May 28, 2010
By Darla Martin Tucker
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) The mother, father and child are desperately poor and miles away from their former self-sustaining existence in the Colombian countryside, but they know how to hang on. When heavy rains flood the streets of Bogota, the father uses blocks and scraps of wood floating by to fashion a crude footbridge over impromptu streams. He charges passage to those wishing to cross the torrents and stay dry.
It is this entrepreneurial drive, residing within the hearts of the nation’s displaced millions, that a Bogota foundation, a business school in Riverside, Calif., and the social services branch of the Colombian government intend to nurture.
On April 26, Warren Trenchard, provost of Riverside’s La Sierra University and John Thomas, dean of La Sierra’s School of Business, signed an agreement with nonprofit organization Red Transforma Colombia-Fundacíon Rendención Social, chaired by Colombian Senator Charles Schultz Navarro. La Sierra signed on with Red Transforma as an agent participating in the nonprofit’s contract with the Colombian government’s Acción Social, the social office of Colombia’s president.
Red Transforma’s pact with La Sierra calls for the business school to implement a pilot economic empowerment project for 100 displaced and randomly-selected families living in the Bosa segment of Bogota. La Sierra’s award-winning Students In Free Enterprise team (SIFE), operating out of the business school, have created curriculum for the project and are helping teach the families how to start and operate businesses.
Depending on pilot project outcomes over the next year, the Colombian government plans to disseminate La Sierra’s economic program to 100,000 displaced families and potentially use it as a nationwide model to aid scores of people determined to be displaced and struggling to survive.
During the project’s startup phase, La Sierra’s business school will use grant funding to provide seed money to the Colombian families. A cyclical micro loan model will help the families start the ventures and also prompt mutual accountability to ensure loan repayment and business viability.
La Sierra’s team is partnering with instructors from SENA, a national vocational training service. Using Spanish-language DVDs and curriculum booklets created by La Sierra’s SIFE team, SENA’s instructors are leading weekly entrepreneurship classes for the families at a Seventh-day Adventist church in Bosa. On April 26, members of La Sierra’s team together with SENA instructors held introductory classes with members of the 100 families. The classes combine video lectures with group activities. The five-part curriculum covers topics of innovation, organizational planning, financial planning and marketing.
Meanwhile, the Colombian President’s Acción Social agency is ensuring the families have adequate food, medical care and other basics while they focus on starting their businesses.
“A lot of people said ‘we’re participating because we heard an American university is guiding this program,’” said Helder Costa, SIFE’s Colombian project director and the SIFE team’s chief financial officer. He and team members Andrea Mateus and Cesar Tinoco accompanied Provost Trenchard to Colombia in April to oversee the first class of the pilot project, provide micro-loan model booklets and sign documents. “They’re really, really hopeful,” Costa said of the class participants. “They really believe this is going to change things. They understand …education, knowledge and how to manage money is the solution for their problems.”
Following the five-week educational course, the business school, through a grant from nonprofit funding organization Versacare Inc. in Riverside, will divide the families into groups of 10 based on their proximity to each other. Five families in each group will each receive a micro loan between $50 and $150 and meet regularly with the other group families for inspiration and accountability. Once the first five families in the group have earned enough money to pay back the loan, the other five families will use the re-paid funds to start their companies while continuing to meet with the other group families.
“We’re trying to find a solution that will allow these displaced families to empower themselves,” said business school Dean Thomas. “We want to serve as a catalyst by which they can greatly improve their lives.”
“Not enough light’s been shed on Colombia,” said Ryan Foss, La Sierra’s SIFE team president, citing the difficulties of the country’s displaced millions. He traveled with the La Sierra group to Colombia in February. “They’re looking for skills but are stuck without opportunities.”
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva, Switzerland, between 3.3 million and 4.9 million displaced persons reside in Colombia, roughly even with Sudan for numbers of individuals pushed from their homes and lives by conflict. Colombian families run out of rural areas by guerilla forces over the past decades left behind peaceful, rural lives where they were able to make a living off the land and meet their daily needs. They now live in “cramped and crowded hovels made of cardboard or metal that are exposed to the elements,” said Red Transforma’s project representative Laurie Trujillo, and are not able to provide for themselves.
Trujillo’s father, Arnold Trujillo, serves on La Sierra University’s Board of Trustees. The Colombian project got its start when the elder Trujillo last November introduced his daughter to La Sierra business school Dean Thomas to discuss ways of aiding Colombia’s families.
Laurie Trujillo, a professional fundraiser, had previously discussed with Senator Schultz Navarro her ideas to help these families rebuild their lives. “When the senator got involved, it exploded, but I was not surprised because from its inception, God has been directing this project,” said Trujillo.
La Sierra’s business school has a long history of helping impoverished individuals turn their lives around through economic empowerment. These efforts take place primarily through the school’s precedent-setting SIFE team. SIFE, an international nonprofit organization based in Springfield, Mo., holds annual competitions for more than 1,000 university and college teams around the world, based on local, national and international projects that aid those in need through business concepts and entrepreneurship. La Sierra’s SIFE team has won six U.S. trophies and two World Cups thus far, more national titles than any team in the world.
On May 13, La Sierra’s SIFE team placed in the top eight out an original field of 169 university and college teams from around the United States. SIFE’s National Exposition took place May 11 – 13 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. La Sierra’s annual report highlighted a variety of student-driven economic outreach activities undertaken during the past academic year, including the Colombian project.
Its work in Colombia takes La Sierra’s outreach ventures to a new level, however, and marks the first time the university has joined forces with a national government toward implementing policy based on one of its service programs.
“This has the potential for us to indirectly impact the lives of more people than anything we’ve ever done,” said Provost Trenchard. “It is especially significant that our students are developing the materials, delivering the programs, providing creativity and energy to make this happen.”
“We are honored and humbled by this opportunity and it will require not only creativity, ingenuity and the commitment of students, faculty and others at the university, but a large measure of divine blessing,” Trenchard said.
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University