Project Nicaragua Expands Reach to Africa

4.2.2008 Global, News Release, School News

A group of students from Wake Forest University’s Babcock Graduate School of Management is traveling to Africa this summer and taking a seminar model being used to help small business owners in Nicaragua.

The idea is the brainchild of Sylvain Boko, the Zachary T. Smith Associate Professor of Economics at Wake Forest. Boko traveled to Managua, Nicaragua, over spring break with a group of Babcock students and faculty at the invitation of Babcock School Dean Ajay Patel. He went to observe them teaching their business skills seminar as part of Project Nicaragua, which reaches out to aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners in the economically deprived area.

With funding from the university, Boko will head to his native Benin along with five Babcock students and two faculty members, Patel and Sherry Moss, associate professor of organizational studies. Moss is the faculty adviser to Project Nicaragua. The group plans to take the business seminar model that is beginning to yield results among attendees in Nicaragua and transport it to Benin, which similarly struggles with poverty.

“Teaching business skills is sort of the meat and potatoes of poverty reduction,” Boko said. “As we observed the students teaching these business concepts, I thought, ‘Wow, it would be easy to replicate this in another setting. I was going to be in Benin this summer anyway, so I thought it was a great opportunity to try and get them out there as well.’”

Boko learned about the Nicaragua project when its original organizers – Babcock MBA students Christopher Burch (MBA, ’08), Megan Glaser (MBA, ’08) and Chris Yuko (MBA, ’09) – sought him out for advice. Boko has overseen a Wake Forest study-abroad program to Benin since 1997.

Burch is among the Babcock students who have been chosen to go to Benin with Boko. The others are: Zach Forward (JD/MBA, ‘10) , James Russell (MBA, ’08), Serena Rwejuna (MA, ’08) and Neela Rajendra (MBA, ’08).

Boko likes the case method used by the students to teach business skills. He was especially impressed by the fact that attendees of previous seminars had returned, armed with success stories and wanting to learn more. Finally, he liked the approach of “training the trainers” so that seminar attendees helped teach and learn from one another.

Boko acknowledges that there will be challenges in transferring the seminar concept to a different culture. All of the seminar materials, for instance, will need to be translated from Spanish to French, the language of Benin, and case studies will need to be adapted for a different audience and culture. Those challenges, though, should provide a vital test to determine how well the seminar model translates to other regions of the developing world.

“It will give us a second data point to see how the model can be adapted for use elsewhere,” Boko said. “The question is how do you come up with business training and adapt it in a culturally sensitive way?”