Center for Global and Economic Studies

Developing the world

Students take business consulting skills to Guatemala and India

By Lexi Lozinak, Comm ’13

While many students take their winter break to relax and decompress from a long semester, several Marquette Business students this January had a different idea: take the knowledge they’ve learned in the classroom to teach struggling enterprises abroad basic business skills that are often taken for granted in the United States.

Since January 2009, the Applied Global Business Learning program has taken dozens of students to countries across the world, providing a learning experience that can’t be captured on campus. Through AGBL, they were introduced to the complexities of international business and development.

This year, nine students traveled to Guatemala; eight went to India.

While their travels took them to different hemispheres, the students’ goals were the same: better the lives of individuals in developing countries by providing sustainable solutions to their small businesses.

Led by Dr. Heather Kohls, adjunct associate professor of economics, and Dr. Julia Paulk, assistant professor of Spanish, the trip to Quiché, Guatemala, centered on the lack of usable water in three local communities. The students quickly uncovered major concerns over how water is used and the detrimental effects poor water has on human health.

For the students, it seemed clear that a new water treatment facility would help overall economic development – and quality of life – in Quiché.

“Through deterred medical expenses alone, the average water treatment facility pays for itself in less than a year,” said Christopher Keeley, Marquette Business senior. “This is without factoring in the benefits of time gained, a greater quantity and quality of crops grown, and other factors.”

In India, students honed their business consulting skills by working with four different start-ups in both rural and urban areas. Led by Dr. David Clark, professor of economics, and Beth Krey, assistant director of the Center for Supply Chain Management, the Marquette students interacted with student-run businesses at St. Xavier College in Ahmedabad.

The fellow Jesuit institution offers only arts and sciences courses, so the Marquette students taught the Indian students the basic business principles to which they’ve never been exposed: product and workplace safety, quality control, contracts and intellectual property rights, among others.

In Aadi Ashadi, a farm in rural Gujarat, India, tribal farmers struggled to maintain their medicinal plant and food product business during the dry season, when locals would migrate to the cities. Students, including Ben Clark, a Marquette Business senior, offered ideas on how the company could market its products.

“[Packaging] didn’t really tell their story,” he said. “I wanted to improve the communication of what the product does.”

Back in the United States, the students are generating reports that contain analysis and recommendations, which will be sent back to the businesses.

“They really do take these reports to heart and make quick modifications,” Dr. Clark said.

Although their experiences were a world apart and with disparate businesses, both student groups walked away with not only a greater appreciation for how difficult economic development is in developing countries, but also that these barriers can be overcome.

For Kohls, seeing students come to these realizations is the highlight of her trip.

“The thing is, with entrepreneurship, everyone is going to keep telling you that you can’t,” she said. “The point of entrepreneurship is to find ways to overcome those ‘cants.’”

Keeley emphasized that, while there is no single action that can bring these communities out of poverty, simply teaching start-ups the basic business principles can go a long way.

“I already knew of poverty in developing nations, but seeing it in person is a powerful experience,” he said. “Solutions may seem simple with widespread observations, but practically assessing communities or entire nations require nitty-gritty, complex plans.”

Dr. Clark echoed these feelings.

“In a sense you see the enormity of the problem, but a lot of people are trying to do good things to make them better,” he said.

While the students walk away with the experience of a lifetime and a true immersion into global business practices, they also leave the companies equipped with the skills necessary to not only better their businesses, but to ultimately better their lives.

“If we can improve their business operations, we can improve their standard of living,” Ben Clark said. “That’s being the difference in the world.”