During halftime of the ND-Clemson football game in November, millions of viewers got to see the impact of Management & Organization teaching professor Wendy Angst’s Innovation and Design Thinking class when it was featured in a “What Would You Fight For?” ad.
The class’ ongoing work with St. Bakhita Vocational Training Center in Kalongo, Uganda, has expanded to include the Innovation for Impact Club and dozens of Notre Dame alums, students, faculty and staff members committed to improving the outcomes for these women struggling with the legacy of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army.
Angst’s Innovation and Design Thinking class first started working with St. Bakhita in 2020. The school, located in the impoverished northern region of Uganda, opened in 2007 to help women rebuild their lives in the wake of tragic abductions by the LRA. As many as 30,000 children were victims of these abductions beginning in the late 1980s and continuing for over a decade.
As part of its vocational offerings, St. Bakhita trains students in the finer skills of sewing and tailoring as an eventual career path. In the handmade clothes, bags and backpacks swirling with traditional African colors and patterns, Angst and her students saw an opportunity to raise funds and awareness for the school.
The St. Bakhita Vocational Training Center Pop-Up Shop opened in the Hammes Bookstore on campus just in time for Christmas shopping. A group of St. Bakhita students was also on hand as they made a special visit to campus to attend the Clemson game and engage with Mendoza students. The effort raised thousands of dollars to support the center; in particular, the St. Bakhita Innovation Scholars program which provides students with the opportunity to learn a vocational skill while also receiving foundational training in agroforestry, computers, financial management and entrepreneurship.
The St. Bakhita logo on the pop-up shop display and clothing tags shows a mountain and a cross, which have particular meaning. “When the children were abducted during the LRA conflict, the cross on the mountain was lit up so they could find their way home,” said Angst.
The price tags attached to the pop-up shop items also were designed to highlight the mission of St. Bakhita, with each one in the series of six presenting a student’s story.
Mendoza now offers three sections of Innovation & Design Thinking, serving 100 Notre Dame students to teach them the fundamentals of design thinking while applying their business acumen, networks and skills to work on behalf of the Center.
Additional opportunities included an immersion course taking 12 students to Uganda over the 2022-23 winter break and a summer immersion that allowed 13 students to travel to Uganda to work on implementing prototypes for new business ventures.
Among the many additional achievements arising from this innovative collaboration, the Center is poised to graduate its first class of 78 Innovation Scholars sponsored by Notre Dame. “As you might imagine, working with a school like St. Bakhita’s involves your full heart and mind,” said Angst. “There is so much need, but even more opportunity.”