UM School of Business Administration students traveled to the Dominican Republic to offer business consulting and training in underserved communities.
When five students from the Hyperion Council at the University of Miami’s School of Business Administration traveled to the Dominican Republic in 2016 to offer business consulting and training in underserved communities, they came back with unexpected lessons.
Traveling to Puerto Plata, in the northern part of the Caribbean island, the undergraduates said they were surprised to learn how important culture, generosity and flexibility are in business—humbling insights gained on a trip during which they encountered the worst poverty they’d ever seen.
“Before we went, we’d prepared a lot of materials and did a lot of research. But when you get there on the ground, it’s different,” says Jake Beck, a senior majoring in economics and ecosystems policy. “You’ve just got to roll with it.”
Students say they were thrilled to find ways to assist six micro-entrepreneurs, and to apply their classroom studies to real-world business problems. One colmado (local general store or bodega) owner immediately adopted an accounting system the UM group suggested to track income, expenses and profits at her tiny convenience store.
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Aerial footage of mountains and valleys in the Dominican Republic.
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“To see that immediate impact helped validate what we were doing and gave me more motivation,” says Briana Scott, a recent alumna who double-majored in accounting and visual journalism.
Yet the colmado owner also told the group that she’d keep extending credit to customers, just as others had helped her in tough times, even if that cultural practice cut into her potential profits.
“We needed to understand that it’s not just about making money. It’s about sharing resources and creating relationships. It’s a kind of ‘paying it forward’ mentality,” says Riva Trivedi, an SBA senior and the council’s former secretary general.
“So much of it was them just being generous,” says Trivedi, who is majoring in finance, legal studies and health sector management and policy. “They don’t have much for themselves, and yet they are giving. It’s inspiring.”
Students also learned that high-tech business solutions may not work everywhere. Their initial suggestions for a painter, a Haitian emigrant, to beef up his website proved unrealistic. The group eventually found a way for a nonprofit with better tech skills and internet access to help the artist.
Perhaps most emotional and humbling for the group was seeing extreme poverty in a Haitian batey community—settlements around a sugar mill—where the students taught budgeting workshops for children and parents at a local school.
Scott says the Caribbean trip changed her perspective, making her appreciate more what she has as well as value more how others persevere. She’s also more determined now to master Spanish to communicate better. She sums up the experience this way: “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life and one of the most rewarding.”
The Hyperion Council is open to undergraduate students starting in their sophomore year and provides business assistance to underserved communities in the Miami area and abroad. Members must be nominated by a professor or student and be accepted.
- Special to UM News