Lisa Curtis of Kuli Kuli

Kuli Kuli would not exist [without the Peace Corps]~ Lisa

Listen to the story of a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who leveraged her experience in Niger to bring Moringa (super food) food products to Whole Foods.

Key takeaways:

  • Moringa solves multiple problems- it is highly nutritious, it grows in hot, dry climates (common in the developing world and growing because of climate change)
  • Lisa learned about Moringa from the local health center in the area where she served
  • The importance of creating a market and knowing the community you are trying to serve

Watch other interviews from our Journey to Social Entrepreneurship Summit.


Neal Gottlieb of Three Twins Ice Cream

Ice cream, ice cream, I scream for ice cream, especially organic, “green” ice cream. Neal Gottlieb, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Morocco, says “Peace Corps is definitely an exercise in patience” this patience has been critical to founding Three Twins Ice Cream, in fact, he is still waiting for the company to be at a point where it can turn a profit (not uncommon in the food industry).

Learn how Three Twins Ice Cream is expanding the organic market while preserving the planet.

Note: this interview starts abruptly because your’s truly forgot to press record at the start :-(

Bread and Business Acumen

When Markey Culver signed up for the Peace Corps, she requested to go anywhere besides Rwanda…she was placed in Rwanda and 2 years later the reason became clear. She “accidentally” founded The Women’s Bakery.

She spent her first year as a PCV eating 1 meal a day in solidarity with the villagers where she served. Eventually, hunger inspired her to get creative with local ingredients.

Take aways:

  • Markey built a bakery that was later bulldozed- a great lesson in capacity building
  • How do you create hyper-local economies that are reliable?
  • What can Hamburger University teach us about development?

NOTE: apologies for the feedback in the background


Watch other interviews from our Journey to Social Entrepreneurship Summit.

5 Ways Service Years Prepare You for Entrepreneurship

I frequently meet students looking to become social entrepreneurs after they graduate. They are seduced by the idea of freedom, making a difference and not having “vacation days.” When I meet these students I often ask, “What is your big idea?” I am responded to with a shrug, indicating they will figure it out once they get real world experience. Used to hearing more traditional advice like get an MBA or work in consulting, they are surprised when I suggest a year of service with a program like AmeriCorps.

How can serving in the nonprofit sector prepare you for the day when you start a business?

1. Expand Your Ability to Serve

Customer service is the new marketing. With the rise of social media platforms and comment boards, every brand is subject to word-of-mouth affecting sales. The most successful companies are those who treat their customers with a heart of service. What better way to understand service then to spend a year working in the nonprofit/social services sector?

2. Learn to Make Money go Far

Projection Hub recently gave a break down on how start-ups are funded. They noted that 34 percent are bootstrapped, literally funded off the founders’ personal savings.  Translation: founders have little to no paycheck for at least a few months during the startup phase. And for founders operating on borrowed money, salaries tend to be skimpy early on while investors wait for proof of concept.

To work at a startup, you must be able to create and market products on a shoestring while also living on a minimal salary. Service year programs, like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps, offer you the opportunity to live on a stipend (enough money to cover room and board). Service members are placed to work at nonprofits. That role gives you the opportunity to practice creative ways to market and provide services with out spending money.

Founders coming off of a term of service are already equipped to bootstrap their new startup.

3. Selling an Intangible

Being effective at sales takes practice. People often think that because most nonprofits are not product based and discounted services that there is no selling. In fact the opposite is true. Nonprofits are funded by donations and grants, meaning that the staff are responsible for selling an idea or vision. Wendy Kopp funded Teach For America by selling the idea, “One day all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.” Yup, people gave her money and the only thing they got in return was a tax donation receipt and the knowledge that they are part of something great. This is not much different than when an investor writes a check for your half-baked app idea that has not even been built or market tested. If you want to start a business, you better know how to sell an idea.

4. Long Job Descriptions

82 percent of nonprofits with a staff have 1-10 employees. This means there are 1-10 people trying to take on the mission of ending homelessness in their town, raising the reading level of every child in a low-income school district, providing a safe place for all the victims of domestic violence in a zip code. To execute on these missions, each staff member (and service year member) must take on multiple roles spanning from events planning to marketing to administration. This is similar to when a founder starts a company. On paper, they are a CEO, but they are also the accountant, the data-entry specialist and the blogger. It is important to be able to learn skills fast and be able to switch between roles if you want to work in the startup world.

 5. Family Style Workplace

Both nonprofits and startups tend to have tight-knit teams that are inspired by passion. They work together on the weekend and grueling late nights. Co-workers know who you are dating and when your father is in the hospital. They are like family. This type of work environment can come with challenges and drama. It is important to learn how to navigate these types of relationships sooner rather then later.


Real Service Alumni Running Social Enterprises


Meet 20 social entrepreneurs that started their career with a year of service on next week’s Journey to Social Entrepreneurship Virtual Summit. We are connecting with alumni from Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, City Year and Teach for America who leveraged the skills learned in their term of service to launch a start up that is working to solve today’s complex issues.

Register for your free spot today.


By Anna Lenhart

Founder, Next Generation of Service

Founder, Anani Cloud Solutions

Past employee of 3 start-ups

AmeriCorps Alum :-)

Teaching Teachers in Guinea

Christina Kuriacose is a Returned Peace Corps volunteer from Guinea. She put her optical engineering degree to use as a problem solver and teacher of teachers.

Dare To Innovate

Hilary Braseth is the Founder and Executive Vice President of Dare to Innovate, a program that empowers young West Africans to fight pressing social problems with market-based solutions using creativity. She is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, she served as the community economic development agent in Guinea.


From Peace Corps to Kuli Kuli Foods

Lisa Curtis moved to West Africa to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger. The experience left her with a deeper understanding of malnutrition and agribusiness. Now she runs Kuli Kuli Foods, learn more about her journey and the role service played.

“You have to believe you have something worth pursuing…and I believe that”

Note: Make sure your volume is turned up

Rise Up Development Collective: Starting an NGO and Building Community as a Student

Before Jeremy Kirshbaum was the USA Facilitator of the RiseUp Development Collective in the Volta Region of Ghana, he was a Politics and Economics double major at UC Santa Cruz. Today, he has been featured by UCTV Prime as well as in UCEAP systemwide publications. Jeremy took his experience with UCEAP Ghana as a time to build an international community and shares some of his strategies for using the power of connection in grassroots projects here with GiveYourGap. The following essay solely expresses the views of Mr. Kirshbaum and his experience with RiseUp Ghana.

In 2010, I travelled to Ghana to study abroad through the University of California Education Abroad Program.  While there, a group of friends and I started the Rise Up Development Collective, and the Wli Todzi Clinic Project.  As of 2013, the Wli Todzi clinic has walls and a roof, and soon will have doors, windows, and a ceiling.  Progress has been slow, but we are very proud to have come this far.  Starting an international project from scratch has not been easy, but through many people across the globe recognizing a need and rising to the occasion, our dream is slowly becoming a reality.  A major contribution to this has been the power of connection, one of the many important tools for a grassroots project.  An international community of individuals inspired to make change has grown up around the project.  Ultimately, this has been a great an outcome as the progress on the clinic itself, and nearly as difficult to accomplish.  We’d like to share our story of how we got to where we are today, and some strategies we’ve used that we think will work for you too.

The village of Wli Todzi rests on the peak of the Agumatsa mountain, in the east of Ghana near the Togo border.  The village’s beauty is astonishing.  From plateau at the summit, you can look out all the way across the Volta River valley 3000 feet below.  The village is nestled in the rainforest, and surrounded by fertile lands that the 1500 people living in and around the village farm with a skillfulness recognized throughout the region.  The people of Wli Todzi are incredibly strong.  There is no easily accessible road to the village, so everything from the outside is carried up the mountain on their heads, or brought in from the neighboring country, Togo.  Although for a young American such as myself, the climb can be very tiring, there are old women in the village who go up and down the mountain twice in a day.  The villagers deals with the sometimes- vertical path with aplomb—the  sporadic electricity that is available in the village is made possible because the villagers carried up every electrical pole by hand.  Because of their isolation, most of life in Wli Todzi passes with a peaceful regularity.  The people are friendly to one another, work hard for their families, go to church on Sunday and enjoy the occasional palm wine during celebrations.  Most who visit the village fall in love with it.

Although their peaceful isolation is easy to romanticize, it is also the cause of great distress for the villagers.  When there is a medical emergency, for instance complications with childbirth, then the villagers must carry the patient down the mountain on a stretcher.  This is time-consuming and dangerous, and results in deaths every year.  Since Christmas of 2012, there have been 12 fatalities, 5 of which were children.  Many of them could have been prevented with easy access to healthcare in the village.  Wli Todzi is a beautiful place, but its isolation can be deadly.

Slowly, a growing collective of people across the world have come together around the project.  At first it was just people who had been to the village that worked on the project.  It is matter- of- fact to us that this clinic needs to be built.  The people of Wli Todzi are our friends, and it is natural to want to help friends.  The difficult part is getting people involved who have never been to the village at all.  Most people who have helped with the project have never heard of Ghana, and will probably never go there.  However, these people are the most essential and most inspiring element of the project.  These people participate in the project simply because they think it’s a good thing.  Sometimes, though, they can take some convincing.  Here are some strategies we’ve found that work well for helping people feel connected to a place very different from their own,

1.     Use reference points that they understand.

No matter how different the place, there is going to be some kind of overlap between cultures.  Playing up how exotic the people are makes people feel disconnected.  Talking about elements of the project people understand, like food, holidays, or jokes, you can make the most “exotic” of places feel familiar.

2.     People, people, people

It is essential that any project have a solid budget, timeline, and theoretical framework.  However, conveying the project only in this fashion quickly becomes boring or confusing for people.  However, the individuals involved in the project are something that newcomers to the project can connect to, even if they haven’t met them.  Talking about the personalities of the people in the village makes the project come alive for people, and makes them feel like they are dealing with a community of real people, not an accounting apparatus.

3.     The community at home is just as important as the community abroad

People need to be able to talk about what they’re doing with others.  Through events, social media, and even small projects, a community at home is maintained.  Because project participants can’t call the people of Wli Todzi and talk to them directly, having a group of people around them who are working on the project together makes them feel more connected- otherwise they can feel lost in space.

There is no silver bullet for an international grassroots project.  It takes very hard work, stubbornness, and an appetite for overcoming insurmountable odds and disappointment.  However, for us, it has continued to pay off.  Not financially (we are a 100% volunteer program), but because the clinic is going to be completed, because of what we’re learning in the process, and because of the incredible people that we’ve met at every step of the way—people we now call friends.  This is what keeps us going on the project, and will keep us going until the clinic is built, equipped and staffed.

And our connections are growing.  We’re excited this summer to announce the first ever opportunity for people to travel with us in Ghana, and visit the village of Wli Todzi.  We’re teaming up the Operation Groundswell to work with community groups all across the country- including 3 days in the village of Wli Todzi!  If you’d like to travel with us this summer, climb the Agumatsa mountain with us, see the clinic in person, as well as work with community organizations all across Ghana, please visit our website.   However, even, if you don’t think travel is in your plans for this summer, you can still get involved by helping fundraise for the clinic project in your hometown or at your university.  If you’d like to help, or just want to know more about the project, check out, or email us at  We’d be happy to hear from you, and welcome you into our family.  With your help, we can Rise Up!

IMG_9064-1 SAM_0175-1 IMG_9072-1 IMG_9066-1 IMG_3161-1 IMG_3015-1 _DSC6131-1Stretcher


Photos courtesy of Jeremy Kirshbaum, RiseUp

Brad, Atlanta

I put down my flashlight, picked up three-year old Arafat and set him on my lap. He still weighed no more than the metal flashlight now on the ground. His head fell limply against my chest as I picked up the bottle filled with soy bouille and began feeding him. He had gained some weight, yet his sunken-in fontanel, his inability to sit up, and the ever-present loose skin on his finger-thin arms and legs still incited worry for his life. He locked eyes with me as he gave a grimace and uttered a cry that touched the inner-workings of my soul. I had known that Djoulde, my best friend in village, had a child but I had never seen him until last week at the health center. Arafat’s mother died of AIDS when he was 4 months old. He was currently suffering from extreme marasmus and advanced malaria; preventable diseases. This was 10 months ago. This is Arafat’s life.

By stark contrast, my childhood consisted of growing up in wealthy and white suburbia, pampered with a neighborhood pool, a jet-ski, and expensive restaurant cuisine. Needless to say, my existence has been easy being a member of one the most privileged groups of people in the world; white, American, and male. Due to this fortunate upbringing I feel a personal requirement to dedicate my life to humbly serving others; working to make a small dent in the incredible amount of preventable suffering occurring worldly. I cannot rest content and complacent with the way the world is currently. I seek my meaning in this world through bringing about change with regard to how individuals view the global community and global ecosystem as a whole and I believe education is the first step in achieving this goal.

After two years in the Peace Corps, charged with improving health outcomes and education in an African region of more than 100,000 people, I discovered that good intentions and a humanist life perspective do not inherently result in positive outcomes. One must use science to inform action. For this reason I am in the process of pursuing a PhD in globally-focused epidemiology, hoping to use science to build functioning comprehensive primary health care systems internationally.

I feel incredibly blessed daily to have opportunities to contribute to improving care for depression and suicide in rural Haiti, to preventing HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Malawi, to the development of new anti-malarial drugs in Thailand, and to educating youth on health issues in Cameroon. It is amazing how every time I travel abroad individuals thank me for what I am doing when I should be thanking them for being patient with the world as we sit idly with so much inequity and suffering. That I am able to live my dream to hopefully (eventually) make a career around improving the health of populations globally is just beyond words.

I strongly believe in the mission of NGS and think that the ultimate goal of the educational system in America should be to build character in our youth, a sense of purpose in life, and a desire to improve themselves and the world at the same time. The learning that takes place during volunteer service to the underserved is soulfully empowering on a level that cannot be touched by getting an “A” in classroom studies. Seeing children like Arafat suffer is extremely difficult, but where there is great suffering and need there is also the greatest opportunity for positive change. Nothing is more empowering than being needed and being able to contribute positively to society. I look forward to a day where all youth can be paired with an organization or opportunity where they can be needed and can contribute positively to the making of a better world.

Laura Summers, Peace Corps

Traditional Ifugao dance performed by Peace Coprs volunteers and students from Ifugao State University.

Name: Laura Summers
School: University of California, San Diego
Type of Work: Education
Region: Asia
Length of stay:1 Year+

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I am a Peace Corps Education Volunteer in the Philippines. I co-teach first and second year high schoolers (ages 12-15ish) four hours a day. In my free hours at school I am working on a secondary project: creating a Learning Resource Center for students to visit to read, play games, and do their homework. I live with a host family, which has been really helpful in integrating into my community.

Share a favorite memory.
In November we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps in the Philippines. I joined a group of Filipino college students and other Peace Corps volunteers to perform a traditional Ifugao dance wearing traditional costumes. I love learning traditional dances and look forward to showing the video to all my friends and family back home so they can learn a little about Filipino culture.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
As of now I am thinking about getting my teaching credential when I return to the U.S. Before joining the Peace Corps I did not want to become a teacher.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of being a Peace Corps volunteer is learning how to cope with failure. While you are learning to navigate a new culture, and as in my case, a new profession, you are bound to have embarrassing moments and miscommunications that interrupt your plans. Being a Peace Corps volunteer requires an extraordinary amount of flexibility and patience. But what you learn in two years is priceless.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
Just do it! Travelling and volunteering abroad will give you such a wonderful new perspective on life and your place in it. If you can’t afford to volunteer a whole year, do as long as you can. You won’t regret it.