Expansion of Project Nicaragua to Africa a success

7.25.2008 Article, General, School News

A group of students and professors from Wake Forest University's Babcock Graduate School of Management have taken a business seminar model being used in Nicaragua and have successfully introduced it to small business owners in Benin, Africa.
“It's not just a business seminar, it's poverty reduction," explained Ajay Patel, Babcock Research Professor of Finance and one of two faculty members who went on a weeklong visit to Cotonou, Benin, in June. Five students also took part in the university-sponsored trip.
"If we can help people develop tools to help their businesses, it helps reduce poverty. If they can improve their lives, it also improves the local economy and to that extent we are helping create global stabilization, which is of tremendous value to the U.S."
Despite struggles with poverty similar to Nicaragua, the business community in Benin is more organized and formal, said Patel, who met with the Minister of Culture, Tourism and Artisans.
"The government has a poverty-reduction initiative that our seminar fits in with," he said. "Now that we've been exposed to the leaders and the seminar participants have provided feedback on the value they received, they want us to come back, grow our model and perhaps train the trainers. I know we made an impact, and they clearly want us back. We learned more from them than they did from us."
Sherry Moss, associate professor of organizational studies and Project Nicaragua faculty adviser, also accompanied students Christopher Burch (MBA, '08), Zach Forward (JD/MBA, '10), James Russell (MBA, '08), Serena Rwejuna (MA, '08) and Neela Rajendra (MBA, '08). The students also were involved in Project Nicaragua.
"The main objective of our trip was to determine whether the seminar model we used in Nicaragua would transfer to another culture,” Moss explained. “We were delighted to discover that the participants were just as engaged in the seminar and excited by our teaching methods as their Nicaraguan counterparts. We are anxious to test our model in other developing countries in the near future."
Despite the level of organization in Benin, “there's still very much a need for what we were teaching in the seminar, and they recognized that need,” Rajendra said. “The people were so engaged and appreciative of what we have to offer."
Rajendra said though she has visited numerous countries, "I felt the most connected with the people of Benin and the culture. I felt really at home there. My two weeks there were some of the best of my life."
Burch, who is working with the MBA Enterprise Corps in Angola, is a co-founder of Project Nicaragua. He and the other participants said the Benin seminar was successful thanks to Wake Forest's Sylvain Boko, the Zachary T. Smith Associate Professor of Economics, who is a native of Benin, and Boko's sister, Bernadette, a small business owner in Benin. They invited 20 participants, and 20 attended the seminar.
Boko has overseen a Wake Forest study-abroad program to Benin since 1997. Since he was already planning a trip this summer, Boko wanted to replicate the Project Nicaragua business seminar in his home country after visiting Managua, Nicaragua, with a Babcock group over Spring Break. Project Nicaragua reaches out to aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners in the economically deprived area in and around Managua.
With Boko’s help, the Babcock group used the same template of a shirt-making company they used for sample cases in Nicaragua, just with different names, Burch said.
"Since we were working with the same level of businesses, we didn't have to change that much," he explained.
“A furniture maker thought so highly of our seminar that he brought his son, who is next in line to take over the business, to the second day. Not only did his actions give us immediate positive feedback, but it was the most sincere and profound endorsement we could have received."