University of Southern California

Global Business Brigades 2012
April 4, 2012 • by News at Marshall

For some students, spring or winter breaks aren’t the time for an exotic vacation, but rather a chance to give back. Since 2009, Marshall students—eager to put their business skills and education to good use during breaks—have joined the school’s Global Business Brigades (GBB) and Global Microfinance Brigades (GMFB) chapters. GBB and GMFB call on both student and professional volunteers to travel to rural communities to help build business institutions and/or promote sound personal finance practices. This year Marshall sent students to Panama, Honduras and for the first time, Ghana.

Over spring break, Abby Chao ’13, coordinated and took part in GBB’s trip to Panama to live with the Embera community in the eastern Panama village of Piriati. A group of 20 Marshall students was joined by students from Emory University to help individual families with financial planning and growing their local businesses. Divided into teams of four or five, each group helped three families during their weeklong stay.

The goal was to respect the community’s values, which included living close to nature in a sustainable way, while helping them boost the local economy. Chao has had several international experiences while at Marshall, including a summer internship in Shanghai through the Global Leadership Program and a semester spent studying business at Bocconi University in Milan as part of the school’s International Exchange Program (IEP). She reflected upon her time with GBB.

“It was an incredible experience and also very unique. Global Brigades really gives you the opportunity to work closely with an indigenous community and really understand who the people are, what they care about, and how we can best serve them instead of going in and imposing our values on what we think development should be. It makes you consider how we can help them achieve their goals, they may be, without trying to impose judgment of any kind,” said Chao.

The impact of their work could immediately be seen by the appreciation and enthusiasm the families shared with her and the other students.

“After we would give these workshops, the families that we were working with would just be incredibly excited,” Chao explained. “They would be smiling and laughing. They would say, ‘I think this could really change things.’ ‘I really see now how if I do this I could save a little bit more and then my child will be able to go to university.’ So that was a really exciting and rewarding experience.”

Jordan Altaras, co-president of Marshall’s GBB chapter who will graduate with a minor in entrepreneurial studies in 2014, said the trips are a transforming experience for the students fortunate enough to be selected. For this past winter break trip to Ghana, Altaras said more than 60 students applied for 10 of the 21 spots available. (The rest were made up of USC students from GBB’s executive board.) During the 10-day trip, Altaras and his fellow brigade members were able to successfully implement a shareholder model within the community.

“It was an amazing experience. I’m so happy for the work we were able to accomplish, which is why I’m involved in this organization. You don’t go on these trips and not come back with a more appreciative attitude of life. It’s a great opportunity to help people and make a difference,” he said.

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.