June 12, 2017 Social entrepreneurship takes Fisher student to Panamanian jungle

Bailey York, a third-year finance and English student at Ohio State, knew he wanted to participate in a global experience that blended his passions — entrepreneurship and sustainability — in a global setting.

What York discovered was Kalu Yala, a study abroad opportunity that provided him the chance to put his entrepreneurial skills to work in a sustainable, for-profit town carved out of the Panamanian jungle last fall. York was the first-ever student from Ohio State chosen for the highly selective internship, which anticipates 20,000 applicants for just 250 intership positions this year.

In all, he spent 10 months living and working in “Jungletown,” where he wrote business proposals, pitched companies, and gained general consulting knowledge for startups in Panamanian markets. Now working this summer as a financial analyst for DealStreetAsia in Singapore, York reflected on the impact of his Kalu Yala experience.

Bailey York headshot
Bailey York

Why did Kalu Yala appeal to you?
The Kalu Yala internship caught my attention because of its integration of entrepreneurship and sustainability with Latin American culture. Additionally, Kalu Yala has a strong global reputation within the startup community, having over 80 universities represented. For me, it felt like a great chance to gain business experience in an exciting and diverse work environment while being the first to represent Ohio State.

This isn’t an internship experience typical of most Fisher students. Did that thought ever dawn on you and, if so, what was your reaction to it?
Yes, I knew this internship was a big step away from the norm with study abroad experiences. However, I felt confident the experience would benefit my career in the long run. I gained exposure to emerging markets in Latin America, learned about trade and the political systems of neighboring countries, and networked with companies working to expand in Panama. I saw the opportunity as a way of expanding Fisher's exposure on a global scale, and I wanted to be a trailblazer for students in the future.

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After completing his Kalu Yala internship in Panama, Bailey York hiked the Rainbow Mountains in Peru.

What did the internship entail? 
As business interns, we challenged traditional business models for a more economical, sustainable town within the greater Panamanian economy. I wrote extensive business proposals, pitched companies and gained general consulting knowledge for startups in Panamanian markets. A few of the projects included the development of an e-commerce platform to crowd-fund for Kalu Yala research and other startups in the town. With other interns, I collaborated on a distribution project for a local distillery and drafted sustainable construction proposals for water filtration systems.

Throughout my role as an intern I gained experience with and learned more about market analysis and customer discovery; branding, marketing, sales and growth hacking; startup tactics for bootstrapping and product development; financial modeling and organizational design; and consulting for project creation and organizational process flows.

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Ryan Westberg, founder and CMO of Serengetee, discusses sustainable business practices used in apparel with Kalu Yala interns. (Photo courtesy of Carter Clark, Kalu Yala)

What was day-to-day life like?
Kalu Yala is a sustainable, modern town being built roughly 30 to 40 minutes away from Panama City, Panama, in the Chagres National Forest. While working in the valley, we live in 'bamboo ranchos' which are very similar to a jungle dormitory for all the interns. Yes, they are equipped with Wi-Fi for research in the valley. There is also a home in the downtown region for interns to stay when conducting business in the city. So, I split my time between the valley and the city.

The food was amazing because it's virtually all sourced locally and very healthy. Many of the interns in the culinary program are passionate about sustainable food practices. I tried all sorts of local fruits and traditional Latin American food. For one of the weekends, Afro-Panamanian chefs shared cooking methods for the best Jamaican jerk and other great Panamanian dishes. Also, the Kalu Yala chefs are really talented, catering to nearly 200 people a day and taking into account dietary preferences.

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The center of Kalu Yala, where debates and meetings are held. (Photo courtesy of Carter Clark, Kalu Yala)

Were there any instances where your Fisher education helped you during the experience?
A few courses such as CSE and business analytics were very practical for me with this internship. I would say networking events and the general expectation of professionalism at Fisher helped when meeting with various CEOs while they were in Panama. However, if a business intern is in need of help, there are many full-time employees who left big consulting firms or there are people working toward their MBA who are willing to help. Having them as resources to draft proposals, work on marketing plans or learn about organizational behavior in start-up culture was beneficial.

This internship and the whole social entrepreneurship area is wildly popular with current students. Why do you think that is?
I think social entrepreneurship has grown in attraction because of two points. First, many companies gain attraction to young people because of their value-add back to the community. It is a way of ‘voting with your dollars’ to promote an issue you care about. As the startup workforce shifts to more millennials, young people push more firms to be flexible when adapting aspects of corporate social responsibility or sustainability. Further, integrating these concepts with their traditional business model helps startups define their market niche and target audience.

Also, I believe this culture has really grown from the Silicon Valley. Being innovative and challenging traditional business models has shown great success with tech companies. It is exciting to be working with firms looking to change the world. And while I have learned it is difficult to maintain consistent rounds of funding, start-ups foster an opportunity to expand on creative solutions for a more modern world.

How did this experience change/shape you? As a person? As a student?
This experience was my second time leaving the country; the first time being with the Freshman Global Lab in 2015. This was my first time living in a foreign country, and I certainly grew as an individual. It is not easy to leave family and friends behind, but I gained a fresh perspective on business, politics and life. After working with such remarkable people in Panama, I was determined to continue to strive for excellence back at Ohio State.

The internship has also motivated me to not fear global opportunities. Because the world is so globalized, international exposure is the most important aspect of any undergraduate business degree. Having experience with different cultures and living in different climates prepares me for a career market that is approaching. Of course, each country’s legal structure and business practices are very different. Interning abroad for long periods of time has allowed me to really understand the people and their way of life. It’s valuable to me as a person and also as a student.

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Bailey York at Panama's Maria Flores Locks, which were just recently expanded.