By Gulcan Yayla

In East St. Louis, all the neighborhoods are actually one neighborhood, and everyone has something to share. We believe we can help change lives of people one local small business at a time.

This belief inspired a group of Washington University students to found the East St. Louis Initiative (ESLI) last September.

ESLI exists to support East St. Louis entrepreneurs with access to consulting, training, and legal services. In order to provide these services, ESLI connects student volunteers with a budding entrepreneur for four months of intensive support. The organization is already supporting a pair of driven entrepreneurs, including a mobile barbershop and a volleyball club.

Chief among the ESLI’s core values are diversity and equal access to opportunity, and the organization itself brings together students from a multitude of backgrounds. In fact, the team of eight volunteers hail from five different countries and are pursuing five different graduate degrees from across the school. They are also actively reaching out to the community; ESLI has partnerships with several nonprofits and mission based organizations in the East St. Louis area. The organization also recently won awards from the Olin Business School’s Idea Bounce Competition and the Gephardt Institute Civic Engagement Fund.

ESLI leadership discusses its inspiration:

“As people from different parts of the world come together, stories are shared and ideas are sparked. We have global experience in the social impact sector in countries such as Turkey and India, and we want to bring that fresh perspective to St. Louis.  We discussed the issues faced by East St. Louis and the challenges of people who are trying to breathe new life into the neighborhood. These conversations led to the formation of East St. Louis Initiative. Ultimately, we want to address entrepreneurs’ needs by connecting them with the bountiful resources on the west side of the river.”

They hope to reach even more students who are passionate about social equality and would like to work with ESLI. “This is about witnessing and contributing to the inspiring journeys of East St. Louis entrepreneurs. We want to create a real world nexus between civic engagement and social entrepreneurship.”

Learn more and connect with ESLI  members