Students Consult on Micro-Finance Projects for Ghanaian Businesses

Published: Jun 11, 2014
Ashley Erickson ’14 said she enjoyed the hospitality and warmth of the people she met in Ghana.
Ashley Erickson ’14 said she enjoyed the hospitality and warmth of the people she met in Ghana.
Erickson said traveling across the country gave her a good overview of the variety of landscapes in Ghana.
Erickson said traveling across the country gave her a good overview of the variety of landscapes in Ghana.
“Challenges of Doing Business in a Developing Country” was a May travel course pairing classroom work with experiential learning in Africa.
“Challenges of Doing Business in a Developing Country” was a May travel course pairing classroom work with experiential learning in Africa.

For almost two weeks, a group of UT students stepped outside of their comfort zone and applied the principles of business learned inside the classroom with on-the-ground consulting in Ghana.

“Challenges of Doing Business in a Developing Country” was a May travel course pairing classroom work with experiential learning in Africa.

Through micro-finance development projects, the students learned first-hand business principles as well as formed cross-cultural connections and friendships.

“It’s very experiential,” said Joshua Hall, assistant professor of economics. “We see the challenges of business (in the U.S.) very different from them. That’s something I can’t teach my students in the classroom. You have to see it.”

One group worked with a gold mining company and provided shelter for the electrical equipment that is consistently ruined during the rainy season. Another worked with the village market and vastly improved their marketing process. Another worked with the village council and began a fund in which local residents can submit proposals for a development project, and the last group worked in the village health clinic and provided a refrigerator for keeping medicines cool.

“I think students will be surprised at how small profit margins are and how much of the marketing strategies they learn in the classroom are not applied,” said Kevin Fridy, associate professor of government and world affairs. “I also think students were interested in seeing how poverty makes these women vulnerable to all kinds of forms of exploitation, but despite these vulnerabilities, most of the women manage a decent life and are striving to improve their lot and the lots of their family members.”

While the projects are sustainable, the more significant impacts of this service-learning course are more than likely on the students themselves.

“They get to see the daily struggles of market women in the developing world and the structural difficulties they deal with. Students who are so inclined, will return to their studies at UT with this knowledge and build on the skill sets that can help them remove these difficulties,” Fridy said.

“For some of our alumni this has meant going into the Peace Corps or graduate school with a focus on the developing world,” Fridy said. “For others it means looking at their consumption and philanthropic activities with a more serious understanding of the potential harm those of us with privilege can cause unintentionally.”

Ashley Erickson ’14 and Ashley Larrieux ’14 worked with a woman who owned a market kiosk. The two created a sign for better visibility of the kiosk to passers-by, improved the tracking of her inventory and sales by providing the owner with a leger and purchased a cash box with lock to keep her profits secure.

Serving in the role of consultant was a great hands-on opportunity, said Larrieux, an international business and entrepreneurship major from Fort Lauderdale. Erickson was warmed by the hospitality.

“Everyone I met was very friendly and welcoming,” said Erickson, an international business and management major from Sarasota. “Staying in the small village for a week was also an experience I will never forget.”

Rachel Baranowski ’15 and Julia Camoratto ’16 were paired with the District Assembly, similar to a mayor’s office, in the district of Nabdam.

“Ghana was truly an amazing experience where I got the chance to live in a totally different way,” Baranowski said. “I was definitely uncomfortable at times but then at other moments, I truly embraced the spirit and energy the Ghanaian people had for life.”

The two students created a grant for which people in the village could apply for community development projects.

“Although having a sustainable impact on a business or person would be wonderful, the trip isn’t necessarily about that,” said Camoratto, of Moorestown, NJ. “We immerse ourselves in this new business world, and we try to educate ourselves as much as possible about the difficulties and challenges these people face every day. At least for me, the idea was to learn as much as possible, and then help if I could.”

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