West Virginia University’s chapter of Global Business Brigades is an international movement of university students and professionals helping to build economic opportunities. These chapters collaborate with year-round staff members and entrepreneurs to help create financial opportunities in remote, rural, and under-resourced areas of Panama.
“Volunteers assist in consulting micro-enterprises, assessing loan capacity payments and providing financial literacy workshops to families,” said Elizabeth Escott, President of WVU Global Business Brigades and Organizational Leadership Major.
“This is all as a part of Global Brigades’ Holistic Model that is designed to combat each step of the poverty cycle and empower communities to be sustainably self-sufficient. Global Brigades only operates in communities that have invited them in and employs community members as technicians on their year-round staff.”
When the bridges aren’t helping in Panama, Escott says they focus on education and service at a local level. Educational meetings are held that often reflect on economic inequalities, indigenous discrimination, and more. As a group in Monongalia County they work to use the knowledge and talents given to them by the University to help better the lives of local Appalachian communities.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Business Brigades were not able to make their annual chapter trip to Panama, but refused to let the pandemic keep them from working to help those in need. In response to their canceled brigade in country, the chapter created their first ever telebrigade.
“The agenda was very similar to an in-person brigade where we have workshops, meet with clients, and create deliverables,” said Eva Lauer, Treasurer and Global Supply Chain Management Major.
“The main difference was that we were participating entirely from Zoom. In this brigade, we had access to create deliverables using internet and online resources which are rarely available in the rural areas of Panama. We were also able to create a WhatsApp group chat with our client to send pictures and learn about each other's cultures. These are resources we don’t always have access to while in Panama. Although there were some changes to the brigade this year, there was one main similarity and that is an impact was made on a small business in rural Panama.”
Chapter Vice President Nicole Nelson says they initially feared their lack of travel and personal interaction would hinder their telebrigade experience, but say the group and client in Panama still felt a connection and were able to communicate effectively.
“Throughout the week our client, Senora Betzaida, was eager to work with us, open to sharing her future business goals, and acceptant to each of our ideas that we presented. I was thrilled with her response to our team working with her considering we were strictly communicating virtually,” said Nelson.
“Since the beginning of the year, I knew there was a very slim chance that we would be able to travel abroad and meet with a client in an in person setting. Because of this, I expected no other alternative and we would have to skip the international experience for this school year and mainly focus both the educational aspect of our organization and fundraising for next year’s trip. Luckily, we were able to work with the greater Global Brigades organization and provide a low cost, accessible option for our members to participate in an international business experience.
We feel extremely fortunate to be provided with this opportunity and would recommend a Global Business telebrigade to anyone interested in international business consulting.”