Service-Learning Project Helps Burmese Weavers Grow Business
By Jill Gambon
In Prof. Dave Lewis
’ Comparative Management class, students studying international business learn how culture impacts business operations. During the spring semester, they got to apply that knowledge through a service-learning project that paired them with Burmese refugees living in Lowell who earn money selling their hand-woven goods.
This is the first time Lewis incorporated service-learning into his Comparative Management class, which is a requirement for all students earning a concentration in international business. Lewis got a $1,900 grant from the University to fund the project.
“I got positive feedback from many of the students. They really enjoyed doing something in the community and making a difference,” says Lewis.
Assoc. Prof. Ardeth Thawnghmung
of the Political Science department, a native of Burma, worked with Lewis to connect the weavers and the students through the local non-profit she founded, Saydanar, which works with Burmese refugees. Thawnghmung also visited the class to present background information on the country.
Several of the refugees came to the class and with the help of an interpreter they talked about their weaving, a traditional craft with deep roots in Burmese culture. The students then developed plans for marketing the hand-made scarves, table runners and other goods at local farmers markets, festivals and shops. They created posters, business cards, fliers and a web site for the weavers.
“The students came up with ideas for new target markets, designs, products and they tried to determine pricing,” says Lewis.
During the last class of the semester, students presented their plans to a panel of visiting professionals who provided feedback on their work.
“This project offered a wonderful model for a university-community partnership and provided a tremendous opportunity for student engagement,” says Thawnghmung.
Solving actual business problems allowed students to apply what they’ve learned in their classes, Lewis says. “The students embraced the chance to do something positive in the community,” he says.