Mendoza School of Business

Walk for Water Relay opens eyes to realities of Ugandan women

Published: September 15, 2022 / Author: Brandi Wampler


three students with water jugs on their heads on campus

Students carry water jugs on the library green for the Walk for Water Relay.

Many girls in Uganda don’t make it past primary school before dropping out. For most, the school tuition cost is too high because their families live in extreme property, earning just over a dollar per day.

Instead of pursuing an education, Ugandan girls and women are tasked with helping out at home by carrying five gallons of water on their head (weighing about 42 pounds) and walking a total of 3.2 miles each day.

student carrying a water jug on the library green

Student carrying water during the Walk for Water Relay.

“The time spent performing these household chores, such as going to the borehole to gather water typically falls upon young girls, which prevents them from spending that time attending school or studying,” said Cecilia Velander (‘23). “The Innovation for Impact Club and the Walk for Water Relay bring awareness to the struggles St. Bakhita’s students face on a daily basis.”

Velander is a member of the Innovation for Impact Club at the University of Notre Dame. The club is a spin-off from Mendoza College of Business teaching professor Wendy Angst’s undergraduate Innovation and Design Thinking course, which for more than two years has worked on projects focused on innovation and education to support the St. Bakhita Vocational Training Center in Kalongo, Uganda. This vocational boarding school serves young women across the Acholi region of Uganda by training the girls in innovation and entrepreneurship methods to recognize opportunities, build solutions and ultimately, to be job creators to propel their communities forward.

The club was created to do as its name suggests: to use innovation to drive impact. So when the group was looking for a new way to raise awareness and support tuition costs for St. Bakhita’s students, they chose the Walk for Water Relay.

student holding water jug on her head

A student holds a water jug on her head for the Walk for Water Relay.

“The students in the club selected ‘walk for water’ as the theme so that students at Notre Dame could experience firsthand how difficult it is walking with five gallons of water (although they typically carry it on their heads). The idea was to show that doing chores like this instead of going to school should not be a choice,” said Wendy Angst, teaching professor of Management & Organization and professor of Innovation and Design Thinking.

During the 2022 ND Day, the club hosted their first Walk for Water Relay where students joined in teams carrying five-gallon containers of water across the Hesburgh Library lawn. As each student finished, the next leg in the relay took off. The competition represented the twice-daily task Ugandan girls (younger than the students) experience to bring clean water to their families.

“By racing to carry water up and down library lawn, each Notre Dame student is doing more than engaging in a fun competitive activity with their friends, they are momentarily experiencing the daily life of Ugandan girls and woman. The Walk for Water Relay provides students with the opportunity to develop a sense of empathy with someone located halfway across the globe,” said Velander.

Since its creation, the Innovation for Impact Club has raised a total of $30,000 with project partner St. Bakhita’s. As the 2022-23 academic year begins, the club hopes to attract more undergraduate students from across the University to join and support the cause.

“I am proud to be at a University that has chosen to exercise social entrepreneurship, allowing their students to interact with the St. Bakhita’s students to implement revenue generating ideas with the ultimate goal of making the vocational center economically self-sufficient,” said Velander. “In doing so, Notre Dame students are granted the ability to make a tangible difference in the lives of the women they are working with that will persist even after they leave South Bend.”

woman carrying water jug

Professor Wendy Angst participates in the Walk for Water Relay

Beyond the club, Mendoza undergraduate students can participate in a series of courses, including learning the fundamentals in Innovation and Design Thinking, participating in an immersion where students travel to the client site to conduct research and test ideas, and getting involved in a Applied Impact Consulting course to support the launch of concepts developed in Innovation and Design Thinking and track the outcomes.

Additionally, concepts from Angst’s Innovation and Design Thinking course are now available in a different form for MBA and EMBA students.

“Innovation and Design Thinking gets students out of the classroom, working side-by-side with those most affected, to develop and test innovations that have a meaningful impact,” said Angst.

“Learning opportunities like these help to develop servant leaders with a deep empathy for those most impacted by the challenges facing our world, and its just one way Mendoza grows the good in business.”

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