University of Southern California

Business Students Make Global Impact with Follow-up Visit to Panama Bee Farmers
Global Business Brigade Spent Winter Break in El Bale, Panama
March 8, 2010 • by News at Marshall

Twenty six USC undergraduate students in the USC chapter of Global Business Brigade spent their final week of winter break sharing their business skills with a rural farming community in El Bale, Panama.

The trip was a follow-up to the business excursion taken by USC students in March of 2009.

Margaux Helvey, associate director of the Society and Business Lab and Abby Fifer Mandell, education director for the Society and Business Lab both accompanied the students on their journey.

"It was wonderful for the students to reconnect with an organization that moved them so much and continue with the progress the farmers are making in building a co-op,” said Fifer Mandell. “Margaux and I were moved by the genuine relationship that had been formed by the students and members of the farming community. It was a privilege for us to be able to support the students in the work they’re doing.”

Chanel Funakoshi, a junior at USC Marshall and the president of USC's Global Business Brigade chapter said the trip was particularly meaningful to the farmers, "because it revealed to them that USC’s students truly cared about the community and their well-being by returning for a second time."

After arriving in Panama City, the students took a four-hour bus ride to the edge of town. From there they hopped onto pick-up trucks for an hour-long ride on dirt roads through various terrains and along breath-taking views to reach the community of El Bale.

The farmers gave the students an all-inclusive experience of the lifestyle and values of the community. Students visited one of the community farms and helped in planting crops that would be harvested in the following season.

The farmers also included the students in communal activities, including a traditional home-made Panamanian meal and helping one farmer in building two mud walls to finish his family’s kitchen. "It was humbling and fun to be engaged in the everyday lifestyle of these farmers," said Jessica Lee, a senior who participated on the trip.

Along with providing bonding opportunities, the community activities gave the students insight into the values of the community and made it easier for them to diagnose the issues they could assist the farmers with in operating a sustainable honey business co-operative.

On their last day in El Bale, students presented the farmers with a sustainable business model for their honey co-operative and hosted accounting and business operations workshops. “We hope that these presentations taught the farmers how to ensure profitability and long-term success of the co-operative,” said Lee.

As a part of Global Business Brigades’ program as a non-profit organization, the students also acted as investors by providing the farmers with a $2,600 investment fund. The students carefully allocated the money in an effort to ensure that it is invested in the long-term success of the co-operative.

"We truly felt the gratitude of the farmers when the president of the co-operative stood up to thank us and instead, began to cry," said Lee. "We were really touched. Although there was a language barrier with the farmers all week, we saw that actions can speaker louder than words. We realized the value of our educations and the reality that business models can be used to make a lasting and meaningful impact in the world."

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.