In the Fall of 2006, several graduate business students came together with the common goal of making a difference. One of the student’s friends, U.S. citizen Mike Deibert, had recently founded the Missionary Ventures International (MVI) Vocational School just outside Managua, Nicaragua. The MVI School, teaches students forging and metalwork skills. However, in the area’s stagnant economy, most of their skills couldn’t be put to full use.
In December 2006, a small team of graduate students traveled to Nicaragua to conduct preliminary research and identify opportunities to help the MVI School develop a sustainable business model. After their return, support for the project continued to grow, and a larger trip was planned. A group of 18 graduate students and faculty returned to Nicaragua in March 2007 to conduct a seminar for area business owners and to implement the marketing, operations and accounting components of the school’s new business model.
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How it Works
Project Nicaragua is a Wake Forest University Schools of Business student-initiated, student-led seminar, consulting and microfinance initiative to focus on poverty alleviation in Nicaragua. Twice a year, a group of 18-24 students and two faculty members travel to Managua, Nicaragua and the surrounding towns to teach seminars on MBA business principals to local entrepreneurs. Students also visit the business owners’ place of work to learn more about their operation and identify future consulting projects and lending opportunities. While the entrepreneurs gain new skills and knowledge to improve their businesses, the students learn about the culture of small business in Central America. Additionally, money raised through the school’s annual charity auction is put toward small business loans for Nicaraguan entrepreneurs.
During visits to Nicaragua, the group has learned of opportunities to do consulting projects with nonprofit organizations. One such organization is called Nica Hope. A few students completed a pricing study to identify how much Nica Hope should charge for jewelry products that are created during one of its after school job training programs for children. In December of 2010, our group went to an assisted living facility in Jinotepe, Nicaragua in facing financial struggles to keep its critical operation going. Several students worked on a business plan to help the facility find a way to financially sustain itself.
Project Nicaragua is funded by alumnus Tom Dingledine (MBA ’78), who is a major proponent of social responsibility initiatives. Professor of Finance Ajay Patel serves as the faculty advisor. Students in the following Schools of Business graduate programs: MBA, MA (Master or Arts in Management), and MSA (Master of Science in Accountancy), participate. The group works with a local Nicaraguan organization called BNI and local mayors to get connected with entrepreneurs.
Growth and Outcomes
Since 2006, the program has grown from less than 20 Nicaraguan entrepreneurs to more than 70. Participants take surveys and provide feedback and suggestions for future topics. This is a sample quote showing the impact of the program:
"The thing I like most about the seminars of Wake Forest is that we know they will be coming back in a few months to teach us something new, to help us grow our businesses, and learn how to better care for our families. Too many organizations come to our country promising great things but never fulfilling their promises. I am already excited about the next seminar."