by Bianca Flowers
For the past couple of years, sophomore, Matthew Aulert has found a unique way to spend his spring break, and it wasn’t on the shores of Panama City Beach. Aulert put his finance skills to good use abroad as he traveled with fellow classmates to empower and educate rural communities in the Republic of Panama about financial planning.
Business Brigades; a program dedicated to fostering economic stability in Panama is a product of the national organization; Global Brigades. The organization which started in 2004 is the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development movement. Throughout the year, missions teams, made up of student and professional volunteers go to third world countries to work in conjunction with community members to improve life in under resourced regions. The University of Illinois Global Business Brigade has been around since 2007. Aulert joined the club freshman and hasn’t looked back.
“When first heard about it, I knew this was a trip that I wanted to go on. I thought it would great opportunity to go to rural Panama to see what poverty really is. It gives you a perspective of how underprivileged individuals live on a day-to-day basis.”
Now President, Aulert is looking to further promote the program. With only twelve students volunteers for the first trip, the club has 40 participates this year.
“Being able to develop the organization and create a network is our way to get more students in the College of Business involved and hopefully other colleges on campus can hear about it.” Although we cater more to business students because skills are more applicable for the program, we want to market this trip to all majors.”
Students are housed in a remote location two hours east of Panama. They stay compounds with other university business brigades where there is no internet or cell phone service.
“That’s the most difficult part when some students’ run the idea by their families and tell them that I won’t be able to talk to you for a week.” I think it’s a nice break from reality because you put yourself in their shoes.”
During the 7 day trip, students spilt up into groups to conduct household workshops. They work alongside families as financial advisors to teach basic accounting and small business management skills. Students get to apply their business curriculum by acting as international consultants all the while working collaboratively to help implement solutions for Panamanian families to gain access to credit and savings opportunities.
“Not many organizations here at the U of I offer these kinds of programs where you can grow professionally and get exposed to a different culture. The experience that I had there and the memories that I made are irreplaceable.”