Sonja Wiencke: There is more opportunity to make a difference
A social entrepreneur passionate about making a difference has relocated to Dominica, the place she now calls home and is committed to affecting change on the island.
Sonja Wiencke spent much of her life in Europe, having grown up in Germany and then lived in Sweden, France, Belgium, Namibia, Hungary and the United Kingdom.
During her time in the UK, she met her partner, who is Dominican, while studying at the University of Oxford.
"We have been speaking about moving here since our first date. The first time I visited was in 2018. He really wanted to show me the island and meet his family," she said.
Sonja had worked with nonprofit organisations in the UK for four years, so she saw post-Maria Dominica as a place that required a lot of work.
"I could see how many people and organisations were putting loads of effort into rebuilding Dominica, but the environment they were doing it in was so much harder than the one in the UK," Sonja said.
Making a move here in 2020, Sonja shares her biggest surprise was how everything relies on personal relationships.
"In Europe, you can do everything by getting information online. For example, you don't need a car in Europe; you can find out on Google Maps when the next bus is scheduled and get around on public transportation," she said. "Here, you have to hope there is a bus; sometimes, there isn't. But maybe a neighbour, or someone else, might offer a ride. So as long as you have relationships with the right people, you'll be fine. In my experience, everyone is very friendly and helpful." Regarding the Creole language, Sonja credits her fluency in French as helpful in understanding Creole conversations.
"If the person speaks slowly, I can guess where the conversation is going. The English was a bit difficult, but I gradually picked it up. I think we should make Dominican English an official language. It is not just an accent or pronunciations, it has words with different meanings, and there is a system to the grammar," she said.
Sonja has also immersed herself in Dominica's culture through the Sixth Form Sisserou Singers.
"Art has always been a big part of me; I grew up in a family of musicians. So I've been in choirs, drama groups etc.," she said. "Being a member of Sisserou Singers is a nice way to integrate because I learn about the culture – I even get to sing songs in Creole."
Sonja is now the owner of Island Impact. This agency supports Dominican NGOs with grant writing, impact measurement, strategic planning, and more.
"Island Impact is an NGO consultancy that helps Dominican NGOs solve social and environmental problems sustainably, successfully, and systematically," Sonja said.
So far, she has worked with 11 local NGOs, helped four of them get funding, and has recently hired her first employee.
"Through Island Impact, I liaise with NGOs that work on the trickiest problems: climate change, domestic violence, youth unemployment. That has taught me a lot about Dominica, how people think, and what they care about," she said.
Island Impact's fundamental principle is to respect and build on local NGOs' expertise.
The idea for this social enterprise was born at Oxford.
"People think studying at Oxford is for posh nerds, but the University tries very hard to produce people that can go out into the world and solve problems no one has solved before," she added.
Sonja is also impressed with the number of youth in Dominica who have ventured down that same path to help society.
"More young people are starting and running their own initiatives to improve the island through their area of expertise," she said. "These things make me excited and hopeful. That is one of the reasons I like being here, rather than in London, because there are more opportunities here to make a difference."
Sonja remains devoted to learning about Dominica, further integrating and supporting local NGOs in solving local problems.
-By Andrea Louis