Students Create Business Plan for Village in Uganda
Two members of Alma College’s Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) recently traveled to Uganda, where they created a sustainable business plan for villagers in Muko.
For over a year, the student organization has been working with Agape Community Transformation (ACT) Uganda, a non-governmental organization that has a partnership between five churches in Michigan and several churches in Muko.
Working with ACT Uganda, Oakwood Hills, IL, senior Bill McHenry and Haslett junior Holly Oemke spent two weeks helping villagers figure out how to ensure the proceeds from the sales of their handcrafted items return to the village.
Bill McHenry, left, in Uganda
To achieve this, the students created inventory management systems and addressed import and export issues. They also held focus groups to identify the village’s needs and taught villagers how to manage the quality of their items.
While the experience gave the students an opportunity to utilize their business skills, Ron Lemmon, SIFE’s faculty advisor, says it also has a broader benefit.
“By using their communication skills in a foreign country, they learn the importance of cross-cultural understanding,” he says. “The next time students are on a business trip outside the country, they’ll know that doing business in the United States isn’t necessarily the same as doing business elsewhere.”
McHenry says he prides himself in being able to communicate with anyone, but the experience taught him a lot about working with people from a different culture.
“I had to pay attention to quirks in my personality,” he says. “I had to talk slower and be aware of using Americans expressions that didn’t translate there. It seems like small potatoes, but it was a big deal.”
Holly Oemke with villagers in Uganda
Because the village has been so receptive to SIFE, the organization plans to continue building upon their success in Uganda.
Members hope to bring laptops to the villagers during a future trip. They also hope to acquire land to build an apple orchard and a community center, so villagers have a central point where they can make their items and store their materials.
“The villagers were thrilled we were there,” says McHenry. “They really want us to help them help themselves, so they were supportive. Our goal is to empower them.”
Bill McHenry under the tent will villagers in Uganda
Lemmon says that by developing the economic viability of the village, SIFE and ACT Uganda can help to broaden the economic opportunities within the entire region.
“This has become a very important project to us,” says the assistant professor of business. “We think we can have a significant impact on the sustainability of their businesses.”
The experience had a significant impact on McHenry, who had never been overseas before the trip.
“This experience really took a place on a map and gave it an identity,” he says. “I went to parts of Africa that very few outsiders would see and learned so much because of it. I went to part of a wedding ceremony, and I got a real taste of the culture.”
To read more about the experience, please visit the SIFE Uganda blog.
Posted: Mon, January 31st, 2011 at 1:58PM