Students, Faculty See Change Through Project Nicaragua

3.20.2008 Global, News Release, School News

After sharing their skills with Nicaraguan business owners for a year, students and faculty at Wake Forest University’s Babcock Graduate School of Management say they can see a difference.

“We’re starting to build real relationships,” said Sherry Moss, Project Nicaragua faculty adviser, who returned March 14 from her third trip to Managua within a year.

Full-time MBA student Neela Rajendra (glasses), employs a team-building exercise called the human knot with Nicaraguan business owners during a student-led seminar in Managua over spring break.

A group of 17 students and four faculty members from the university spent their spring break in Nicaragua visiting small businesses, leading seminars and learning about business outside the classroom.

The March 7-14 trip was the fourth made by Babcock students in a little more than a year and marked the one-year anniversary of the first business seminar held in Managua as part of the school’s ongoing Project Nicaragua. The students were broken out into four teams: small business consulting, seminar, microfinance and metrics.

The students hosted seminars that covered accounting, fixed versus variable costs and networking, among others. They also conducted interviews with those who had attended past seminars in order to try to get some qualitative indications of impact. One example of those results was a woman named Yasmin, who has attended all three seminars. Yasmin owns a water purifying and bottling plant. After sitting in on one of the students’ morning seminars about pricing and the value of products, Yasmin negotiated a higher price for her product from her distributor that afternoon.

“The first day we saw immediate impact because she had a better understanding of the pricing model and the intangible value of her product,” said Neela Rajendra, who added that her goodbyes to some of the seminar participants were particularly emotional. It was the third trip and round of seminars for Rajendra, who is preparing to graduate from the full-time MBA program.

As a result of the seminars taught by Babcock students, the Nicaraguan business owners are networking with each other, even when the students aren’t there, which has been very heartening for the Babcock participants. “Those who attended the seminars help each other identify problems and then work together to find solutions,” Rajendra said. “One of our biggest goals was to get them to meet on their own, and we accomplished that. I was thrilled when I heard that they were getting together.”

On the next trip, the plan is to have past seminar attendees participate in an advanced seminar, then invite them back as graduate teaching assistants for future seminars. The goal, Moss said, is “to create more of a partnership.”

This trip marked the passing of the baton as the original student leaders turned over their responsibilities to a new crop of Babcock students. More than 30 individuals at Babcock are currently working on the project that was started in the fall of 2006 by several Babcock students who wanted to use their business skills to exact social change. In addition to the business seminars, the students held their first children’s activity day at La Chureca, the Managua city dump, which is home to approximately 1,500 people, more than half of whom are younger than 18.