Training Program Developed by MC Business Faculty, Students Helps Hondurans See Entrepreneurial Light
Sal y Luz Ministry staff proudly wear their Choctaw shirts during “MC Day” at the medical clinic in the Lake Yojoa region of the Republic of Honduras.
The Lake Yojoa region in the northwestern portion of the Republic of Honduras is teeming with agriculture. The sub-tropical climate of the largest inland lake in the Central American country provides ideal conditions for growing and harvesting yuca, a potato-like root vegetable, and papaya, a soft, fleshy fruit.
Those who have settled in the self-proclaimed “Yuca Capital of the World” have ventured beyond agriculture to scratch out a living in one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Milling, fishing, tailoring, small retail, and food preparation industries have developed over time, but the principles that determine how to make a living in these endeavors have eluded many of those who devote 80 or more hours a week to earn some quality of life.
In conjunction with the multidenominational Salt and Light Ministry Foundation, the U.S. arm of Ministerio Sal y Luz, faculty and students in the School of Business at Mississippi College have developed a successful training program that helps individuals in the area organize and maintain a profitable, Christ-centered business plan and learn more about the Lord.
Sara B. Kimmel, professor in the School of Business at MC, has served on the board of Salt and Light for several years and has traveled to Honduras a number of times. During her most recent trip, June 14-21, she met with microbusiness group owners to understand their needs, reviewed curriculum details with the microbusiness manager and education director, and brought back ideas for further development in the MC School of Business.
“A few years ago, I was asked to do some training with the microbusiness groups, and I noticed in our discussions the individuals were having difficulty retaining their earnings, which put these small business owners into a difficult situation,” Kimmel said. “While they were paying their loans back faithfully, they were generally unable to fund their next business cycle without another loan.”
She asked John Brandon, retired MC Business professor, to prepare a curriculum for small business and personal finance that could be delivered to the Honduran microbusiness owners. With assistance from students in two of his entrepreneurship classes, Brandon developed a multi-module service-learning project for Ministerio Sal y Luz. The program was translated into Spanish, and the ministry has been actively training microbusiness owners in the region.
Sal y Luz staff are so proud of their association with Mississippi College that they scheduled an “MC Day” during Kimmel’s last visit to the ministry’s Honduras office. The entire team – Sal y Luz volunteers and staff, microbusiness owners, and Kimmel herself – donned MC T-shirts to celebrate a partnership that has contributed to the local economy and promises to enrich the community for years.
The Lake Yojoa residents who have completed the business training are primarily women between the ages of 31-54 who support their families through microbusiness groups of 10-15 individuals each. These groups meet monthly for fellowship and devotional and to make payments on their business loans.
The Salt and Light Ministry Foundation has been actively funding ministerial operations in the region for more than two decades. In addition to the microbusiness loan program, the ministry also maintains a medical and dental clinic, an education program, leadership activities, water projects through Living Waters of the World, and the construction of houses, schools, and churches. As a distinctively Christian ministry, all these outreach efforts are geared toward holistically helping individuals, families, and communities.
Kimmel said many international microbusiness programs base their operations on the Grameen Bank Project model, in which small loans are given to individuals responsible to a community group that collects the loan payments and ensures its member businesses are successful. The business training provided by MC is arranged similarly, but includes a Christian focus.
“When I talked with the microbusiness owners, we discovered they were having trouble obtaining earnings because many of them offered credit to their friends who were running a tab, because most of them were doing seasonal work,” Kimmel said. “When the harvest came in, they would pay back the money, but many microbusiness owners were living hand-to-mouth with these loans.”
Since the goal of the microbusiness program is to set aside interest to develop startup income by the end of the loan cycle, Salt and Light’s policy restricts the number of loan cycles in which a microbusiness owner can participate. Therefore, at the conclusion of a number of cycles, the microbusiness owner will have enough funds to get their business going without needing a loan.
Another of Kimmel’s unexpected discoveries was the literacy rate among microbusiness owners in the region.
“Because they were eager to participate in this training, we found about 10 percent of those receiving loans were illiterate,” she said. “Within the ministry, we identified those individuals and put them into a literacy program where adults can learn to read and write.”
Most of the region’s microbusiness owners have at least a secondary education, and many have finished high school. While literacy is not an issue for them, financial literacy is another matter, so Brandon and his students developed a training manual for participants, an instructional manual for teachers, and interactive games to help microbusiness owners boost their performance. The Sal y Luz microbusiness director translated the materials into Spanish, and the program has been paying dividends ever since.
“They will bring in a group of between 15 and 30 individuals, some of whom are microbusiness group leaders who will go back and share what they’ve learned,” Kimmel said. “They’ll have a community-based meeting once a month to collect loan payments and redistribute them to the ministry to pay off the loans and set aside a portion of each person’s payment to create working capital.”
She said the MC students proved to be a valuable resource in helping the Honduran microbusiness owners gain financial traction.
“There was a great mixture of international and U.S. students in the business classes, so they had a great vested interest in making sure the program was successful,” Kimmel said. “When I was blessed to return to the region this summer, I met with about six microbusiness groups, prayed with them, and heard about their businesses and their needs. John and his students put together a program with illustrations and examples that were meaningful to them. That has been a real success.
“My purpose was to see what the next steps might be if there is another kind of curriculum we need to be doing to help them.” For example, one particular microbusiness group she encountered harvests yuca, but the microbusiness owners are struggling to make a profit from merely growing the plant. They approached Kimmel about setting up a processing facility nearby to help decrease expenses and turn the staple product into soups and snack items like potato chips.
“I told them I’d take the idea back with me and see if our business students could run some analysis to find out what the market would be for these products and what would be required to bring this facility to their region,” Kimmel said.
In addition to the business program provided by MC, the Salt and Light Ministry is seeking to improve entrepreneurial prospects in the region by bringing business education to seventh and eighth-grade students at Lake Yojoa. They pair individual sponsors in the United States with youngsters in the region to provide them with mandatory school uniforms, books, and other required educational materials.
“Most of the families in the region don’t have the money to send their children to school,” Kimmel said. “The educational coordinator there has asked that we include some personal finance-type curriculum similar to the microbusiness program we provided, but geared toward the younger students. We’re going to wrap our heads around that request and see what materials we can develop that will be relatable to those students.
“It’s exciting for our business students to see the impact they can make in somebody else’s life through this service learning project.”
As a country, Honduras is rife with economic, cultural, and societal challenges, and the Lake Yojoa region is recognized as essential to the country’s recovery. In the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, the second-deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record, many individuals relocated to the area, taxing its infrastructure and making it tougher to scrape out a living. However, the educational assistance the MC School of Business is helping to provide has already made a difference in the area.
“This is right in line, not only with our University’s mission, but with the School of Business’s mission, to say, ‘How can we help?’” Kimmel said. “We appreciate these students for putting their arms around these projects. It speaks to the heart of Mississippi College.”
She said the school’s partnership with the Salt and Light Ministry is poised to continue benefiting entrepreneurs in the region – and seeing more “Mississippi College Days” in Honduras – for years to come.
“We want to be careful not to try to dictate to them what we think they need, but to come alongside them and discover how we might help fill their needs,” she said. “We want to listen, be attentive, and understand how we can provide them resources to be efficient in the ministry and more productive in their businesses.
“Curriculum is a way we can help them. This is a Christian university, and that makes a difference. We bring something unique to this ministry in that we are partners with them, but we are also brothers and sisters in Christ. We want to be good listeners and acknowledge that when we help them, we get the blessing.”