Hands on the Ground: Graduate Students Work with Peruvian Villagers

July 30, 2014

In March 2014, seven Daniels graduate students traveled to Peru as part of the Emerging Firms in Emerging Economies course (MGMT4700), an elective open to both graduate and undergraduate students. Under the direction of Dr. Sharon Alvarez, professor of the course and Stephen Miller, senior director of entrepreneurship at Daniels, the students built upon what they learned in the classroom about how emerging countries develop their economies, then applied that knowledge to their assessment of the operations of cheese production run by 18 women in the village of Okoruru, near Cusco, Peru.

“We helped them form an association, build a plan for the future, identify ways to improve the quality of their product and start thinking about how to operate more efficiently,” says Dr. Alvarez, who taught the same course for seven years at The Ohio State University before coming to Daniels in the summer of 2013. “We talked about things like a marketing plan and how best to market their cheese when there is high demand, but quality is still important.” Spring 2014 was the first time Dr. Alvarez taught the course at Daniels.

Students who take Emerging Firms in Emerging Economies walk away changed forever. “We interact with women who make $2.25 a day, who are working hard to get out of poverty and do everything they can to help their own children build a better life,” says Dr. Alvarez. “It is inspirational and has a big impact on our students.”

Miller, who was also on the trip, says that despite a language barrier between the students and the native Quechuan people they were helping, the students found a way to communicate effectively. With two fluent Spanish-speakers among the group, many of the villagers were able to understand the oral presentation, and the students reinforced their observations and suggestions through pictures for those who only spoke Quechua, the native language. “This was a highly intelligent presentation and the villagers embraced the help,” says Miller.

Dr. Alvarez notes that there is a mutual exchange of knowledge among students and the villagers they help. “Many Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other organizations go to villages like this and dig wells and clean water and do important things like that, but the reality is that while these women can outdig us, what they do not have are business skills,” she says. “That’s something we can contribute to their communities and hopefully communicate in a way they can comprehend and apply to their communities for the rest of their lives.”

Learn more about the Emerging Firms in Emerging Economies class by contacting Sharon Alvarez at 303.871.3919 or sharon.alvarez@du.edu.