Student aids impoverished countries through University programs
January 22, 2018
Grant Richardson, senior in LAS, traveled the world since he was a child. His mother worked for United Airlines, so he had the unique opportunity of traveling with her.
Now that he’s older, he’s still traveling, but with a new passion in mind: social change.
Richardson is a global studies major with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. His studies focus on helping impoverished areas, where he acts as a supportive resource for nonprofits through his work at Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations.
Richardson has been to about 15 countries, he said. Recently, he had the opportunity to study abroad in Kenya and intern in China and Johannesburg, South Africa. But instead of going to the tourist areas, he likes to fully engage in the culture.
“I like to really immerse myself in the places I’m living,” Richardson said. “That’s the kind of travel I like, having the opportunity to live in a place and see what it’s like to be a local to an extent.”
Richardson said Kenya is his favorite country he’s ever been to. His program lasted 10 weeks in a rural area where he helped provide financial stability.
In Kenya, he applied his studies from school in a developing country where he did enterprise development and worked in a children’s home.
He said one of his favorite memories while being there was helping a younger couple develop a shoe company. While a relatively simple business, Richardson sat with the couple and discussed business plans and long-term goals.
“Having that discussion with them and acting more as a facilitator rather than an interpreter was a really valuable experience,” he said.
On campus, Richardson is involved with several RSOs, one of which is Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations, a consulting organization of different nonprofits.
He first joined the organization as a freshman, but now he is one of the managing partners and presidents.
He aims to help build student interest and participation in these nonprofits.
“I wanted to learn more about the different actors that drive social change,” Richardson said. “And when I saw the opportunity to join a group that solely focused on providing support to local nonprofit sectors, I jumped on board.”
Franco Mariani, senior in Business, is one of the partners at the consulting organization. He said Richardson is a great leader and a great influence on the organization.
“He brings great knowledge about the nonprofit community that a lot of people don’t necessarily know about,” Mariani said. “Being able to leverage his knowledge and learn from him throughout our engagements is beneficial to all members and in turn becomes beneficial to all our clients.”
Richardson is also part of Illinois Enactus, which implements projects to help the Champaign-Urbana community.
This past semester, Richardson gave a TED Talk about his social work. He also discussed reasons people should get involved in their communities and how they can take advantage of these opportunities. He said it was a very nerve-racking experience, but also a great opportunity.
“Those I find are the best learning experiences,” Richardson said. “When you jump in headfirst to the things you don’t really want to do, that make your palms a little sweaty, maybe you start to shake a little bit. Those are the opportunities that will ultimately allow you to grow and become the person you want to be.”
Jason Ho, senior in Business, has known Richardson since high school but works with him on campus through Illinois Enactus and several other projects. He said Richardson is an amazing person to work with.
“He has this unique quality about himself where he’s sort of able to strike a really good balance between expressing his own ideas while also making sure all the other ideas are heard,” Ho said.
After Richardson graduates, he will be moving to Houston to teach elementary school kids through Teach For America, a nonprofit organization committed to teaching in low-income schools. It’s an experience he said he is highly looking forward to.
“I know I need experience at the ground level, working in an institution, specifically at an elementary school…I just know it’s going to be an incredible learning opportunity,” Richardson said.
But what Richardson will do after that, he said, he is unsure of at the moment.
“I don’t want to tie myself to a goal because I’m not sure,” Richardson said. “I’m still learning. This is a space I’ve become increasingly more familiar with, and so through that learning, I’m identifying things that I’m interested in.”