If you get a chance to speak on a global stage to prominent social entrepreneurs from around the world, you better make sure you have a pretty comprehensive understanding of what you’re talking about.

Fortunately the College of Charleston team competing in the 2020 Map the System global competition this week is more than prepared: They’re passionate.

Phoebe Crouse, Kionnie Epps ’20 and Tozaria Green were chosen from the seven teams that competed in the College of Charleston’s local competition to move on to the global Map the System competition at the University of Oxford, UK (held via Zoom this year due to the pandemic), where they will compete with 31 teams from 16 countries to win cash prizes for their passion project. The College of Charleston team is scheduled to present their project on June 16, 2020. The Global Final competition will be available to livestream on the Map the System website at 10 a.m. (EST) on June 17, 2020.

It all started when David Hansen, associate professor of management and marketing, had all of the students in his spring 2020 Social Entrepreneurship class choose a social or environmental challenge to focus on and present for the College’s local competition. Topics included issues such as opioid addiction, food insecurity, mental health for people who work at night and environmental racism. The winning team’s topic was women of color entrepreneurs.

“Besides the fact that I am a black woman and an aspiring entrepreneur, I was interested in learning about how innovative and creative black women are and how they are paving the way for future entrepreneurs,” says Epps, a public health major. “Through research, I learned women of color entrepreneurs often struggle because of a lack of strong social ties who can introduce them to more people, access to capital and other critical resources.”

Women of Color Entrepreneurs Infographic CofC

The CofC team’s infographic depicting the revenue gap plaguing the economic success for women of color entrepreneurs.

The team’s research opened Crouse’s eyes to the inequalities women of color entrepreneurs face, as well.

“As soon as I realized there were these stark differences in the way that women of color entrepreneurs were treated versus white women, it really incited my passion as a feminist. These are my sisters, and I need to be looking out for them,” she says. “It illuminated the fact that there are systems in place to make sure certain people are disadvantaged, even in the business world – and, as an aspiring entrepreneur, I want to make sure that all of the advantages I have as a white woman are equitable to all people.”

The students all agree that, in order to enact change, they had to understand just how systemic the problem is.

“The most important thing that I learned from working on this project is that there is a huge revenue gap between white women business owners to women of color business owners, despite the fact that African American women business owners are starting businesses faster than their counterparts,” says Green, a senior majoring in business administration with an entrepreneurship concentration. “So, trying to find that gray area of why this issue exists can be challenging to figure out but in a positive way.”

And that’s what makes the topic such a good project for the Map the System competition.

Run by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, the annual Map the System competition invites student-teams from all over the world to research real-world problems, learn about organizations working in these fields and contribute towards making a real difference in their chosen area.

Women of Color Entrepreneurs CofC Infographic 2

The CofC team’s infographic depicting the solution landscape and key insights in their Map the Systems project on Women of Color Entrepreneurs.

Using “systems thinking” to understand social and environmental challenges and its wider context, Map the System participants create “systems maps” to understand the problem and thereby articulate their findings in a way that people can understand and learn from. It’s also an opportunity to make connections with socially conscious students, researchers and practitioners from within their school, their community and – if they are lucky enough to move on to the global competition – from all over the world.

“I am interested in listening to the incredible ideas that were created from other students around the globe, and I hope to learn new things and maybe implement some key ideas when running my own business one day and come up with innovative ways for women of color business owners after me to have more long-lasting businesses,” says Green, who hopes to one day create a sustainable cosmetic line and become a mentor to other women of color entrepreneurs. “To be given a platform to express the topic that is so dear to my teammates and I is going to be an incredible experience and an honor.”

Crouse agrees.

“People are going to realize that there’s this huge gap for equitable opportunity in entrepreneurship in America. I don’t think a lot of people are talking about women of color entrepreneurs globally, and how much harder it is for a woman of color to begin and sustain her passion project, than it is for a white woman,” says the senior anthropology major and entrepreneurship minor. “So the fact that it’s a global competition with prominent people from all over the world gives us such a unique opportunity to present this problem to a global audience and raise awareness.”

It’s also a great opportunity to represent the College of Charleston.

“This is putting us up on a world stage,” says Hansen. “We’re up there with the big schools – and if they make it to the final, their presentation will be up on the Map the System website forever so that future competitors can use their work as a model. It’s just a great chance to get our voices heard and let ourselves – and the issue – be known.”

Fortunately, the Crouse, Epps and Green couldn’t be more ready.