After an unforgettable trip abroad, Case Western Reserve University’s graduate students in the Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) class of 2015 found a creative way to give back to South African communities in need.
Every summer, members of each EMBA class travel to different nations and learn about business in an international context. Small groups of students are responsible for organizing two to four visits with different businesses in the area, which are meant to highlight that area’s business context. Oftentimes, the visits are comprised of meetings with CEOs and administrators of local organizations.
However, one group of students chose a meeting that was a little different from speaking in a board room.
Student Don Henderson chose to bring the class to Friends for Life, a nonprofit organization which serves those suffering from HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Henderson, who has now taken six trips to various locations in the the nation, believes that all business is intertwined with poverty and other issues which touch the poor.
“While we were travelling to South Africa to understand international business, I believe you can’t understand the business environment without understanding the culture in which it operates,” said Henderson. “Poverty is rampant across the African continent, so I believed that it needed to be a critical element of our visit.”
Angela Brandt, a student who went on the trip, recalled the experiences of visiting four different homes of people who were assisted by FFL.
“Even recalling it now makes me want to return and do more,” said Brandt. “This business visit was life changing for me, personally.”
According to Brandt, all the people she visited lived in homes without electricity or running water. However, whether they were small children or grandmothers, their conditions did not squash their spirit. “There was laughter and hope; amazing, given the challenges and struggles,” she said.
At the end of the FFL visit, the EMBA group was given a stack of original artwork created by the children assisted through the program. These paintings were displayed at the George S. Dively building for two weeks and sold through a silent auction.
Many themes in the artwork involved HIV/AIDS awareness, but, after all, they were made by kids. Other paintings featured dolphins and families, all drawn clumsily by little hands.
However, they still sold enough to make an impact. All proceeds made from the auction will be going back to FFL. According to Brandt, the idea of selling the children’s art was a matter of common sense. “It was the most organic way we could think of to increase awareness for the program [and] the business, and to celebrate our journey,” said Brandt.
Ultimately, through selling children’s paintings, the EMBA Class of 2015 raised around $900 for FFL. While the money raised doesn’t seem high in the United States, in Africa it will go a long way to help with FFL’s humble mission to assist those with HIV/AIDS.
In Brandt’s mind, the visit to FFL helped her life as well. ”If our visit helped any one of the individuals we met with to seek help, stay in school or obtain one of their dreams, I can’t imagine a more meaningful impact,” said Brandt. “Friends for Life made a lasting impact on us. I think that the gift they gave us will outlast the monetary gift we will be able to share with them.”