Alejandra and Vanessa Pena: Growth in Social Consciousness

When Alejandra and Vanessa Pena arrived at Northeastern as transfer students from the University of Quito in their native Ecuador, they had a genuine desire to create social change. They had no idea what to do or how to do it.

Today, the 2018 graduates are the co-founders of Aweik, a growing nonprofit that promotes social entrepreneurship in Latin America to solve stubborn problems in education, health, and other societal needs.

Seeing all these small enterprises with potential in Mumbai, we realized in Ecuador we see the same reality.

The sisters attribute that success to their exponential growth in one of SAIL’s learning dimensions, social consciousness and commitment.

Through student orientation, advising, and the co-op course, “we got to know ourselves better, explore our interests, and look for the experiences we needed,” says Alejandra, a combined business and economics major.

In their first year at Northeastern, they took the Global Social Enterprise course, which introduced them to the notion that for-profit business could also be a lever for social good.

The following year, an eye-opening Dialogue of Civilizations in India drove home the lesson that poverty owed more to a lack of opportunity than a lack of skills.

Finally, they gained key insights that would shape Aweik’s ultimate focus, while they were working in separate co-ops—Alejandra at a microfinance nonprofit in San Francisco, and Vanessa at a technology-based startup in New York. Integrating the lessons learned from both, Aweik supports Latin America’s young technology-focused social entrepreneurs, connecting them to business leaders and policymakers around the world.

Now the sisters are intent on making the organization financially sustainable, starting with an impact development summit in Ecuador scheduled for late September. “We have to create an ecosystem that will improve these enterprises and help them to grow,” says Alejandra.