Senior Puts Classroom Experience to Work with African NGO

Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Bell tower inscription. Learning, leadership, and service in the Jesuit tradition

Before coming to Rockhurst University, Carrie Spanton was at a crossroads — having grown up in the hospitality business, she went straight from high school to the workforce, eventually working her way to restaurant management in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Bentonville, Arkansas.

“I felt like there was something that I was really supposed to be doing,” she said.

Spanton said she started taking classes at Penn Valley Community College, bouncing around subjects to find her fit. Eventually, she found public policy, seeing it as an avenue to make a difference in the world. She found a fit with peace and international studies and public policy programs at Rockhurst and earned a Trustee Scholarship, paving her path to become a Hawk.

But Spanton didn’t have to wait until after graduation to put what she’s learned into practice. In the spring, the COVID-19 pandemic rippled through the restaurant industry, Spanton and her husband both laid off as a result. So she found work as a freelance writer for some local nonprofit organizations, and then began casting a wider net to NGOs to see if she could pitch in on writing. That’s when she found Social Development International, or SODEIT.

Focusing on Cameroon and expanding into Sierra Leone and beyond, SODEIT is an NGO currently in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). As part of its mission to protect the most vulnerable and at-risk communities in Cameroon, SODEIT has created a Global Support Centre to connect virtually hundreds of people in favor of the country´s development.  

This Centre was established in April 2020 as an innovative way to respond to COVID-19 and other local challenges that the country has been facing. It was launched with the support of over 400 United Nations online volunteers and other 400 professionals who have taken the time to contribute with their skills and experiences.

Spanton started as a team lead in the SODEIT news division, tasked with bringing awareness to the issues facing Cameroon and now oversees seven teams including the development, marketing, news, fundraising, operations, translation, and local representative division.

It’s inspiring work, but not without its own challenges — Spanton said she is developing operations for community she’s never been to, coordinating teams of professionals and specialists in different time zones all over the world, and getting resources on the ground to those who need it. All amidst the very unusual circumstances of a global pandemic.

“It’s really self-led, volunteer-led,” she said. “I have learned a lot about Cameroon and what’s going on there and what the people there need. But it’s like this really big puzzle — some of the people on the team will be doing all of the work on their phone, some of them don’t have internet, sometimes someone disappears for a couple of weeks because they or a family member got sick. So I’ve learned a lot about some of those administrative skills and about how to do that kind of management.”

One factor working in her favor is motivation — Spanton said the volunteers on her teams are inspiring and compassionate heroes that care deeply about making the lives of other people better.

In September, Spanton spoke at a virtual event celebrating the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, about her experience and her hopes for the U.N. moving forward. She said the experience working with SODEIT has given her perspective not only on Cameroon, but on current events in the United States. As someone who made a change in plans mid-life, she’s reflected on what her experience has meant personally, too.

“I have learned that I can do this — that’s a huge thing,” she said. “The fact that I’m not even done with my bachelor’s degree and can find a way to do what I want to do is really key.”

And for those who are, like she was, looking for a way to make a difference in the world, Spanton said SODEIT is always looking for additional volunteers.