By: Kim Saxton
The start of the new year and the new semester is a good time to take stock of what you have and consider what something different would be like. It’s especially true this year, having just returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic (DR).
Between semesters this academic year, Professor Todd Saxton and I headed down to the DR to check on the projects our Kelley MBA students have been working on. For the past 3 years, one to three of the MBA students in his DIVE (Discovery, Innovation and Ventures Enterprise) program have teamed up with a local DR group to help create and expand some social ventures. Social ventures are typically organizations that combine commerce with a social benefit. For example, the Cabarete Coffee Company has a shop that makes great coffee and breakfast/lunch sandwiches. But, the coffee and cacao beans come from a local organic farm that is giving local people a way to make a living. The profits from Cabarete Coffee fund the local Mariposa DR Foundation (
http://www.mariposadrfoundation.org/) which runs schools, medical facilities and other programs to help educate local girls. Kelley Evening MBA students have worked with Mariposa and Cabarete Coffee for the first two years helping to design new programs and develop a sustainable business plan.
Last year, Kelley MBA students also worked with the Caribbean Sustainability Institute (CSI) figuring out how to create a closed loop system for providing clean stoves with a new, clean fuel source. The primary problems in the DR are similar to other developing nations:
- Immature economic system with weak commerce…there is little true industry, jobs or a way for many local people to be employed and/or earn any living
- Limited access to clean water
- Limited access to schools and education
- Poor sanitation
- Toxic cooking systems and fuels
During this trip, we spent a full day with Dave, the head of CSI, visiting the rural villages to get a firsthand look at the issues. We drove to 5 communities. And, let me tell you, this was quite an adventure. Technically, we traveled on “roads.” But, these roads had not seen any paving action in years. According to Dave, the DR had taken out loans from IMF to buy sugar processing plants. But, the US stopped buying cane sugar. Since the US bought 75% of the sugar production, this was quite a problem. The government was still making loan payments on plants. That means little funds for roads, schools, medical services, etc. So, we bumped up, down and all around the countryside. Most of the communities were out in the sugar cane fields where displaced workers are housed to avoid overcrowding the cities. Here’s the path to one of the mountain communities and their “stove.”
Let me share some insights from the day. First, the people in every community were very welcoming and excited to see us. They wanted to show us their homes, what they were doing and what new improvements they had. They were generous, to a fault. They made us coffee, gave us papayas and even shared the bread with peanut butter they’d just made. Second, they had almost nothing. We had more belongings in our luggage for the trip than most of the entire homes held. And, most families suffered from “la grippe” (flu like symptoms) that come from contaminated water. Third, they wanted nothing from us – they just shared what they had. Fourth, they were extremely happy. They laughed, the kids played and they had big smiles all around. Yes, they knew life could be better. But, they were okay with what they had. Still, you knew you wanted to help them; help them have a more secure life. By that, I mean the UN’s definition of human security which includes 7 types of security:
When I look at my life, I think I’ve pretty much managed to have all of these securities. But, I am not sure these people have any of these 7 securities. While it will take a lot of work to get all 7, I’m glad the Kelley School supports programs to try and get them one.
At the same time, I am sure that I will never take my clean water from the tap, toilets that flush to a central sewer system (rather than a bucket that’s thrown in the river), a card that lets me access the dollars in my checking account (rather than counting out pesos to buy 1/10th of a soap bar and that was only after I rode the burro down the mountain to sell the milk from my cow) or many other “luxuries” in my life for granted. I feel blessed to be so “secure.” How about you?
Oh, and in case you find the grocery store daunting, check out the local store there.
Happy New Year.