Sauder students partner up with B.C. communities

A pilot program that involved students from UBC’s Sauder School of Business working with entrepreneurs and non-profits in B.C. communities is set to become a permanent fixture of the University’s community service-learning (CSL) efforts.

And that’s a win-win scenario, given the value of the services provided and the real-life experience gained by students (CSL combines classroom learning with community volunteer work).

“The experience grounded the learning I have achieved in my program and in class, offering insight into the difficulties faced by non-profits and a further respect for their efforts,” says Jonathan Bowers, a pilot participant in his final year of the part-time MBA program at Sauder.

Bowers was one of 74 Sauder students who recently participated in 22 projects for the communities of Terrace, Atlin, Courtenay and Campbell River.

In 2009, the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre approached the UBC Learning Exchange and Sauder—through its research centre ISIS, which serves as the project’s home—to inquire about starting the pilot, based on feedback from earlier visits to B.C. towns.

The pilot began last fall, and featured students consulting on projects that were based on content in five courses (two e-business courses, two marketing classes and an information systems and analysis class).

While the majority of the community participants were small businesses, some non-profits and professional associations were also involved. Meanwhile, partners such as the Terrace Economic Development Agency and the Campbell River Chamber of Commerce helped broker relationships in their respective regions.

Thirteen projects were conducted for Terrace, and their benefit was keenly felt. “I’ve seen marketing plans from consultants for some of our local businesses that cost between $10,000 and $15,000 with less substance than the deliverables from the CSL student groups,” says Larry Jones, a Business Analyst in Terrace with Community Futures, which supports small- and medium-sized companies and community economic development. “This project offers opportunity to the north that does not come along every day.”

While the pilot featured some face-to-face meetings, much of the work was conducted remotely via e-mail, Skype software and telephones. Bowers worked on his six-week project with three other MBA students to develop a set of recommendations for e-business strategy at the Terrace and District Community Services Society. Meanwhile, another group worked on an e-marketing strategy for B & C Teaching Tools, a small business that sells educational resource and toys, and supplies several schools in northwest B.C.

“The community partners that we worked with really recognized the potential in connecting UBC students with small businesses and other organizations in their towns,” says Rebecca Kindiak, who co-ordinated the first year of the pilot.

“It shows how the various assets of the university can be deployed in really interesting ways to work with communities,” adds Sandra Singh, Director of the Learning Centre, which provided the bulk of the first-year funding for the project. The UBC-Community Learning Initiative (or CLI, a Learning Exchange unit) also contributed funds, while ISIS and the CLI offered management guidance and strategy. “The value really lies in the unique learning experiences that are created through this initiative,” notes Joanna Buczkowska, Managing Director at ISIS.

Moving forward, the plan is to expand the pilot’s ambitions—both in terms of participants (faculty, students and partners) and a deepening of relationships. “Currently, I am exploring new partnerships with communities in Pemberton and the Clayoquot Sound region (Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet),” says Andrea Lloyd, Sauder’s CSL Co-ordinator. “We will also likely have five new Sauder faculty members, in five different courses, participating in September.”