The idea for Square One was sparked by another student-run venture at CSB/SJU. In 2010, Extending the Link traveled to Uganda in order to document and share the plight of families led by teenage caretakers. These teens often sacrifice their own education and personal development in order to provide food, housing, and medical care for younger siblings after their parents die from HIV/AIDS. The Extending the Link documentary focused on the stories of a few young Ugandans, and showed some of the ways organizations work to combat this vicious cycle of poverty.
After viewing this documentary, a group of students decided to set up a social enterprise to help fund the organizations that support these Ugandan orphans. This first social venture focused on selling jewelry made by students at Hope Academy, a Ugandan school dedicated to providing education and support for children. In addition, two Johnnies were inspired to return to Uganda to create lasting business ventures in the developing country- laying the foundation for what Square One is today.
In 2012, two St. John's students travelled to Uganda to build and fill two chicken coops for Hope Academy. Eggs laid by the hens are sold to community members, providing a source of nutrition to residents and the money to pay teachers' salaries. Furthermore, the opportunity to help raise the chickens provides hands-on experience and training the students can use to start their own businesses or careers. This project provided the inspiration and practical experience the Square One team needed to continue our work with Hope Academy and other developing countries.
After developing relationships with Hope Academy through the chicken coop, Square One decided to help expand the social venture further. In 2013, a group of five students travelled once again to Uganda, purchasing the materials and livestock necessary to get a piggery up and running. The piggery provides additional income for the school, helping pay teachers' salaries and improve the community around the school. Today, there are 21 adult pigs and 42 piglets, offering the students and staff at Hope Academy a robust and sustainable business that helps a good cause.
In 2014, six students travelled to Mathare, the oldest collection of slums in Kenya (and one of the largest in East Africa) in order to help establish a sustainable long-term venture. Over 86 percent of Mathare's population lives without running water, sewage systems, electricity, roads, or adequate housing. Square One wanted to focus on how we could get those in Mathare to safely transition out of the slums.
The Square One team saw an opportunity to create a profitable, sustainable business to help fund these efforts while also creating a source of inexpensive, safe, and earth-friendly fuel for the community. Square One collaborated with a local woodworker to create two biomass presses, which compress organic waste into a briquette. These briquettes can be burned as an alternative to expensive and potentially hazardous coal. Proceeds from the sale of these briquettes will go to support a children's outreach center in Mathare, while also allowing the center to expand its reach and scope of programs.