May 11, 2016 at 1:15pm
Dane Lisser

A Life-Changing Experience

It's a strategic plan that is so much more than a plan, it's a way to help real people in real conditions.

For six years, Millikin University business students, under the guidance of Dr. Larry Stapleton, professor of management, have been traveling to the Dominican Republic to learn and engage in social entrepreneurship. Recently, students in Dr. Stapleton's international business course teamed up with Decatur-based church New Beginnings to help make a small village in the Dominican Republic a better place.

Millikin Dominican Republic

The village, called El Mango Limpio, has a growing population of approximately 400 people and is located just over two hours away from the resort community of Punta Cana. While the village maybe near a resort community, it is years away from the amenities which most of us consider to be essentials. Though signs of poverty are visible, the community is full of happy people who embrace a rich culture and is known for having lush vegetation. New Beginnings has a mission to help the area residents and developed a church in the village.

In November 2013, Dr. Stapleton was approached by Dan Watkins, a 1989 Millikin business administration graduate and pastor at New Beginnings Church, about developing a business plan to help El Mango Limpio. Dr. Stapleton saw this project as an opportunity to promote the University's focus on Performance Learning by including his students in the plan.

"We had been working on the Millikin Microfinance Fund for four years in the Dominican Republic, helping support women entrepreneurs in poor economic situations," Stapleton said. "Dan came up with the idea to build an internet cafe for the village so it would be convenient for students to do their homework in the village, rather than travel long distance to another area that offers internet and other resources."

Millikin Dominican Republic

In fall of 2014, during their international business course (Business in the Dominican Republic), Millikin students and New Beginnings put the internet cafe business idea into full effect. The cafe will offer internet access, school supplies and computer training lessons to students and members of the community. The cafe will add two jobs when the facility is complete.

"It took some time to get the information that we needed, but once we got there everything fell into place," said Carina Brenner, a senior digital media marketing major from San Jose, Calif. "We saw a different side of poverty that you wouldn't normally see."

Millikin Dominican Republic

Dan Watkins noted, "Part of my thinking, from a sustainability standpoint, is that this is a way to help provide jobs and provide some money. With Millikin's research, we're finding ways to help the village save money and build an economy."

In January 2015, Millikin students spent eight days in the Dominican Republic becoming acclimated to the culture of the village. The students took the opportunity to interview local villagers and work on logistics concerning internet connections and computers for the cafe.

Millikin Dominican Republic

"On average, the people of the village are making somewhere between 300 to 700 pesos a day," Stapleton said. "One trip for a student to do homework is costing 250 pesos, and what we found is a way to do it for 80 pesos. By reducing the cost of anywhere between 33 to 77 percent, it puts disposable income back into the community. It allows for a more consistent internet experience."

It's an incredible experience when you see that it's not just a plan on paper and you're doing something that benefits all the people in the village.

Millikin Dominican RepublicThe internet cafe project spearheaded a second project as Watkins reached out to Dr. Stapleton in August 2015 asking for help on a business plan to improve the quality of life in the village.

"One of the discussions we had was about what the village truly needs," Stapleton said. "We reached out to the village pastor and missionaries in the Dominican Republic and they came up with three basic things – clean water, health care and education."

A team of four Millikin students from this year's Business in the Dominican Republic course conducted vast research on the first step of the plan, providing clean water. The students looked at everything from digging a well to collecting rain water. The students were able to define how much water the village would need and options for removing contaminants from the existing water supply.

"What the students are finding is that this is a life-changing experience," Watkins said. "When you're putting fresh water in a place that doesn't have water, that changes things for all generations. The fact that the students are a part of that is huge."

After visiting El Mango Limpio this past January, the Millikin students came up with near-term and long-term plans to provide the village with clean drinking water, as well as public health care and local education.

The students will focus their efforts on the first phase of the plan, but at the same time, will lay the groundwork for the other phases of the plan. This will allow future Millikin students to pick up where they left off and improve what they started for years to come.

Millikin Dominican Republic

Kiara Smail, a senior accounting major from Decatur, Ill., said, "It's an incredible experience when you see that it's not just a plan on paper and you're doing something that benefits all the people in the village. We were really invested in the project while working on it in class, but it wasn't until we got there that we realized the impact these projects are making on a huge group of people."

Millikin Dominican RepublicThese projects combine Millikin University's focus on promoting Performance Learning while meeting the desire to prepare Millikin students for democratic citizenship in a global environment.

Other Millikin students involved with the internet cafe project included: Richard Long, a senior sport management major from St. Louis, Mo.; and Trent Trudeau, a current MBA candidate from Oreana, Ill. Millikin students involved with the El Mango Limpio strategic plan project included: Kayla Buchen, a senior business management major from Decatur, Ill.; Jason Frazier, a 2015 Millikin graduate from Decatur; Heath Goad, a senior business management major from Decatur; and Jason Tolly, a senior business management major from Decatur.

Click here to view coverage of the mission work in an article from the Herald & Review.