Alumni Spotlight – Steven Kennington II SVMP ’08

One of the fundamental tenets of the SVMP experience is the emphasis of our roles as leaders in society. In the following piece, Steven Kennington II ‘08 reflects upon an unparalleled service learning experience in Central America.


Although Panama is one of South America’s fastest growing economies, poverty rates have been slow to decline due to unequal access to market opportunities. Those cut off from the market economy – unskilled laborers, subsistence farmers, and the informal sector – have not benefited from Panama’s economic growth. As a result, Panamanian villagers have created very small businesses, or microenterprises, in hopes of escaping the current cycle of poverty in Panama.


Unfortunately, without seed capital and technical assistance, many of these micro-enterprises barely produce enough money to make a difference or feed one’s family. This is where I helped lead a group of dedicated students on a “Business Brigade” to help low-income villagers in Panama create economic opportunities using the natural talents, assets, and inspiration of the community.


On the “brigade”, we worked hand-in-hand with business professionals and community leaders of El Valle, a small town with a population of thirty people, to help develop and expand their ornamental plant business. The residents of El Valle cultivate some of the most beautiful plants and flowers in Central America, and so we created a business model that would bring these natural wonders to the thriving economy of Panama City.


The business model called for a monthly pick up from El Valle to an art gallery located in Panama City, where the products would be sold. We also created the business model for the art gallery, to be run by a non-profit organization. The impact brought to this community was immense.


Currently, the average per capita income per household in El Valle is $300, but with our team’s development of the business, the families of the small village have the potential to double or triple their annual income.


Our team personally visited every family and explained the importance of savings, as the concept is not well known in this small community. In the same token, we listened to their plans for spending. One particular family was interested in having their children obtain a higher education (past the sixth-grade equivalent). One woman even expressed a desire to change her family’s diet, which includes only rice and some vegetables grown in their garden.


Many of these families had relatives in Panama City whom they had not seen in over a decade; needless tosay, they expressed a desire to visit them.


Like the famous proverb says: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Through our participation in Global Business Brigades, my team and I brought the skills, assistance, and commitment needed to teach Panamanian micro-business owners “how to fish,” thereby creating opportunities for sustainable economic development.


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