A group of 18 Babcock students and faculty returned to Nicaragua in March 2007 to conduct a seminar for area business owners and to implement the marketing, operations, and accounting components of a local vocational school’s new business model.
In December 2006, a group of five Babcock students traveled to Nicaragua to conduct preliminary research and identify opportunities to help a local vocational school develop a sustainable business model. At the Missionary Ventures International Vocational School, located just outside Managua, founder and operator Mike Deibert teaches students forging and metalwork skills. However, most of their skills can’t be put to full use in the area’s stagnant economy.
During its December trip, the Babcock team consulted with community members and students to create a new business model for the MVI School that focused on selling hand-crafted metal products made by its students. Revenue from the sales of these products will supply real wages to students and graduates who have few economic opportunities and help fund the school to advance its mission of educating a labor force.
After the Babcock student team returned home in late December, the project continued to grow as input from students, faculty and other organizations increased. A second trip was planned for March 2007 over spring break with 16 students and two faculty members attending. The returning group broke into two teams – one that implemented the school’s new business model; and a second team that conducted a two-day seminar in Managua for aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners.
At the MVI School, the Babcock students implemented a simple but effective accounting system. Paper receipts are used to track individual sales transactions and entered into QuickBooks Pro, a common turnkey accounting application for small businesses. QuickBooks Pro was purchased, installed and customized by the Babcock team to fit the raw materials, cost structure and client base of the MVI School.
At the same time, the marketing team set about determining the key characteristics of the MVI School brand and defining the product range. Building upon the quality of the students’ production, the marketing team determined the MVI School’s products should be positioned as a medium to premium product promoting its hand-made quality as well as the ability of its sale to support the school and its students. The marketing team also created promotional items including business cards and brochures, and it is continuing to develop a Web site.
The operations team focused on optimizing the floor plan, storage space and other organizational techniques of the MVI School. After several days of studying the various processes, the team met with Deibert to determine the optimal flow of personnel and materials in creating a new flow and storage plan.
Christopher Burch helps lead the two-day seminar for rising entrepreneurs
Across the city, the two-day business seminar used situational problems to introduce business concepts to aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners. Perhaps more importantly, the seminar also served as a vehicle to facilitate discussion, teamwork and networking among the attendees. With concepts ranging from managing inventory to break-even analysis to advertising and marketing, the seminar was a huge success. After the seminar’s first day, word of its value spread fast through the business community and attendance increased on the second day.
The Babcock students, who were immersed in a new culture, shocked by the acute poverty and challenged to apply clean class concepts to gritty real-life situations, called the trip “a life-changing experience,” “truly-rewarding” and “extremely moving.” Megan Glaser, a member of the marketing team, said “I couldn’t imagine any way for this trip to have gone any better.”
The students returned after seven days, and although the seminar is finished and the initial components of the business model are implemented, the work is by no means complete. Support for the project continues to grow, and preparations are under way to establish the Babcock International Consulting Program as a permanent student-run program to share the expertise of Babcock students with business owners in developing countries.
Several students who participated in Project Nicaragua are graduating this year. However, the rising second-year students who were involved already are preparing for return trips in December 2007 and March 2008 with an emphasis on improving local distribution, diversifying product range, completing marketing materials and expanding on a successful seminar model. They are excited to see their classmates adopt and lead the project with zeal and enthusiasm, with the reward of helping to establish sustainable commerce in one of the poorest nations in the world.