EMFS trip to Bolivia kicks off five-year project

Whether a business makes $2 a day or $2 million a day, there are basic business practices and skills that can be applied to all enterprises.

That was one of the conclusions drawn by the group of students who traveled to Bolivia for an Emerging Markets Field Study trip during spring break. The group spent the week working with entrepreneurs in three small impoverished villages helping them improve their local operations and expand market opportunities.

The Bolivia field trip is part of a new five-year partnership Fisher has formed with the villages, which was facilitated through Choice Humanitarian, a non-governmental organization that conducts development programs in impoverished regions of the world.

“Everything we learn at Fisher can apply at all levels, whether you live in poverty or whether you are Warren Buffett,” said Christopher Khoury, an MBA candidate who traveled to the region. Most rural villagers make less than $2 a day, subsisting on potatoes and living in primitive adobe houses built with mud and grass.

The 10 students spent the week in rough conditions enduring the high altitude of the Andean mountain villages. Sometimes during the trip, they lacked basic modern conveniences. Their accommodations were a modest community building and sleeping bags and mats on the floor. The students traveled to Muruamaya, Hichoraya, Chacoma and Hildata Aryiba. The largest village of the four had 200 families and the smallest had 50 families.

Typically, EMFS trips are tours and observation of off-shore corporate operations and meeting with global business leaders. However, these students, with Management and Human Resources faculty members Jay Barney and Sharon Alvarez, applied their academic knowledge to small village enterprises to support residents’ efforts in expanding the region’s economic development opportunities.

“One of the things that they found really valuable was help with tracking costs and profits,” said Todd Fuhrman about the village business leaders. “They didn’t really understand how or if they were making money or not. So we gave them a very basic accounting ledger so they could track their costs to see if they were making money.”

The small enterprises included knitting and textiles, agriculture and dairy farming. Other operations included semi-precious gem grinding and a credit and lending business run by village women. The team split into three smaller groups each working with the individual microenterprises. Four of the students are currently continuing their efforts at Ohio State exploring Buckeye licensing opportunities for village textile goods.

Huda Ahmed, a student in the working professional MBA program, said she really felt as though there was a true spirit of partnership and collaboration with the villagers. “It was very professional,” Ahmed said. “It really felt like a partnership and felt like any other consulting project. It was a real exchange of ideas and information.”

During part of their trip, students were “villagers-for-a-day,” engaging in grueling physical labor.
“We did exactly what they do,” said Janelle Henderson, a part-time student in the MLHR program. “We went out and dug potatoes. Here in America we use the technology we have. There we used our bare hands. All of the experiences were very, very humbling.”

“They were so remarkable in conditions that were very tough at times,” Alvarez said of the students.

“Fisher’s focus on social responsibility extends to all corners of the globe, especially areas often overlooked,” said Melissa A. Torres, Director, International Programs Office and CIBER at Fisher. “Our students developed long-term relationships with local entrepreneurs to reach a shared goal of mutual understanding and sustainable development in the region.”