Investing time abroad
Business Brigades students Taylor Dahlgren and Cyryl Jakubik teach a workshop in Panama.
Eight Loyola students recently traveled to Panama to help drive economic development in a rural community and improve the financial sustainability of businesses run by local families. The undergraduate students represented Loyola’s chapter of Business Brigades, which is part of Global Brigades, an international student-led organization that provides business consulting and strategic investment to support under-resourced microenterprises around the world.
The trip took place in January, with the volunteers providing educational, financial, and organizational resources to help community members develop new businesses or improve businesses they already run. The students met with families to learn about their business background, their challenges, and their ideas. The students then came up with a workshop that developed suggestions for helping the families improve business practices, such as customer service, marketing, and efficiency of operations.
For example, a family that raised chickens discovered that they were losing $75 a month because they hadn’t been accounting for all of the costs related to caring for the chickens. The students and the family then worked to develop different possibilities.
“Family members decide how they want to apply the information we share,” says Business Brigades Loyola chapter president Gabi Wilewska, a sophomore who is majoring in finance and international business. “A new Brigade from a different university arrives a few weeks after we leave and picks up where we left off, so they can help a family take the next step.”
Each Business Brigades volunteer also donates $100 to the community. Wilewska gave half of her donation to the bank to put toward loans to help community members set up or improve their businesses. The other half went into a savings account. A Brigades volunteer matches every dollar a community member saves.
Business Brigades came to campus in 2011, after Raveen Shah (BS ‘11) met one of the founders of Global Brigades and realized that the organization would fit well with Loyola’s focus on international and social justice initiatives. He organized the first trip to Panama last year. “We taught marketing and accounting techniques to make their shopkeeping businesses more competitive in the local area,” he says.
Shah, currently an MBA student, says the immersion experience is valuable for the Brigade students, some of whom have not traveled much.
Loyola’s chapter of Business Brigades is planning to take its next trip to Panama in January of 2013. The organization also is considering a visit to Honduras in May of that year.
Wilewska says it would be beneficial to have a business professional with “real-world knowledge,” and she encourages alumni who might be interested in participating to send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story courtesy of Loyola magazine (Spring 2012).