Senior Management major Francois Tompkins knew he wanted to study abroad in the fall of 2013, but the question was where. He wanted to go to a place that would challenge him, a place with a totally different culture than he was used to, and somewhere that would force him to adapt and deal with discomfort and adversity. Tompkins wishes were met when he became one of six students, two from Gustavus and four from Concordia College in Moorhead, to test out the new Global Entrepreneurship in India program during the fall semester of 2013.
The program was developed collaboratively between faculty and staff from Gustavus and Concordia, along with partners in India from Visthar Academy for Justice and Peace Studies, and is designed to meet the needs and interests of business, economics, and management students at each school. Visthar is the home of the current Social Justice, Peace, and Development program and will serve as the home base for the new business program.
By combining guided study with substantive internship opportunities, the program offers students a unique study abroad experience.
“Students in the program explore diverse perspectives about fundamental questions of social change and economic development,” said Carolyn O’Grady, Director of International and Cultural Education. “The structure involves a blend of classroom instruction and field-based exploration. Students also complete two internships in pairs or small teams, each at least one month in duration. One internship is with a social entrepreneur/NGO or social investment bank, and the other internship is with a transnational firm.”
While India is one of the world’s most dynamic and diverse societies, and has one of the fastest growing economies, it also suffers from entrenched poverty, illiteracy, environmental degradation, corruption, poor infrastructure, and a rigid caste system. New global market capitalism has created immense new wealth. For example, India now ranks fourth in number of billionaires. However, it continues to be third-tier in human development, ranking 134th among 186 nations, with a per capita GDP of just $1,400 a year.
Throughout their two internships, students get the opportunity to learn about and make contributions to the two main sectors of global business in India: small collective businesses that use entrepreneurial principles to create economic opportunity and positive social change such as women’s empowerment, micro-financing, and sustainable rural community; and large corporate businesses that use market principles to create economic opportunity and positive social change such as new wealth and expanded access to quality goods and services.
After spending their first two weeks in India getting accustomed to the culture and attending classes at the Visthar campus, both Tompkins and junior management major Steve Moertel began working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) in a rural area of India.
“We worked with a social entrepreneur who worked to give empowerment to rural villages in India,” Moertel said. “Mallamma Yalawar had a handicraft business in which women from the rural villages would create various handicrafts. She would then take them and sell them, and share the profit with the women. It was really inspiring to see a social entrepreneur work first-hand like we saw. Although she was not the richest woman in the world, she was making a difference, and that was what powered her organization.”
Following their internship with the rural NGO, Moertel and Tompkins moved back to the Visthar campus for a three week course on entrepreneurship.
“This course required us to explore the city of Bangalore, and meet with entrepreneurs, people who fund entrepreneurs, and other influential people in the start-up community of Bangalore and from around the world,” Moertel said. “Although this was our only three weeks of class over the semester, the learning was so hands-on and empowering, and I truly believe I became a different person as a result of it.”
After their three week class, the students got the chance to relax on a one week vacation on the Indian Ocean before starting their next internship.
Once back in Bangalore, Moertel, Tompkins, and a student from Concordia began their second internship, this time with IBM, where they shadowed an HR team and learned how it conducted business and hired new employees.
“We were asked to assess the process and make recommendations on how to make it better. In the end, we came up with ideas and presented them to a team of managers. They liked what we had to say, and realized that there were some flaws in their processes. They accepted our changes and will hopefully be implementing them,” Moertel said.
During their final two weeks in India, the students were challenged to dedicate their time to a specific project of their choice, with the goal of trying to enact some sort of change through their efforts.
Throughout his three weeks exploring Bangalore and meeting with entrepreneurs, Moertel came up with an idea for a children’s book called “Draw”. The book became his focus during the final two weeks of the program.
“The book was created in the memory of my father who had always wanted to create a children’s book, but passed away before he ever got the chance to,” Moertel said. “The book is simple: the user is given a blank sheet of paper and a prompt of what to draw at the top, such as a pirate, mountain, yourself, outer space, or anything. The book is meant to inspire creativity and create imagination in people of all ages.”
Moertel teamed up with another student from Concordia to promote and grow the book. They brought the book to three schools, employees at Thomson-Reuters and IBM, their fellow classmates, and random interactions at coffee shops. Children from schools in Sweden, China, and Spain drew for the book, and one school even added it to their curriculum.
“Never in my life had I felt as motivated and passionate about a project. Draw was my idea, and I made it into a reality. The children’s book that my dad had always wanted to create is being created, and gets life every time a new drawing is created,” Moertel said.
Currently, they are trying to work on a sponsorship with Crayola and getting the book into school curriculums, among other plans.
Tompkins’ project involved working on the development of a mobile application with a team made up of six other students, including one of the students from Concordia.
As part of an event known as “StartUp Weekend”, Tompkins’ team, made up of a team leader, graphic designers, technology producers, and marketers, worked together to create a mobile app from scratch within 54 hours. More than 70 people were in attendance at the event, and more than 60 creative pitches were given for new app ideas. Tompkins’ team was chosen as the overall winner of the event.
“After we won the event, I spent my last few weeks in India working with the team on actually getting the app up and running and turning it into a reality,” Tompkins said. “Some of my responsibilities included conducting surveys asking people whether or not our app sounded like something that they would be interested in. I basically worked on ways to better market the app.”
Overall, Moertel and Tompkins’ experience in the new Global Entrepreneurship in India program exceeded their expectations.
“My experience in India was very satisfying and rewarding, and my biggest takeaways are simple. I learned first and foremost to not take things in my life for granted. Generally speaking, most Americans have it so good compared to other people throughout the world, and yet they still complain about how bad their lives are when there are families in India living on less than one U.S. dollar a day, with which they’re expected to provide for their families,” Tompkins said.
“Along with that I gained a deeper appreciation for the little things in life, mainly family and happiness. Money doesn’t necessarily bring happiness and at the end of the day if all else fails, family will always be there. From this experience I took away things like self-confidence and how to believe in myself to make changes in some things in the world that need changing. I now confidently believe in myself that I have the strength and ability to go change the world, all I have to do is go and actually do it.”
For Moertel, the hands-on experience made for an incredible and effective learning environment.
“This program is extremely applicable and beneficial to my future.” Moertel said. “You always hear about people going abroad and having a more care-free lifestyle, or they’re around other international/American students all the time, or centered on one campus. During our time at IBM, the three of us lived in an apartment with a slum on one side, and some of the most opulent houses you have ever seen on the other, and we were completely surrounded by Indian people and their culture. My experience means a lot to me, and it is affecting my life in ways I never would have imagined.”
For more information about the Global Entrepreneurship in India program, visit the Center for International and Cultural Education or contact Kathi Tunheim (firstname.lastname@example.org), Bruce Johnson (email@example.com), or Carolyn O’Grady (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin