Global Brigades is proud to announce the launch of a new model for Business Brigades in Panama! After months of research and strategic planning by our new Program Lead, Greg Clark, and our Research & Evaluation team, the Business Brigades model has been reinvented.
The new model focuses on bringing an entire community out of poverty through sustainable loans and business consulting for every interested community member. The model also better engages Brigaders in hands-on experience through household visits, providing students the rare intercultural opportunity to consult one-on-one with a diverse group of Panamanian and Indigenous families.
In the old model, Business Brigades would partner with an outside organization that helped us identify under-resourced businesses across Panama. A Brigade would provide business consulting to one single business in a community and each student would leave behind $100 in a Community Investment Fund (CIF), to be used to purchase in-kind goods for the business. While this model allowed Brigaders the ability to focus in deeply on the needs of a business, the impact of the Brigade didn’t necessarily reach the entire community and follow-up was too dependent on the partner organization.
The new model of Business Brigades has been completely reworked to focus on elevating an entire community out of poverty. Through an extensive Research and Evaluation process, Global Brigades identified one region where we will focus our efforts in order to develop long-term relationships and implement a holistic approach by implementing all of our Brigade programs in the same communities. Instead of focusing on one business, the new model now allows Brigaders to conduct house-to-house visits in small groups with translators. This means that the program is able to meet with and provide consulting to every single community member who is interested in entrepreneurship opportunities or learning about personal financial planning. For every four-five volunteers, two additional families will be impacted, so larger groups will be needed.
By reaching out to the entire community, the new model allows for more one-on-one time between students and community members (allowing students to see a range of businesses and ideas) and increases the number of direct beneficiaries reached. With the new model, Brigaders donate their Community Investment Fund of $100/each into capitalizing the local credit and savings co-op in the form of backing loans and matching savings accounts of the families they are consulting. This allows a student’s CIF to grow with exponential benefits over time, versus a one-time donation of supplies.
What happens on a Business Brigade?
- Students hold a community-wide assessment meeting to introduce themselves to the community and learn about the community’s needs/background and the cultural context in which they will be working.
- Over the course of the next 3 days, students break up into small groups to conduct house-to-house visits. During the initial house visit, Brigaders ask questions and collect information to find out about the family’s values and goals, their financial/business education levels, and their interest in a particular business venture.
- Based off these assessments, students develop tailored educational materials, workshops, and recommendations to present to the family during follow-up visits.
- If a family has limited experience with business concepts, the group may develop workshops on personal financial planning; teaching the family to understand their income and expenses and how to save. For families with a more developed understanding of business concepts, students may develop workshops on supply chain management, marketing strategies, and accounting.
- At the end of the Brigade, students conduct a community-wide presentation focusing on community empowerment, and consult on where and how their CIF is distributed by the community bank.
- Throughout the week, the Brigade also participates in a variety of cross-cultural and outdoor activities (sports games, Indigenous language classes, hiking). The group also holds a community-wide celebration to recognize the hard work and dedication of everyone involved.
The new model of Business Brigades truly embodies the motto “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” By teaching community members business and financial principles that can be applied to a variety of entrepreneurial opportunities over time, Brigaders are helping to empower the entire community into taking their economic situation into their own hands.