University of Southern California

Have Wheelbarrow, Will Serve Tea and Timbavi
Marshall Students Help Launch Business Enterprises in Rural African Villages
August 26, 2011 • by News at Marshall

USC Marshall undergraduates Willie Kuo '11 and Ayushi Gummadi '12 took their time formulating an idea and building a team for the social enterprise they were set to launch in rural South Africa as part of their summer immersion program. Eventually the pair alighted on the concept of a mobile café—what some in the US would call a “food truck”—to serve tea, coffee and snacks in various locales throughout their community.

Kuo and Gummadi traveled to the world's largest continent as members of the inaugural Marshall/Think Impact Africa Summer Intern Class, where they spent 10 weeks helping to build businesses and develop trade markets. Five of the undergraduate students worked in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province and one in Kenya’s Coast Province through a hands-on program that involves living with a host family within a village community.

For Gummadi, who is majoring in business and international relations through Marshall, with a minor in neuroscience, the biggest takeaway from her summer trip was "a shift in how I think about international development. I knew I wanted to go into the field, but this really made me look at it with a different perspective. This program is focused on asset-based community development, on using resources already in communities, and developing a business from there."

One of the goals of the ThinkImpact program is complete immersion, which meant living with a host family in the village, without Internet access or running water. "I was completely out of my comfort zone," Gummadi said. "It took 4-5 days to acclimate myself to the new life. When I first saw the bucket I had for everything--from doing dishes, washing laundry and taking a bath-- I thought it was going to be a long summer. By the end, the bucket was second nature."

"This program is set up differently than our other international internship programs," said Marshall’s Director of Undergraduate Student Services, Guillermina Molina. "Usually our students live in apartments in cosmopolitan areas. For this program, they were in villages, living with families in order to understand the community and its needs. Their goal was to come up with solutions to improve the quality of life of villagers by creating new businesses."

This trip marked the first time that Marshall has partnered with ThinkImpact, a global social enterprise that provides university students and young professionals with a curriculum-based immersion program in rural Africa. However, it’s not the first time Marshall students have traveled to Africa. Professor Sandra Chrystal took her undergraduate business writing class to Mozambique in the summer of 2009.

Marshall students will also head to Africa as part of a pilot Global Business Brigades trip to Ghana over 2011 winter break. Gummadi had previously traveled to Honduras with the Public Health Brigades, which is a student-led international service organization designed to improve quality of life in developing countries through various sustainable development projects. As with all of Marshall’s international programs, locations are chosen that are ensured safe for students, as well as for their proximity to city centers and airports, according to Molina, who added: "But ultimately we choose these locations because they have a lot of need."

Molina reports that her office received a high level of interest in the ThinkImpact program among Marshall students, with six of the students receiving scholarships to attend. Next year, Molina has secured about $40,000 from the Lord Foundation—created by technology innovator Thomas Lord--to help supplement the trip for 10 students.

"At the program’s core is social entrepreneurship," Molina said. "Students can contribute business savvy to villages and the people that need it."

Kuo and Gummadi’s mobile café project developed when the pair discovered that their village’s sole social gathering place was a bar, which was only open for men. "We wanted to create a cohesive gathering place for people of all ages; open to everyone and mobile so it could be set up anywhere, such as a soccer game or a school event," Gummadi explained.

From a wheelbarrow, the women serve tea, coffee and a snack called "timbavi," which is made of peanuts, maize and sugar. In addition, Kuo and Gummadi taught the women to make chocolate chip cookies, which, according to Gummadi, proved very popular.

Back at USC, Gummadi reports that she and Kuo receive bi-weekly updates from their café team and intend to return within the next few years to help expand the business, possibly to a full-service dining concept.

And Gummadi herself is expanding her aspirations. Previously she had wanted to work for the World Bank or similar IGO upon her graduation, but now she sees the ThinkImpact approach as an "amazing model with a lot of potential, because the focus is on assets these people already have. I realize that I want to concentrate more on empowering people to do things themselves."

Visit ThinkImpact’s blog to learn more about the program.

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.