Every year, the Lindner Honors-PLUS (LHP) program packs up its third-year class and sets off to a different continent to explore new business practices, cultural norms and ways of thinking. Our class had the unique opportunity to be the first group to visit Latin America and spent four and a half weeks in Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Six cities, seventeen lectures and twenty seven company visits later, our class landed back in Cincinnati with a significantly changed view of the world.
South America is a particularly interesting area to visit because, similar to Asia or Africa, it's a part of the world whose history and culture we don't tend to discuss in our classrooms. None of us knew very much about the countries we were about to live in. What we found were three countries that were both different and the same. Each country had aspects that made it unique, that separated it not only from the rest of Latin America, but also the rest of the world. At the same time, we moved from one country to the next in a cloud of warmth, generosity and patience, surrounded by a population that seemed to embody the best of humanity.
We were in South America for a business trip, and throughout the month we were there, we visited everything from multinational companies to small start ups to regional industry firms, including P&G, Google, Unilever, Natura, Blumar and many others. Each visit gave us unique insight into how business is conducted in this region, including its idiosyncrasies.
In Argentina, we spent most of our time in the classroom learning about the economic and political history of the country. We learned that although the debt crisis might be receiving the most media attention, it is not the only significant issue occurring in the country. As I write, trials against business and military leaders for human rights violations under the military dictatorship in the late 1900s are still ongoing. The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo are still protesting every Thursday in the main square and the government is still sending subliminal anti-nationalistic messages. But the people of Buenos Aires themselves go on. They hold tango lessons and milongas, they set up booths at Italian fairs, and they use every opportunity to highlight and celebrate their status as the 'Paris of the South'.
It was most interesting to notice how similar the businesses we visited were to the United States. One of the companies we spoke to in Chile was the start up Rembre — a company built to encourage the development of recycling infrastructure throughout Chile. The founder spoke to the difficulty of merging community service with ensuring profitability. He entered the business world hoping to make a difference in the percentage of generated waste that reaches landfills only to find that without sufficient infrastructure, there is no way to turn his passion into a profitable business. It's the same problem that all companies face, especially in the last ten years as community service and dedication to corporate responsibility has become more and more important.
We had the opportunity to experience for ourselves the significant impact that community involvement can have. On our last weekend in São Paolo, Brazil, we visited a community center in one of the favelas called Vivenda da Criança. The community center focuses on providing a safe space for children as well as serving as a job training center for teens and young adults, helping them learn the skills needed to enter the formal job market. On our Saturday morning, we spent a few hours playing games with the kids and discovering that despite the total language barrier, we understood each other perfectly. Several dance groups, Snapchat filters and hugs later, we toured the center and viewed their classrooms, community garden, kitchen and basketball courts. It's an organization that has the ability to impact hundreds of children in the favela; it doesn't have a fiscal connection to the government and therefore relies on donations from individuals. It was an opportunity for us to view the need to maintain strong financial and personal relationships with service organizations as we take on more responsibility in the business world over the course of our individual careers.
Overall, this visit was highly impactful. In each country, we learned not only about the differences in business administration in each country, but also the overwhelming similarities. Each one of my classmates commented that what struck them the most about the trip was the discovery of our shared humanity. What makes Latin America unique, not just as a business region but in general, is the number of people who went out of their way to help us, who let us ask a million questions and answered each one with grace, humor and respect. We were incredibly lucky to have experienced this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and are excited for another LHP class to do the same.
-Iman Said, LHP student