In each destination the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver visits on a WorldStrides Capstone program, our travel team partners with the school to select a community engagement project that enhances the students’ global studies. These projects are intended to build social capital, expand the students’ understanding of the destination they are studying, and provide a unique leadership opportunity. They include visits to schools, orphanages, and other charitable organizations.
Below is one students’ account of the powerful experience he had on an executive MBA trip to Mozambique. Many thanks to Greg Jalbert for sharing his account.
For a firsthand experience of international business in an emerging economy, our Executive MBA class from Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver traveled to Maputo, Mozambique. Over the course of three days, we attended meetings with business leaders who opened our eyes to the challenges and rewards of operating hotels, marketing companies, and natural gas exploration in a country whose infrastructure was rebuilding after a civil war. While these meetings had a tremendous impact on our global perspective, our class was deeply moved by a meeting with an orphanage outside Maputo. In our group, a five-member team had been studying the growth of Crocs in Africa. Our contacts in that shoe company graciously donated forty pairs of new shoes to give to the children.
We arrived at the orphanage late in the afternoon of our last day in Maputo. The sky was cloudless and the weather warm. As our bus rolled down the gravel driveway, we were surprised that the orphanage encompassed more than a hundred acres. A group of forty middle-school-age children greeted us in the courtyard and sang in Portuguese. None of the kids wore shoes. The soles of their feet were thick from having run barefoot all their lives. Here were children abandoned on the streets. Parents had died from HIV. Or simply left them to fend for themselves. These children were the lucky ones. They are now protected from violent crime in an extensive compound with clean dorms and three hearty meals every day. Hearing the staff relate the backgrounds of these children, we were immensely grateful that we could give each of them a pair of Crocs. After all, every child should at least own a pair of shoes. As staff showed us around the facility, the children clung to us. They held our hands. Asked a million questions. Our tour guides translated and we answered through them.
An hour after our arrival, more children arrived. We hadn’t brought shoes for them, but we had brought something else—soccer balls. We didn’t have to know Portuguese to understand how to break up into teams—Mozambicans against Americans. We played soccer on a sandy field with a few lonely patches of grass. The Mozambican students played in bare feet. They were fast. Kicked the ball hard across the field to a runaway teammate or through the hands of our goalie. They had learned the game on the streets. We had learned the game on Saturday afternoons in the pee-wee league on meticulously groomed emerald fields. They beat us by a resounding score. Meanwhile, another group of classmates played basketball against a Mozambican team. Our team had two twin towers standing 6’ 4.” The tallest Mozambican student was shorter than six feet. Our team complained that the paved court was uphill both ways. The Mozambican students beat our team with speed and finesse. They could have out-dribbled and scored against the likes of Steve Nash and Derek Rose—combined. Our class also had a veteran track-and-field athlete from Notre Dame. He challenged one of the students to a sprint down a gravel driveway. Jesse wore a fine pair of Nikes. The Mozambican student was in bare feet. Halfway to the finish line, the Mozambican student was clearly in the lead and easily cruised to the finish line. I imagine he’s still telling the story about the day the American ate his dust.
We didn’t have to speak Portuguese to learn how to drum. To draw caricatures with a group of giggling girls. To give up our ball caps. We knew how to give and they knew how to give. We played until sunset. None of us wanted to leave. None of the students wanted to see us go. They hugged us and ran after our bus waving in a chorus of laughter.
We still hear those kids laughing. We still remember how deeply we connected through a simple act of kindness. We still remember how richly they rewarded us. We hold those memories close to our hearts. No one in our Executive MBA class will run a business without considering an investment in our local, regional, and international communities. At the end of our program, we learned finance, marketing, accounting and statistics. In Mozambique, we learned something more important.