By Steve Eaton, BottomLine editor
Students from the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business usually go out into the world with absolutely no experience in developing breeding schedules for guinea pigs.
A team of students that went on the South American Study Abroad trip this summer, however, found that they had to learn quickly the ins and outs of raising guinea pigs for food. They had been asked to meet with a group of people in Trujillo, Peru, that wanted to launch a business raising and selling guinea pigs. Guinea pigs end up being dinner, not pets, in Peru, where the meat is considered a delicacy.
Students at Utah State University raised more than $30,000 to be used as seed money for some micro-loan projects. The Jon M. Huntsman School of Business has been working with a multinational agribusiness company in Peru called DanPer that identified three groups of people that it thought would be good candidates for the loan money. The progressive company feels it has a social responsibility to contribute to the people it serves and decided to work with USU on its micro-loan efforts.
One student team was assigned to evaluate the potential for the proposed guinea pig project. The students knew the business plan had to be viable if they were to fund the project, but they found themselves going the extra mile to help them come up with a workable proposal.
"Although we know that we will not fund a project that is not financially viable, we really did want to help these people, especially after seeing them at this first meeting," Natali Naegle said. "They are truly committed and dedicated and they really want to increase their standard of living and that helped keep us motivated, realizing that we had the potential to change these people's lives."
Naegle's group faced challenges with changing financial variables and a laptop computer that crashed, locking away all the group's early work, forcing them to start over. Kaitlin Stewart was also a member of that team.
"I have learned more in the last week doing business in Peru than I could have ever learned in an entire semester in the classroom," Stewart said. "I didn't expect to be able to apply everything in school into this one project from all the classes I've taken. If anything, that motivates me for the future to go back and pay more attention in school in all of my classes, not just pick and choose the ones that are just directly tied to my major, because they all - all the business classes - apply to everything in business and it makes me want to go back and work harder."
Three teams of students analyzed the start-up business proposals from entrepreneurs in Peru who were applying to receive micro-loans. Another team met with a bank and several non-profit organizations that already have micro-lending programs in place to establish partnerships for future efforts. Three teams staffed eyeglass clinics in partnership with The Hope Alliance, a Utah-based, humanitarian service oriented, non-profit organization. Another team focused on creating a video of the trip that could be used to encourage future students to enroll in the program.
The students who ran the eyeglass clinics had to change their plans one day when a key piece of diagnosing equipment did not arrive on time. In another case, a misunderstanding about the use of a community center in a poor neighborhood caused turmoil outside a clinic while people were being helped inside.
Each team was exposed to widespread poverty in Peru, unlike anything they are likely to see in their home towns.
"Ultimately, I believe this project made us realize how blessed we are," Naegle said. "Each of us has seen true poverty since coming to Peru, and we now have a greater understanding of the many opportunities and blessings that are ours. I think that all of us, not just our group, have had our eyes opened and our opinions changed on this journey, and I really hope we take that home as the most important thing that we've learned on this trip."