As MBA students at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, Ben McDonald and VJ Terzic had the opportunity to become teachers and share their knowledge in disadvantaged communities. But the pair say they learned just as much from their experience as the students that filled their classrooms.
They helped launch Sauder’s Ch’Nook Indigenous business education program (IBEP), in which MBA candidates deliver business school curriculum to the B.C. Indigenous communities of Anahim Lake, Port Alberni and Bella Bella.
“Being in the MBA program was the time to try different things and I’m so glad I did because it opened up so much for me,” says Mr. Terzic, who travelled to all three communities.
The inspiration for IBEP came from more than 14,000 kilometres away — the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, to be exact. Sauder Social Enterprise (SSE) Kenya is a four-week volunteer opportunity for the school’s MBA students to travel and impart some of their learning to aspiring entrepreneurs in that part of the world, helping them better understand how to run their own businesses.
A poster for SSE Kenya caught Mr. Terzic’s attention in the hallway on his way to class one day. “I spoke to a few people about SSE Kenya, and the more I heard about it the more I wanted to do it,” explains Mr. Terzic.
Mr. McDonald was also intrigued by the idea. “I had never heard of the program before entering my MBA, but it perfectly aligned with what I was looking to get out of an MBA,” he says. “I was looking to get the business skills and understanding to be able to help those that were also in need of business skills.”
Mr. Terzic and Mr. McDonald went to Kenya last year, teaching entrepreneurship to youth in the slums of Nairobi. Their experience abroad inspired them to pursue something similar domestically, which is when they got involved with Sauder’s IBEP and its pilot project to deliver a two-week curriculum to the three First Nations communities.
Both the MBAs, now graduates, say IBEP was an “eye-opening” experience, as neither had been to any of these Indigenous communities before, and their own teaching experience was limited to their four weeks in Kenya.
“But the participants were patient with us,” says Mr. McDonald, “and we were eager to work together.”
Robyn Humchitt was in the first cohort of Indigenous entrepreneurs that participated in the IBEP in Bella Bella. She had been harvesting and selling salmon berries to the local population for three years when she saw the posting for the program on Facebook and jumped at the chance to further her business, “and I’d always wanted to learn a little bit more about the financial aspects, like revenue and cash flow,” explains Ms. Humchitt.
But the program proved to be only the first phase of Ms. Humchitt’s business plan.
“I got a lot more out of it than what I expected because I went into the program thinking I would learn how to start and manage your own business, but we also learned how we can make a difference through our businesses and that completely changed my own business model.”
Ms. Humchitt subsequently launched Sala H2O (jugs of water infused with local berries and herbs), a business idea that came out of her berry sales and is linked directly to her First Nations traditions and the welfare of her community.
“I wanted to bring the local berries back to the tables here ... and we don’t have a recycling facility, so it was also a way to [replace] bottled water at meetings, events and gatherings in the community,” says Ms. Humchitt, adding that Mr. Terzic and Mr. McDonald have been her “biggest supporters.”
For Mr. Terzic and Mr. McDonald, the IBEP was a chance to share their business expertise and experience with a classroom of people, but also to gain knowledge about these communities.
“Some of the key components we learn about at Sauder are ethics and sustainability, and that was very fresh in our minds going into this experience,” says Mr. McDonald. “And this program and its setting created a space that allowed us to think deeply and thoughtfully, maybe more than we ever have before, about business and social responsibility.”
A revamped version of the IBEP program will be launched this summer in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, notorious for drugs and crime.
“We want this program to continue not just for the members of the community that can improve their business knowledge,” adds Mr. McDonald, “but because we see that this has so much applicable value for MBA students.”