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Undergraduate Students Assist Student Entrepreneurs in Nicaragua

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For five weeks Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business undergraduate students Matthew Murphy, Ari Newsome, and Sonya Patel travelled throughout Nicaragua to work with student entrepreneurs enrolled in Fabretto’s Sistema de Aprenizaje Tutorial (Tutorial Learning System, also known as SAT) program. Their mission this summer was to help students create successful business plans and develop realistic business perspectives to produce profitable businesses for the student cooperative.

The Fabretto Children’s Foundation is a Nicaraguan nonprofit organization that provides assistance for those children most in need in Central America. Under Fabretto’s SAT program, students are assisted in identifying business opportunities in their communities and in developing their own small business initiatives through student-run cooperatives.

This innovative summer fellowship was developed by Senior Associate Dean Norean Sharpe when she learned of the needs of the Fabretto Foundation – and of the strong Georgetown connection with Fabretto. This is the second year that the Undergraduate Program Office has sponsored undergraduates to dedicate their business skills to aiding Nicaraguan children and organizations. “I am thrilled that our partnership with Fabretto has enabled our students to contribute to the growth and learning of children in Nicaragua. This is a unique opportunity for our students,” Sharpe said.

Murphy, Newsome, and Patel spent the first two weeks developing a supplemental workbook for the SAT secondary education students to help them think critically about their business ventures. In making this manual, the three had to review their accounting, management, finance, and marketing notes, pulling out key concepts and translating everything into Spanish. They also completed a project for Monica Drazba, chief financial officer of the Fabretto Children’s Foundation, which involved developing a cost allocation model to help Drazba ascertain how Fabretto’s money was being spent between its five program divisions.

In the third week, the trio visited a Fabretto school just outside the capital city of Managua to interview the students. Each spoke separately to students from various years in order to appraise the overall student body’s knowledge of business and management and what improvements could be made to the school curriculum. Murphy, Newsome, and Patel consolidated their findings and then met with those students who showed the greatest interest in entrepreneurship, going over the workbook and key concepts they had compiled.

“We were very impressed with how much the students knew at such a young age,” Newsome said. “The average age was 16, and they already knew concepts such as the time value of money, the accumulation of interest, and the consideration of external factors that could impact business management.”

In the fourth week, the undergraduates travelled eight hours to the rural village of San José de Cusmapa, where most of the communities did not have electricity or running water.

“The SAT program is extremely relevant in these communities because it teaches students about business in a rural context,” Murphy said. “From what we observed, the SAT program was much more effective in the rural communities than in the school just outside of Managua.” During their trips, Murphy, Newsome, and Patel visited a Fabretto initiative called “El Banco de Semilla,” or Seed Bank, in which students sold their crops to the bank and the bank used the profits to repay its investment from Fabretto and to purchase seeds and agricultural supplies for the community.

They also visited a basket cooperative that initially started as a Fabretto entrepreneurship initiative and later fully became independent of Fabretto. The cooperative employed 40 women from Cusmapa and surrounding communities and had success in getting its products into Anthropologie stores in the United States. Patel talked to the women about her e-commerce class at Georgetown to help the women utilize the internet to gain further U.S. distribution.

While the trio worked hard during the weeks, they made use of their weekends to travel to other cities and attractions in Nicaragua. These short trips involved activities such as visiting national parks, hiking around active volcano craters, and making stops at various marketplaces.

“The marketplace was an interesting stop on our trip,” Patel said. “The handmade goods and live music were great ways to get a feel for the culture of Nicaragua.”

In their final week, the students called upon their experiences to write their report for their case study, which Drazba would use as unbiased input for possible changes to the SAT Program.

“Before we left, we met with Ms. Drazba to express our interest in helping out with Fabretto events in D.C.,” Murphy said. “We all feel that Fabretto is an incredible organization and hope to stay involved for years to come. We all agree that it has been a truly rewarding and humbling experience.”

Given the success of this partnership with Fabretto, Sharpe has been able to raise funds to grow the program. Sharpe commented that “we recently have obtained the necessary funding to expand this program into a general Global Social Internship Program (GSIP) and plan to send 10-12 students to Central America in 2015.”

-Kyra Nyman