By applying business concepts to develop community outreach projects, Upper Iowa University Enactus members and other UIU students have helped achieve the organization’s primary goal to shape a more sustainable world by using the power of entrepreneurial action to enable human progress.
Twice over the past two years, a contingent of Upper Iowa students have traveled to Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua, to help promote entrepreneurial initiatives to youth and adults of the community. A native of Pearl Lagoon, Associate Professor of Management Redmond Humphrey, is among the UIU faculty helping to lead the project, which also includes faculty and students from the College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Nebraska.
“From an academic perspective, working with organizations in a developing country provides great experiential learning opportunities for students,” Humphrey said. High levels of uncertainty and daily challenges demand that you be able to think on your feet and respond to unforeseen problems. The lack of resources also forces you to think creatively, to improvise solutions to overcome problems.”
“It’s very difficult to gain this type of experience in the classroom or from working with companies in developed economies,” he added. “The skills gained from this experiential learning goes a long way to help students develop the confidence and self-efficacy that are critical to professional success.”
During the most recent educational mission in January 2017, Humphrey was joined by College of St. Mary Associate Professor of Chemistry Ganesh Naik and environmental consultant Allan Taylor in accompanying UIU students Gabby Wittenburg, Readlyn, Iowa; Taylor Klosterman, Manchester, Iowa; Julia Szepieniec, Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Dustin Hoefs, Horicon, Wisconsin; and Cory Mullins, West Des Moines, Iowa.
The UIU contingent provided entrepreneurial insight to approximately 15 students form the Academy of Excellence of Pearl Lagoon. These students had begun developing business initiatives in the community. From the guidance provided to them, the workshop participants built business plans for products and services that could potentially result in a successful business venture and provide a positive impact on the local economy. The students implemented the four P’s of marketing (product, price, place and promotion) to formulate how much capital would be required to start their respective business, how to price their product, and other entrepreneurial decisions.
The Upper Iowa students also hosted a camp for children ages 9-15, encouraging the young people to create their own future employment opportunities by setting up a business. In addition, local business owners and employees were invited to share ideas to enrich the community’s tourism industry.
“My initial goal was to help create an atmosphere of entrepreneurial action and by that I mean to inspire those around me to want to make their dreams of starting a business a reality,” said Mullins, while acknowledging his interest in also experiencing a new culture. “I took a multitude of real life experience away from this trip. The biggest impact that benefitted me most was trying to solve real world problems that business owners will foresee. Problem solving was a big proponent of the experience and I believed that it will benefit me far into the future.”
“I think I most enjoyed seeing people get closer and closer to their dream of starting their own business most,” added Mullins, a financial management major. “We are not done yet, and we will continue striving to help them reach an end result. As they grow closer to achieving their goals we will share in their excitement, and that is especially inspiring to me.”
Summer Zwanziger Elsinger, UIU associate professor of management and marketing, explained that a main objective is helping the locales to best promote or utilize the natural resources around them. Two primary examples are coconuts and fishing that are indigenous to the area. The coconuts provide entrepreneurial opportunities in producing soaps, oils, creams, etc., while fishing provides a variety of tourism prospects.
“When they return to Campus, I find it especially gratifying to hear what they have accomplished,” Elsinger said. “To experience helping someone is one thing, but to gain experience in being flexible, adapting to problems and changing your methodology to help someone is not a regular occurrence.”
“This is a very student-driven project and I prefer that our students create their own goals,” UIU Assistant Professor of Economics Chelsea Dowell added. “Each of them have the greatest thoughts and intentions heading into it, but once they arrive in Pearl Lagoon they soon learn more from the experience than they ever thought they would.”
Next year, UIU will expand its collaborative partnership and work alongside students and faculty from both the College of Saint Mary and the University of the Autonomous Regions of Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast based in Managua, Nicaragua.