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Build 2000

Assignment with a conscience

A fourth-year business administration student worked to implement a sexual harassment policy to protect women in a Kenyan workplace, while a group of four others collected medical and school supplies to send to the impoverished villages of Honduras. Another group of two students worked to send close to 200 books to Pakistan. Another three students raised funds for an orphanage in Zimbabwe, while yet another pair purchased uniforms to send to a school for street children in Nicaragua.

These initiatives don't sound like the results of a typical business administration assignment...simply because they're not. These are the results of a Workplace Diversity course assignment that requires the use of skills the students have developed throughout the four-year program, as well a social conscience. This is the second year Dr. Maeve Quaid has assigned the International Consulting Project and Documentary and for the second time, the response has been resoundingly positive.

"They love it, they say it's very meaningful. They're involving their families, their friends, their community, and their neighbours in global healing," she says. "It's not a traditional business school activity, but it encompasses traditional skills. It's typical of the Trent University business administration program to have such a creative, socially responsible project."

The students were assigned to open a business in a non-English speaking country or conduct a humanitarian aid project for a developing country. They were to search out a non-profit organization that was of interest to them and find a way to provide assistance that would be of value to that organization. The next step was to obtain those items and shepherd their delivery. The project was to be presented in the form of a television documentary.

"In creating the documentary, the students not only have the opportunity to learn themselves, but to share what they've learned," says Prof. Quaid, adding the audiovisual skills they acquire will be a bonus to them in the working world.

International student Burton Maina Muhia came up with a policy on the promotion of women's rights in the workplace he hoped to have implemented in two workplaces in his country - Kenya.

"To me, it's (sexual harassment in the workplace) a big issue that has a simple solution," he said.

Mr. Maina's documentary - A Step Towards Empowering Kenyan Women - featured interviews with two Kenyan women experiencing sexual harassment at work. Without the support of their employers, their families, or the police, they expressed feelings of helplessness. One of the two companies Mr. Maina approached fully accepted the policy initiative, while a second has agreed to follow up with such an initiative in the future.

Meanwhile Denise Wedderburn created a documentary based on the global implications of the implementation of Trent University's anti-sweatshop policy that guides the purchase of apparel. She is the University's fair trade outreach co-ordinator, and decided to document some of her work as part of her project. In her role as co-ordinator, she's currently conducting policy implementation training. Ms. Wedderburn taped the first of a series of training sessions with Trent's Human Resources Society to include as part of her documentary.

The purpose of the anti-sweatshop policy is to ensure that Trent's departments, student organizations and suppliers are socially responsible with their practices and to ensure that apparel manufactured for the University is made under humane working conditions.

"You can make a difference and affect lives around the world by making a small difference here at Trent," she says. Ms. Wedderburn's documentary showed students that sweatshops are operating across Canada and in their own backyards.

Another group of students - Shingirai Kanhukamwe, Julian Meitanis and Oliver Omole - started a silk-screened T-shirt business and organized a charity dance to raise funds for the Matthew Rusike Children's Home in Zimbabwe, where one in eight children is orphaned. After learning how to silkscreen, they created the T-shirts with anti-sweatshop and fair trade messages and sold them at a booth in the University's Otonabee College. The students raised more than $1,000 and in doing so, used their accounting, advertising, finance, and human resources skills. And in finding an organization to support, they learned about working with diversity, says Prof. Quaid.

"Through this documentary project, children and workers in developing countries are benefiting from the combined expertise of students from the Trent Business Administration program. Thanks to their hands-on involvement, many of the students have said that these causes have now become a part of their life."

Photo: International student Burton Maina Muhia came up with a policy on the promotion of women's rights in the workplace he hoped to have implemented in two workplaces in his country - Kenya.

Posted April 15, 2004


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