Students forego break to aid Nicaraguan merchants

By on February 7, 2007

A group of 17 business students and three faculty members traveled to Leon, Nicaragua in January and helped local merchants develop business plans. The trip was co-sponsored by the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Quinnipiac University.

David Ives, executive director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute, and William Clyde, associate vice president of academic affairs, organized the trip, which lasted from Jan. 8 to Jan. 17. Fifteen undergraduate and two graduate students at Quinnipiac University were supervised by Clyde, Ives and management professor David Cadden.

The idea for the trip originated when Ives and Clyde discussed the possibility of the School of Business partaking in an international business endeavor. The professors came up with the idea for Cadden’s capstone class, along with the two graduate students, to help improve businesses in Nicaragua. Assistance to this program was provided by the Sister Cities program in New Haven.

The trip had been a dream of Ives who “noticed that most of the programs that lasted were the ones that taught people to create their own wealth.” One goal of the business school is to teach people to be ethical entrepreneurs. While students in other majors at Quinnipiac have participated in overseas humanitarian trips, this trip was the first of its kind for the School of Business.

In Leon, the Quinnipiac team stayed with host families. At the workshop, the students were divided into six teams and assisted by translators, thus turning a semester long course into three compressed days of training for the businesses. Three Quinnipiac students were paired up with one business and they discussed how the business plans would affect the business. The students proposed numerous ideas that the businesses had not thought of. Many of the firms had received previous funding from a micro-lending institution and they ranged from a home-based micro retailer to a micro lender.

“The classroom environment with the local businesses stands out most in my mind,” said Paul Bogdanoff: “All the local businesses that we worked with gathered in one small classroom for a three-day seminar on all of the major aspects of running a business. This crash course was more than the local business owners had ever been exposed to and they took to it with great interest and enthusiasm. Just seeing how interested they were in applying this knowledge to their own businesses was reward enough.”

At the conclusion of the three days of training, Quinnipiac students went into the field to review the capabilities of their businesses and to conduct market and competitor studies. Ives said that this trip was the first time many students were exposed to real poverty. Students visited a home where cardboard was used to divide the rooms, the roof was rusty and the floor was made of dirt, which flooded when it rained.

“Another memorable moment was when we went into the farm town. The people living there were among the poorest in the area,” Bogdanoff said. “We went to their local school and saw what their classrooms looked like. Needless to say they were far below accommodating. This experience changed my perspective on my life, as well as everything in it. None of us will ever forget this experience for as long as we live.”

The participants are presently preparing comprehensive business plans for their companies, which will be translated into Spanish and then provided to the firms. Follow-ups will be conducted regarding the performance of the firms.

Ives hopes this trip will foster a long-term relationship with the business owners with whom they worked. According to Ives, the goals of this trip were to establish relationships with international schools, international people and to understand social problems in other nations.

Michael Holt, a business undergraduate, said the trip enabled him to gain a heightened sense of perspective.

“It was a great learning experience on so many levels. I definitely came home grateful for everything I had waiting for me back at home, specifically my family, friends and college education,” Holt said. “Going on this trip was the first time I left the United States and now I can’t wait to continue seeing what is out there waiting for me after school and continue finding more opportunities to possibly make a difference.”


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