University of Southern California

Traveling the Globe to Promote Change
USC Marshall Students Reach Out to Address Pressing Social Needs Across the Globe
September 1, 2009 • by News at Marshall

Today's college students belong to the Millennial generation, known for their high-minded sense of humanitarianism, and a broad group of USC Marshall students is reaching out to address pressing social needs across the globe.

Last May, six of USC Marshall Professor Joseph Nunes' MBA students accepted a challenge: to help Riverkids, an organization working to prevent the trafficking and exploitation of children from some of Cambodia's poorest slums.

"This mission resonated with me," said David Salazar ('10), who was among the Marshall students who volunteered with a non-profit organization to help children at risk. "But I didn't know whether or not being there would be beneficial to these kids or an inconvenience."

At the conclusion of the PRIME program in late May, Nunes accompanied the group, which included David and his wife Pilar Salazar, as well as Marshall MBA 2010 candidates Rebecca Gelenberg, Jungmoo Kim, Jong JP Park, Nick Olson and Elina Heng--on the school's first trip to Cambodia. Funding to participate in the project came from the students themselves as well as a sponsorship from USC Marshall. The group also delivered items needed by the non-government organization that were donated by alumni, including pediatric vitamins and other donated items.

With only three days on the ground, there was little time to ponder their mission: to help develop organizational skills among Riverkids' staff, and to build self-esteem among some of the world's most vulnerable youth.

The Marshall students provided many of the kids with a number of firsts - including a trip to a modern shopping mall. Thirty kids, some of them barefoot, giggled as they made their way up the escalators to the seventh floor roller skating rink. As music pulsed in the air, David Salazar spontaneously started dancing. The normally ultra shy girls laughed - and jumped in to dance with him, drawing a crowd of amused onlookers.

"You have no idea what you're going to feel before you go there," Nunes recalled. "You expect to be sad. And then you see something like this and you feel this profound happiness. There were times when my heart wanted to explode because these kids were so happy."

A few months before the Marshall students traveled to Cambodia, a grass-roots group of USC Marshall undergraduates decided to spend spring break in a small village in Panama to help struggling honeybee farmers put together a viable business.

Twenty 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.

"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 at the time, 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, also a sophomore at the time of the trip. "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 sent 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. At the time of the trip, the 12 honeybee farmers with 15 hives were dependent on a local church's sales to profit from production.

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

Abby Fifer Mandell, director of education for USC Marshall's Society and Business Lab (SBL), a center for excellence at Marshall that provides programs to train the next generation of socially responsible business leaders and social entrepreneurs, serves as advisor for the Global Business Brigade Chapter at USC Marshall. In January SBL staff will accompany students on a week-long trip support the success and sustainability of the business.

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.