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International Service-Learning Program Makes an Impact around the Globe


Efforts by Fordham’s College of Business Administration (CBA) to establish ties with village-based businesses in developing nations are making progress, according to the organizer.

Katherine Combellick, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of International Service Learning (ISL), discussed the program on Feb. 13 as part of International Business Week. She explained how Fordham students are helping promote businesses in Kenya and outlined ISL’s goal of developing microfinance options for entrepreneurs in the developing world.

A group of six students traveled to Kenya over winter break in 2006 and toured fair-trade businesses on the outskirts of Nairobi, the capital city, and Nyabigena, a village in the western part of the country, she said. The group consulted with business managers, strategizing ways to improve economic conditions in the villages they visited.

They also devised plans to help women in these villages start new enterprises and researched ways to establish a project through microfinance—an economic model by which loans of a few hundred dollars and other monetary services are provided to impoverished people, sometimes with virtually no collateral.

“By seeing these parts of the world and working with these small businesses, the students experienced a test of whether what they learned in school will truly benefit others,” said Combellick, who has been leading the ISL initiative since 2006.

While in Kenya, the group realized how difficult it is to start even the smallest business in the developing world. The students visited a soap stone collective in Nyabigena run mostly by women, with an eye toward helping them arrange a microfinance loan. But because women are not allowed to inherit land or money in Kenya, most in the collective could provide no collateral for a loan from a Kenyan bank.

So the ISL students assisted the business in another way. They bought thousands of dollars worth of soap stone goods, including artfully prepared handmade crucifixes and chess sets, which they sold at Fordham.

They also designed models to help the Nyabigenans start their own enterprises.

“We realized microfinancing in a different form would be the way to go,” Combellick said. “The students decided they would design their own form of microfinance to fit each situation. They realized they must develop a structure where they act as a bank.”

The group also met with women who were interested in starting a sewing collective, and others who were willing to start a small bead-making enterprise.

Fostering a business relationship with these women is the best way to help the Nyabigenan people provide for themselves, Combellick said.

“Making beaded key chains, for example, will much more directly assist people with no hope,” said said. “A woman can learn how to bead in a day. It’s a portable business.”

Recently, the ISL group received another $2,000 in soap stone goods and $1,000 in beaded jewelry, including key chains featuring the phrase “Go Rams,” which also will be sold on campus.

“This is a real point of pride for me and the College of Business Administration,” said Donna Rapaccioli, Ph.D., dean of the college. “Students who are aware of these issues really distinguish themselves. It will make a real difference in their lives.”

Looking to the future, this year’s crop of ISL students will learn about microfinance while assisting small businesses in Delhi, India.

“Microfinance is much more established in India,” Combellick said. “And we’re staying committed to Kenya in the business sense. We’re going to keep this going.”

Nearly 400 undergraduates attended seven sessions led by business experts during International Business Week. The events, which were held from Feb. 11-14, featured information on doing business in Japan, China and Germany, as well as presentations on the United Nations Global Compact, workplace diversity and a tutorial on global etiquette.


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