By Lacie Blankenship
The 2022 Project Pyramid students worked with social enterprises in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Trinidad and Tobago, traveling to Guatemala and Puerto Rico to reinforce their Project Pyramid experience.
Project Pyramid teaches interdisciplinary Vanderbilt graduate students the application of business principles and social enterprise to combat poverty. Students attend classes in Mods 3 and 4 to work on consulting projects for international social enterprises, concluding with client deliverables.
Project Pyramid began in 2007, when students from the Divinity School and Vanderbilt Business voiced a need to see concepts of microfinance and the wealth at the bottom of the pyramid represented in their graduate education. Students, supported by Bart Victor, initiated what is now a cornerstone of global experiential learning at Vanderbilt Business and the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures (TFC). This year’s Project Pyramid course, the first since Victor’s retirement, was led by Mario Avila (MBA’12), Director of the TFC and Adjunct Professor of Management, and Brian McCann, David K. Wilson Professor of Management, Executive MBA Program Faculty Director, and TFC Faculty Director.
“As a former student of Project Pyramid, it is an immense honor to carry forward the legacy of Bart and our student founders in the Project Pyramid course and program,” says Avila.
“There is only so much one can learn about poverty and social business in a classroom,” says Bryce Cirbo (MBA’23) in a blog shared by the TFC. “The concepts don’t fully make sense until they are experienced in person.”
Traditionally, student teams travel to meet with their clients during spring break. To accommodate COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s teams spent part of their time with select clients in Guatemala and conducted virtual meetings with other clients. The students also explored additional social enterprises in Guatemala and Puerto Rico for more insight into social enterprises outside of the mainland U.S. The 2022 Project Pyramid students are the first to travel since 2020.
“Though we were unable to meet our clients in person in the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico offered an opportunity to gain insights on entrepreneurship in the Caribbean and connect as teams, which is essential as we produce our final deliverables,” Rocío Posada-Castañeda (MPH’23), and incoming Project Pyramid Chair, wrote in a TFC blog.
The 2022 Project Pyramid clients offered students a variety of challenges.
Some students worked with De la Gente Coffee (Guatemala) to help grow the company’s roasted coffee sales by researching industry trends and marketing analysis. Students working with Pomona Agtech helped the company develop a sustainable source of income with consulting services. Another team helped CONACADO (Dominican Republic) build traceability data visualization tools to map supply chains and develop community engagement recommendations. Yspaniola (Dominican Republic) worked with the teams to provide teachers with improved teaching strategies, including optimizing classroom technology. Another team worked with Nudge (Caribbean) to help develop an impact investment fund and impact measurement metrics to grow and diversify their investor pool.
Jake Menges (MBA‘23) reflects on his appreciation for the ability to “[see] firsthand how social enterprise could stimulate the local economy and help alleviate poverty.”
“There is nothing like the lessons we internalize through travel and cross-cultural engagements in this program,” said Avila, who traveled with students to Puerto Rico. “In addition, the bonds formed with classmates from across the university, are truly unique to the Project Pyramid experience.”
The TFC supports the Project Pyramid course and assists students with partner connections and travel arrangements. The TFC shared the Project Pyramid student blogs on the Guatemala and Puerto Rico trips here.