Texas A&M Global Business Brigades just arrived back in the United States after an amazing week in TortÃ Abajo, Panama. The mission of Global Business Brigades is to create sustainable change by empowering students and communities. Our organization provides a hands-on international business experience by taking a group of Texas A&M students on a week-long brigade to Central America to help micro-entrepreneurs realize their dream of escaping poverty and experiencing true economic development. With this organization, we traveled down to Panama and used our business knowledge to consult with various families and communities that need assistance. However, instead of simply giving them a material solution, such as money or some kind of donation, we instead impart knowledge. Our Texas A&M chapter uses the motto, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”
Our most recent brigade was during May of 2011, about a week after finals ended for the spring semester. While in Panama we learned a new dance move called “el choque.” If interested, you can learn this move on your own time. However, choque can have several meanings in Spanish, and one of the most literal translations is “shock.” This trip has definitely shocked me in many ways, both good and bad, on which I will elaborate.
I was shocked at the amazing bond 31 people were able to form. Our brigades in the past have been 18 and 11 students, respectively, and both times we had two brigade leaders from Global Brigades. This trip consisted of 25 Aggies, one professional from Apple, and 5 Global Brigades staff members! And yet, there is not a single person I did not get to know about. I truly feel I learned as much from interacting with these different individuals as I have through my college classes.
I was shocked at the success of Global Brigades newest model. It’s not often that an organization can completely reinvent itself, and do so successfully. However, Global Business Brigades has done just that. With an emphasis on the community and individual family goals/needs, GB has truly implemented a model that defines sustainable development. Instead of allowing the simple act of giving a physical object define our work, we learned to focus on the intangibles such as education on savings, budgets, loans, project planning, business organization, and co-operative assistance. In the long run, this knowledge is what can bring this community economic growth and can create an independence that will benefit its members in the long run.
I was shocked that I now see a long-term relationship for Global Brigades and myself. After my third brigade this past week, I truly thought this would end my time with Texas A&M GBB and Global Brigades at large. It was just an organization that I participated in during college, and amazing as it was, nothing more. However, this trip has opened up a truly remarkable plan for my life that I cannot wait to embark upon. I was taken aside by the GB staff members on the trip and literally told that this cannot be the end of my relationship with GB. Whether I come back on another brigade, come back as a translator for a summer, or as a member of the GB staff, I want to remain involved. I would take a job with GB in a heartbeat! Although, logistically there are some things to work out, it is amazing to know what kind of career opportunity could await for me with such a worthwhile organization.
I was shocked at the parallels I drew between my future internship and the work in Panama. This summer I will be interning with Bain & Company. I remember preparing for the case interviews and spending countless hours addressing business problems and strategic plans and assessing issues, etc. Case interviews I was presented with included anything from qualitative marketing issues to quantitative mergers & acquisitions. For example, I had one case that was about how to open up a car rental business. In the interview, I looked at potential revenue streams, the market available for such a venture, the various fixed and variable costs associated with this project, and came to a conclusion on the reasonableness of this idea. WE DID THE EXACT SAME THING IN PANAMA! However, instead of looking at things on a corporate level, we addressed issues on an entrepreneurial level. For example, one of our families wanted to start a chicken business, and we helped him assess all the startup costs and continuation costs, his potential sales, and devised a plan for him to take out a micro-loan with the upcoming cooperative. Truly astounding, the parallels that can be found.
I was shocked at the amount of stuff I personally learned. Ask me about chicken farming, planting yucca, or Coca-Cola distribution in Panama and I can tell you almost everything you need to know!
I was shocked to realize that my love of international development work and my awesome opportunity with Bain & Company at the corporate level can actually go hand in hand. With the newly implemented idea of Professional Brigades, I can actually taken my passion for Global Brigades with me to Bain and hopefully implement some kind of partnership. In the long run, I would love to have Bain become a major partner in Global Brigades work, where each time a university across the nation goes abroad on a brigade, we send any willing Bain employee with them to give more business expertise to the work being done. I was skeptical at the thought of mixing professionals with students’ brigades at first, but after having an employee of Apple from California assist us on this past brigade, I have nothing but high hopes for this idea!
This information does not even begin to cover all the small and minor details and stories that made this trip unbelievably amazing!
- Chasing frogs around at 4 AM
- Late night sessions crunching numbers for a community member
- Dancing to Spanish music and learning moves I didn’t know were possible
- Learning that every single member in the community is probably related to each other
- Experiencing the joy of seeing the excitement of a community member when they finalized realized the benefits of the information we taught them
- Volleyball in the rain in Panama with indigenous Embera
- Attempting to learn the nasally indigenous Embera language
- Eating a freshly killed and cooked deer at the urging of one of our families
- Softball game with the community
- Late night conversations about life, our future, and our pasts
- Haircuts from the future community salon owner
- and much, Much, MUCH more!