The students are members of the Global Business Brigades (GBB), a socially conscious organization that uses business skills and a passion for change to assist developing communities around the world. The goal of the UCF chapter of GBB is to deliver sustainable micro-enterprise solutions to impoverished villages.

The students traveled to Panama twice. In December 2008, 17 members of the UCF chapter went for seven days and worked with the indigenous Kuna community to assess the needs of two micro-enterprises: un comedor infantil (children’s kitchen) and una tienda junta local (local small community-run store) in the Koskuna community of Panama.

Even though the students were in Panama for just seven days, their impact will make a difference for years to come. They taught the villagers how to expand their operations and stimulate economic development, while also providing lessons on personal finance, accounting and basic computer skills. Both the community kitchen and the local store contribute a portion of their proceeds to support Kuna’s local school and church, and plans are underway to use additional incoming revenue for future micro-enterprise growth.

“The trip gave me many opportunities to learn. I learned more about servant leadership, human relations, working with a team of diverse students, and about myself,” said Kathy Nguyen, GBB president and program director. “I definitely felt I was taking a chance by doing all of this, but had I not, I would have missed out on meeting such an amazing group of people and an incredible opportunity to make a difference,” she added.

After the December trip to Panama, the students returned to Orlando and continued working on their business proposals. They went back to the village in May and implemented their strategic business plans. It was their goal to provide the entire Koskuna community with the knowledge and capability to be financially independent and self-sustaining. The students did not just tell the villagers how to run a business—they taught them business skills. Now that the project in Panama is complete, plans are underway for members of the GBB to work with other cultures next year.

Students who participated in this experience learned valuable lessons in entrepreneurship. Ryan Mulvaney is scheduled to graduate this summer and move out of the state. However, this experience has been so rewarding, he plans to remain involved with the GBB. “Even though I am leaving UCF as a student, I plan on volunteering again next year as an alum,” he said.

Please visit the GBB Web site for more information on Panama trips or the CEI website for information on the UCF Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.