DECATUR — Most of the corn and other crops grown in Zambia go to waste because farmers don’t have a way to ship it or store it before it spoils.
But thanks to Millikin University’s International Business Consulting class this spring, government officials in this southern African country have a plan for piloting a microenterprise zone containing businesses the farmers there need to be successful.
Those businesses are financing, transportation, sales assistance, storage, agricultural training, packaging and business support, including security and technology, and Zambian officials are looking for money to implement the proposal near Kafue.
Mark Munoz, associate professor of International Business, said earlier classes have done consulting projects for foreign companies before, such as one for Italy-based Barilla, on how to expand their business in the United States for their high-end products.
“The success we had with Barilla gave me the confidence to try bigger things,” Munoz said. “I don’t know how to top this.”
Twelve students participated in writing the proposal after hours of telephone conversations and many email exchanges with key players in Zambia.
Nine — all but graduates Emily Altenberger of Bourbonnais, Erick Beck of Moweaqua and Chelsea Tish of Decatur — went to Zambia to present it May 28 at the Zambia Development Agency office in Lusaka.
Six of those students, along with the four professors who accompanied the group, talked about their experiences earlier this month at the Decatur Public Library.
Brittany Mueller of Argenta, a 2012 graduate of Millikin, said the presentation to government officials went better than any of their rehearsals, aside from the fact Kayla Beights, a graduate from Gilson, fainted momentarily.
“She was OK, she made it through,” Mueller said. “She was able to come back for questions.”
Mueller went on to say, after studying business at Millikin for three or four years, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to meet real-life entrepreneurs in a foreign country and learn how they operate.
The group also visited Victoria Falls, the family home of Sister Anna Phiri, a spiritual caregiver at St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur; saw dozens of wild animals, and some students and professors even did some bungee jumping and zip-lining.
Beights’ temporary loss of consciousness, however, wasn’t the trip’s only surprise.
Anna Hartman of Collinsville, now a senior at Millikin, had to undergo an emergency appendectomy in Lusaka and remain there an extra week. Staying with her were graduate Kelsey Nihiser of Decatur; Rick Bibb, a retired associate professor of marketing; and Jim Watson, interim dean of the Tabor School of Business.
“My life is definitely different,” Hartman said. “I got to see the medical system first-hand, and I don’t have an appendix anymore.”
Graduate Caleb Allen of Argenta said this was his first international experience and hopefully not the last.
Nihiser said that compared to reading about it in a book or seeing it on TV, going to Zambia was eye-opening. “We lived it,” she said. “I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to go.”
Graduate David Martin of Decatur said he’ll never forget the experience.
“We got to present something to a nation’s government that, if implemented, could literally change the world,” he said. “That was exhilarating!”