University of Southern California

Putting the Bee in Business
Marshall Undergrads Spend Spring Break in Remote Panama to Help a Collective of Farmers get a Much-Needed Beekeeping Business off the Ground
March 25, 2009 • by Mike Martinez

Today's college students belong to the Millennial generation, known for their high-minded sense of humanitarianism, and now one group of USC Marshall students have put that volunteer spirit to the test.

A grass-roots group of USC Marshall School of Business students decided to spend spring break in a remote village in Panama to help struggling honeybee farmers put together a viable business.

So, with a Marshall chaperone, 20 undergraduates spent about $1,500 of their own money as well as their weeklong break trying to save the world one small piece at a time. Some students raised their travel funds by working second jobs last summer.

"With (the climate of) business being tainted so much over the last few months, it's nice to see some hope with a little project," said Guillermina Molina, director of undergraduate students services at Marshall, who served as advisor and translator during the trip.

It's a new twist to a generational trend among Millennials to put lofty goals above short-sighted selfishness. In fact, the organizer of the student group, Chanel Funakoshi, a sophomore, 19, whose hometown is Ewa Beach, Hawaii, wants to use her business degree to run a non-profit some day. "I just think I'm blessed with so many things, I want to share with people," said Funakoshi.

"I think this was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had," said Jaimie Taketa, 19, a sophomore from Honolulu. "We put on a few workshops to show the farmers how to set up a basic organizational structure. We helped them get the resources to get their legal entity so they could start selling their product like creating a centralized location and an executive board."

The students also bought construction materials as part of their capital investment in the cooperative.

The student group is part of a nationwide organization called the Global Brigades, a socially-conscious network of volunteers on about 20 university campuses that bring business skills and a passion for change in developing countries. It's the first time the USC Marshall School of Business is sending a vanguard of students on such an international mission.

The 17 business students and three economics and planning policy and development students worked in the village of El Bale, a four-hour bus ride from Panama City. Right now, the 12 honeybee farmers with 15 hives are dependent on a local church's sales to profit from production.

In shaping a microenterprise, the USC students sought help through the honeybee farmers form their own business called "Apiaro Manos Unidos" or "United Hands Bee Hive Colony" with their own sales channel. The challenge is to find an alternative to expensive, imported equipment; lower production costs; increase productivity; and find high-paying sales channels. The students plan to keep in touch with the farmers through the Business Brigade and plan to make follow-up trips to the location.

To view the Letters of the World 2009 student blogs click here

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.