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Students Fight Poverty with Video-Conference Coaching

July 01, 2018 - 3 minute read


Four students traveled to the Philippines with Concordia University Irvine's Enactus club to meet small business owners they had advised all year by video conference.

“The highlight for everyone was meeting the people,” says Celine Bia, a senior business management major. “We all really enjoyed having time to create relationships with them and hear their stories, not just see them over a computer screen. It gave us an extra push for the cause we’re doing.”

Enactus, a worldwide organization with nearly 35,000 student members, helps Third World countries through entrepreneurial activities and a microfinance fund. CUI’s club is more than ten years old and recently has expanded in innovative ways. Frederick Rogers, adjunct professor and the club’s academic advisor, connected  Concordia University Irvine students to Divine Business Appointments, a ministry based in Orange County which partners with ministries in the Philippines to offer classes to poor people so they can start small businesses.

“I said, what if we acted like a shark tank, reviewed the business plans of people in those classes and funded a few of them?” says Rogers, who was an entrepreneur for 43 years, most recently as the CEO of a small tech company.

So the partnership began.  Concordia University Irvine students reviewed eleven plans of Philippine entrepreneurs and narrowed them down to three, to which they offered small loans.

“They learned to judge a business,” Rogers says. “You’re giving real money to people. How do you know it’s a good investment? We have a list of metrics we’re looking for: What were your sales last week? Your expenses? Did you make a profit?”

This club isn’t just a club. We’re actually making a difference.

By video conference, students met with each loan recipient every two weeks to coach them and hear how the business was going. Loan recipients in the Philippines came to the ministry office—often a journey of several hours—for these video-conference meetings. Some translation was necessary. Club members also learned to raise money for the loans by making presentations in and around Irvine.

One loan recipient who makes cleaning rags was selling out of everything she made. Students advised her to raise prices. The other recipients were a seller of duck eggs and a pig farm operator. Each made bi-weekly payments and repaid their loan within twelve months.

Then the club went further and traveled to the Philippines in May to visit currently-funded people and screen new applicants. Bia coached a Filipina named Kathy who operates a small convenience store in her house, selling basic items such as shampoos, drinks and food.

“I learned a lot from her,” Bia says. “She wasn’t scared to talk about what was going wrong with her businesses and her future plans. We asked about how she wants to expand and if she has other ideas of what to sell. To see the work we’ve done with fellow students and our advisor paying off was really motivating. This club isn’t just a club. We’re actually making a difference.”

The club gave out three loans while there, including one to a woman who owns a roadside food booth where she sells pig heads and rice.

We’re changing one life at a time in the Philippines, and one life at a time for Concordia students.

“We went to their locations and saw how the business was working,” Bia says. “This woman has been there for a while. Our loan will allow her to expand her booth and purchase more pig head to sell. She wants to open a second location.”

The students surveyed local people, including the many taxi drivers who stop by for lunch, and discovered why they remained loyal to her food booth. The answer? Better tasting food and unlimited rice.

Kiana Mueller ’18, a business administration and marketing major, says they learned the importance of interacting with potential recipients before offering the loans.

“It was huge,” Mueller says. “One girl didn’t have prior experience but was so passionate and working so hard in the class. Her papers were filled with goals, objectives and plans. We saw the importance of meeting them because they may have a great business plan but may not be as passionate as someone with less experience.”

George Wright, administrative dean of the School of Business, says Concordia Univesity Irvine's Enactus club is focused on making their partnerships sustainable, and increasing donations so they can help more people. They are also looking to add other countries to their coaching partnership.

“We’re changing one life at a time in the Philippines, and one life at a time for Concordia students,” says Wright.

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