Business Without Borders

Kathleen McFadden

At first glance, Villanova University’s School of Business, housed in the campus’s modern Bartley Hall, could appear fitting to the stereotype of most business institutions: ruthlessly pursuing success and money.

Surely, the stock tickers blinking by in yellows, reds and greens, the eatery cleverly titled “The Exchange” and a Wall Street Journal available at every corner could add to this stereotype, but one thing sets this business school apart from others: it’s at Villanova, where the motto “unitas, veritas, caritas” is not taken lightly. One VSB organization that breaks this stereotype is Business Without Borders.

Created in January, Business Without Borders was originally named “Business Without Boundaries,” an organization established by four seniors in the class of ’09 to connect business students with nonprofits, hopefully opening networking and occupational doors for those interested. When the founders passed the torch to now-seniors Abigail Butkus and Laura Picciano in March, more than just the organization’s name changed.

“We’re not the founders, but the presidents,” says Butkus, an accounting and international business double major. “We changed the name and mission to include international service elements.”

Neither co-president saw what happened next coming.

In August, three business students and one VSB faculty member, Dr. Debra Arvanites, traveled to remote villages in Kenya to assess the areas and see if there were viable business projects with which BWB could get involved. Instead of the planned interviews and observations, the group went further to give workshops to local merchants on setting long and short term goals, creating marketing plans for local businesses and teaching business skills that could improve economic development.

The BWB group wouldn’t have even been in Kenya, however, if it hadn’t been for Villanova’s College of Engineering group, Engineering Without Borders. This organization, which Butkus and Picciano say has been on campus for roughly three years, went to the same Kenyan village and built a water system. They then gave BWB their contact information and told them about the local businesses, and the business students took it from there.

After BWB did business workshops with the villages’ three main businesses – herd management, bead and jewelry making and cultural development for tourism – they kept in touch with their American contacts in Kenya, e-mailing those who had access to the Internet with plans for future trips.

“We want to continue going to the same places,” says Picciano, an economics and finance double major, about her hope that the organization continues to build on previous projects, making lasting impressions and improvements to these areas.

Kenya isn’t the only country BWB has visited since its recent beginning. Over fall break, three business professors and three business students accompanied engineers on a service trip to Nicaragua. While the engineers assessed possibilities for water projects, the business students observed and evaluated the area for how they could effectively get involved.

It was trips like this that originally gave Butkus and Picciano the inspiration to start service trips.

“We noticed that there wasn’t something like this for business,” Butkus says, mentioning already-established break trips for engineers and nurses.

“It’s a service trip that mixes in what you learn [in courses],” says Butkus. “That’s the whole premise. Business students have the same skills, technical and specific, and we’re not using them. I think that’s the whole mission of Villanova.”

“A lot of people at Villanova are focused on social justice initiatives. Business Without Borders takes social justice and makes it more concrete to find solutions,” Picciano says. “Mission trips are good at exposing the problems and making you want to help, but we show them how to create tangible changes.”

Similar to the Nicaragua trip, BWB members will join engineers in EWB on a trip to the Philippines over winter break. The group leaves two days after Christmas and, on the business side, will spend two weeks brainstorming innovative and sustainable business solutions to the area’s problems.

Sacrificing a two-week chunk of one’s three-week winter holiday certainly breaks the business student stereotype. While most students lounge around during break avoiding any thought of school, some VSB students will be applying their years in Bartley Hall classrooms to help others.