Tsvetanova earns Watson
Toni Tsvetanova ‘11 has been awarded the Thomas J. Watson fellowship for her project proposal, “Redefining Homelessness: A Promise for Change through Social Enterprise.”
The Watson fellowship is a one-year $25,000 grant for independent study and travel outside of the United States. Tsvetanova was one of 40 recipients nationwide, and will embark on her journey to France, South Africa, Bangladesh and Brazil upon graduation.
Tsvetanova drew upon her own background for inspiration for the project. She is from Harmanli, Bulgaria, in close proximity to a neighborhood of the Roma people (commonly known as gypsies). She commented that these people were “severely impoverished, almost homeless…but they were also my friends. I wanted to help them, but I could not do much at the time.”
As a research assistant in the government department on the Hill, Tsvetanova studied social entrepreneurship under Audrey Wade Hittinger Katz and Sheldon Toby Katz Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor of Government Ariel Armony. She describes social entrepreneurship as “taking risks for the social good, but at the same time being profitable or self-sustainable.” Tsvetanova would like to open a social entrepreneurship venue of her own that combats homelessness. The fellowship provides her with the opportunity to do intensive research in the field and see what works and what doesn’t.
“A promise made a long time ago to change homeless people's lives assures me that I will one day use social entrepreneurship to help people on the streets. The Watson Fellowship is the means through which I will learn how to do so,” Tsvetanova stated on the Watson fellowship website. “The answers I seek relate to distinguishing the successful social entrepreneurship strategies and methods that can help me connect with homeless people and provide them with the means and motivation to make a difference in their lives.”
Specifically, Tsvetanova will be studying existing social entrepreneurship projects in France, South Africa, Bangladesh and Brazil. In France, she will be volunteering at and doing research on the Homeless World Cup, which aims to “beat homelessness through football.” The Homeless World Cup boasts a network of about 70 national partners, each of which sends a team of eight homeless people to compete in an annual soccer tournament. Tsvetanova wants to study the effects that this tournament has on the homeless; she is specifically in what happens to those homeless who are not part of the eight chosen to compete. She would also like to conduct qualitative research on the ways in which these people became homeless in the first place. “This has always been a question of mine, and I would love to investigate it,” she said.
Tsvetanova is also visiting Brazil and South Africa, previous hosts of the Homeless World Cup, to study the residual effects of the tournament on homeless people, as well as the work of other social enterprises. Additionally, she will be spending time in Bangladesh—the first country to implement micro-financing—to study the effects of this economic strategy.
During her junior year, Tsvetanova studied abroad in China, where she continued to focus intensely on social entrepreneurship. She started the Migrant Workers’ Childrens Initiative, in which she and her peers worked to educate the children of migrant workers.
Here on campus, Tsvetanova has been an active member of a number of activities, including track and field, the senior pledge committee, the East Asian studies club, the judicial board, international club, Colby Cares About Kids (CCAK) and the salsa club. She personally started the Colby Social Entrepreneurs club, which has worked with the Mid-Maine homeless shelter and the Good Shepherd food bank.
Tsevetanova said the prospect of traveling by herself “is nerve-wracking, but exciting...I am not so much worried about being on my own—since I have lived away from my family since I was 14—as I am about not knowing the language or the cultures of the countries I am visiting,” she said. “Regardless, this is a great opportunity, and it is letting me pursue something I have always been interested in.”