On January 8 Dr. Noreen Lephardt, Dr. Heather Kohls and eight Marquette students embarked on an atypical Christmas vacation.
They did not spend their vacation in a four-star hotel or a water park enjoying the remaining days before Marquette began its spring
semester. Instead the group spent a week in El Salvador helping two small businesses grow and develop into profitable organizations. The Center for Global and Economic Studies in Marquette’s College of Business sponsors and runs the student program Applied Global Business Learning (AGBL).
The AGBL enables students and professors – organized into “brigades” – to travel to developing countries in order to help small businesses. In the words of Adjunct Associate Professor of Economics Dr. Noreen Lephardt, “AGBL brigades are an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge for the betterment of small companies in a developing economy, and I believe it is a transformation experience for them”.
The Marquette brigade, which consisted of a variety of majors including Spanish and Accounting and a MBA student, helped develop two Salvadorian businesses by applying the principles they learned in the classroom. The first small business the group traveled to was a purse factory.
This factory was not the colossal, smoke-stacked building with thousands of employees that Americans are accustomed to seeing. Only a few women ran this factory. They produced all their purses on three sewing machines. The building had a simple, paneled roof and walls on a concrete slab.
The students, aided by their professors, provided valuable business information and advice to the women. The group also provided the small business with a “SWOT” analysis, a method used to analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of a
The group did not have the opportunity to stay in hotels with all the amenities. Instead, the students and professors stayed with the
families they worked with. The families lived in huts with dirt floors and sheets serving as the walls of the house.
Most of the brigade’s food was provided by the families, who graciously shared what they had with Marquette’s students and faculty. The group often discussed and reflected on their hosts’ hospitalities. These discussions had a deep impact on both the students and professors involved.
On the second half of the AGBL trip, the group visited a chicken farm.The business owned 560 chickens, which is not a lot compared to the thousands of chickens in factory farms in the United States.
The developing business had large issues with developing an effective way to distribute wages. None of the employees were being paid.
Marquette’s AGBL brigade helped the business develop an effective pay system and pricing strategy for the company in order to enable its future success.
While the brigade was often busy working with the developing the business, the group also had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the culture and history of El Salvador.
The Spanish majors could utilize their skills in a realistic setting, as they translated for the group on many occasions. The group visited the death site of Bishop Oscar Romero and reflected in the Jesuit values of faith and
service, which was a key theme of the trip.
Professor Lephardt says the trip “is an excellent example of the transformational Ignatian educational experience that is a distinguishing characteristic of a Marquette University education”.
Not only were the businesses that the group helped better off, but the brigade also learned valuable lessons that will serve them well in their future endeavors.
The group learned how to communicate effectively despite cultural and lingual barriers. They also learned how to fix problems that come from starting a small business and get
the most out of limited resources. One of the most important skills the students gained was the ability to communicate freely with their
In the words of Dr. Lephardt, “For me, participating in the El Salvador business brigade was an exceptional experience because it established a different partnership of learning between students and faculty”.
Thus far, brigades have gone to India, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. This spring a group of students will go to Cost Rica.
Students interested in AGBL should visit