Business students build skills on trip to Haiti

Students gain sustainable business, leadership skills in Haiti...

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By Jocelyn Wu via Cornell Chronicle, 10/30/12

Stephanie Ball '13 used to think that sending clothing to Haitians would help them to weather the difficulties of living in one of the world's poorest countries.

A service learning trip to Haiti Oct. 4-8 through the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management changed her mind.

Ball was one of seven Cornell seniors from Dyson's Business Opportunities in Leadership and Diversity (BOLD) program who traveled to Haiti to learn about sustainable business and to work with orphaned children.

"An important thing I learned on this trip was that when entering another culture and country ... we need to be careful about claiming that we know what they need and how to help them. It turns out that a lot of what we do to help [Haitians], like giving them clothing and food, is hurting them in the long run. We give all this clothing to them, and then it is sold very cheaply, or given for free. Therefore, the textile industry is wiped out because people will not pay the higher prices. As the country tries to rebuild itself, [it is important to create] jobs and opportunities for them to sustain themselves, rather than America sustaining them," she said.

The seniors are members of BOLD's Leadership Certificate Program, which transforms a cohort of 30 diverse sophomores and juniors into a cohesive leadership team. Through intensive personal awareness and team-building workshops, they develop their leadership capacity in resolving conflicts, ethical decision-making and enhancing communication skills.

While in Haiti, the students planned activities and worked with children, and they visited and learned about sustainable, locally operated businesses that provide jobs in the community. One such business is GO Threads, part of The Global Orphan Project, a global orphan care ministry based in Kansas City, Mo. GO Thread's goal is to meet clothing demand via local production by employing and training workers in special sewing boutiques in target countries. GO Threads operates two boutiques in Haiti that produce uniforms necessary for children to attend school, as well as products for the global market. All profits benefit local orphans.

"After our team put in last year's work fundraising for GO Threads with the Leadership Certificate Program Class of 2012, we thought it was an amazing opportunity to witness how The Global Orphan Project works," said Tracey Louis '13. "By interacting with the orphans, we expected the children to feel loved and cared for, making a difference in their lives. We hoped these interactions would give us insight to a new environment and allow us to put into practice the culture of inclusion that we have learned during our time in the BOLD Leadership Certificate Program."

Louis, whose parents are Haitian immigrants, appreciated the chance to further explore and understand her heritage. "Haiti is a remarkable place filled with beautiful terrain, delicious food and rich people," she said.

Although Haiti is said to be the poorest country in the world, the people do not see themselves as poor. At the core of their culture is a strong emphasis on building and maintaining relationships within their communities, she said.

"Human interactions are what bring them joy, not the availability of a smartphone or computer. Our time in BOLD has taught us to be open-minded and value what we may not understand."

The trip was supported by Cornell and a $10,000 grant from Procter & Gamble's 2012 Higher Education Fund.

Jocelyn Wu '14 is a student writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.

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