Central America’s largest country is rich in natural resources; nonetheless, Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. This paradox typifies the promise and challenge that exist in developing countries, and highlights the differences between those nations and developed countries. – Fabretto website
While most students were celebrating Thanksgiving with their families and eating too much turkey, a small group of Penn State Berks students traveled to San Jose de Cusmapa, Nicaragua from Nov. 21–29, with their professors, Abdullah Konak and Sadan Kulturel-Konak as part of a social entrepreneurship project. Their destination was Fabretto Cusmapa, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to empower underserved children and their families to reach their full potential, improve their livelihoods, and take advantage of economic opportunity through education and nutrition.”
When asked why Fabretto was selected, Kulturel-Konak explained that Fabretto’s mission is synonymous with what the college has been trying to achieve in terms of entrepreneurship and community engagement.
The students were enrolled in the college’s Creativity and Innovation Workshop course and the group included LaShawn Crawford and Allie Janowski, both Business majors; Rebecca Jonas, an Information Sciences and Technology major; and Adriana Perez Camacho, a Global Studies major, who also served as an interpreter for the Spanish-speaking group at Fabretto.
“Translating was more than just repeating words in a different language,” stated Perez Camacho. “It was about transmitting our enthusiasm to the students and communicating the students’ gratitude back to our team.”
Penn State faculty and students collaborated with Fabretto staff to design the workshop program, which was then taught by Penn State Berks students. The workshop emphasized problem-based learning, creativity, teamwork, and leadership, with a focus on an entrepreneurial mindset.
“One of the highlights of the trip was watching our students learn how to teach,” stated Kulturel-Konak. “It is such a different experience for them. They saw how much goes into teaching, doing it firsthand.”
The Berks students met the Fabretto group, composed of 25 participants ranging in ages from 14 to 28. Despite the language barrier, the group was enthusiastic and excited to meet their visitors. One primary school class they visited had created earrings from pine needles, packaged the earrings, and put price stickers on them. This was an encouraging sign to the Berks students since they were there to teach entrepreneurship.
The workshop began with a focus on creative problem solving, generating ideas, and the concept of entrepreneurship. The Berks students adopted several creative problem solving activities and examples from the Entrepreneurial Mindset class taught by Konak for the workshop program. When the Berks students asked the group about their concept of entrepreneurship, they had many business ideas. In fact, many of them have already started small projects to better the lives of those in their communities.
Berks students held exercises to teach various entrepreneurship principles. For example, the shortest tower activity, where workshop participants were given wooden blocks to form the shortest tower with only one block touching the floor, stimulated innovation, problem-solving skills, and teamwork. In the shoelace activity, each student was given a shoelace and was asked to tie it using one hand. Then they were asked to kthe group to understand potential customer problems: This activity showed the participants that an idea can pose potential problems for people with physical challenges.
They also introduced the business model canvas and the importance of having a business plan, using local examples such as the business model of Eskimo, a dairy brand that was well known to most of the workshop participants. This led into a discussion in which the Fabretto group shared ideas they were working on for their team projects, including businesses focused on beekeeping, cell phone repair, eco-tourism, and a manicure salon. This information allowed the Berks students to tailor their presentations to the personal interests of the participants.
Other presentations included information on cost structure, revenue streams, income statements, assets, liabilities, and equity. These presentations led to the group building a financial plan, creating a break-even point analysis, and creating a balance sheet.
Finally, the groups put their business model canvases together while the Berks students worked with each team and provided feedback**. The cell phone repair team had the winning business plan. The Berks students commented that all the teams’ business models improved significantly since the first day of the workshop.
In summary, the Berks students said that when they initially asked the teams to define their customer segments and the values offered to each segment, most teams focused on only one customer segment with limited value offerings. In the last day of the workshop, they expanded over their initial business ideas and came up with new ways to generate revenue. This was the true reflection of an entrepreneurial mindset.