerp, so that more University of Antwerp students can take part in this awesome experience and, together, we can create more impact. As a student, your academic background doesn’t really matter, but the way you handle things, your communication skills, thinking and mindset does. Of course, when you apply for a specific project or to become a coach, your academic background will be considered. However, if the project is about education, but you’re not doing an Educational Master, then it doesn’t mean that you are ineligible for the job!

Recording a podcast with the Hackyourjeans CEO.

Of course, AFD isn’t only work. In fact, the F in AFD stands for fun! In AFD we are a family, and we help each other out and celebrate our successes. Even the smallest achievements should be celebrated. It might surprise some people how important those small celebrations, recognition of achievements and team-buildings are for good teamwork and mental health. Moreover, we enjoy making new friends and enjoy life to the fullest.

Axe throwing teambuilding with the AFD Antwerp board members.

I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of AFD. Being a Project Coordinator at AFD enabled me to network with many different people, learn new skills, and have a positive impact on society. What motivates me the most is that you don’t just help one group of people, but you have an impact on a larger part of the world. Furthermore, you’re making a sustainable impact. I am sad to have left the AFD board, but I won’t say goodbye to AFD just yet! For the following two academic years, I will be a trainer for all the Belgian AFD branches. I will combine this with my new job as Junior Regulatory Affairs Manager at PHARA+ life sciences. So who says you can’t have the best of both worlds? If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me or the new executive board members of Antwerp! Hopefully, I’ll see you soon at AFD

Article written by Roxanne Mols. Student Editor: Annelies Heylen. Editor: Dr. Bronwen Martin