Bauer’s Sales for Social Impact Course Travels to Peru
With Product That Could Save Lives
Not long ago, a group from the University of Houston C. T. Bauer College of Business found themselves in Huanta, Peru, an impoverished area in the Southern Andes. They were giving a cooking demonstration.
Mixing up aguadito de pollo (Peruvian chicken soup), Susana Rosas, who is director of corporate relations for the college’s Sales Excellence Institute, explained to natives how to use a solar-powered oven that looks like a folding envelope of shiny bright aluminum. Rosas, along with three students, traveled from Houston to South America with a sales and marketing plan for the so-called EcoCocina, a portable stove that offers a safe, inexpensive alternative to cooking over an open fire, a practice that causes serious health issues for millions of people in the South American nation. EcoCocina derives from eco because of the product’s environmentally friendly use and cocina which means kitchen in Peruvian Spanish.
The trip was the culmination of the second Sales for Social Impact (SSI) course, taught by Rosas and offered through the institute’s Program for Excellence in Selling. The course is designed to teach students how to market and sell products that can improve lives through sustainable business models.
Beginning in Fall 2011, eight students worked to create a comprehensive sales plan for the EcoCocina. Eight months later, the three undergrads who stuck with the project — B. Alexis Borgstedt, Markee Johnson and Grace Moceri — journeyed to Peru to test market the product and pitch their plan.
While the SSI pilot course in Fall 2010 yielded work on a Ugandan product, this was the first time the initiative, which is being underwritten by corporate sponsor 3M, spawned an overseas business mission.
And by all accounts, the nearly two-week trip to Peru was a rousing success: a life-changing experience for students who laid the groundwork for a business that could transform the lives of Peruvians at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid. The Bauer group says cooking over an open fire is Peru’s “silent killer,” accounting for more than 47,000 deaths a year in a nation in which 73 percent of the population lives on $2 to $5 a day.
“We have a great product that’s going to help people,” Rosas says. “We took it to their country. Now we are confident it will come to fruition in the future, especially given these partnerships that we built.”
According to Rosas, “The EcoCocina is a simple yet powerful product that saves lives, improves living conditions, provides health benefits and gives these people an opportunity to generate income.”
In addition to cooking with the rural farming community in the Ayacucho region, the group visited communities in Lima, Cusco, Puno, Ayaviri and Juliaca — meeting with universities, churches, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), microfinance institutions and entrepreneurs at each stop. Along the way, they were greeted by mayors, governors and representatives of Sembrando, a social-services NGO founded by former Peruvian First Lady Pilar Nores. “They are very interested in taking this project into the community and utilizing the sales plan the students created,” Rosas said of Sembrando.
Rosas also initiated what she believes will be a lasting relationship with the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru. The Catholic university in Lima has a strong industrial-design team, which wants to spend some time fine-tuning the solar-powered cooker. In the long term, Rosas thinks the university’s prolific industrial designers can benefit from her students’ sales expertise.
Both Johnson and Borgstedt described the experience unequivocally as the best course of their college career.
“It’s taken everything I have learned in school and applied it to the world,” said Johnson, who graduated in May with a major in marketing and a minor in sales. “It’s something I only dreamt of doing. I thought that my sales career and my career in the corporate world would have to be separate from the change I want to impact around the world. And it doesn’t. It doesn’t have to be separate at all.
“This course showed me you don’t have to compromise. You can take your skill set and apply it to your passions.”
Both students said they’d like to see the work on the EcoCocina continue.
“I can’t let go of it,” Borstedt said, “because there is so much that needs to be done over there.” The sales minor said the course also awakened in her a passion for socially responsible business.
“I didn’t really know a lot about corporate social responsibility until I joined this course,” Borgstedt said, “and now it’s definitely something I am looking career-wise.”
Rosas, for her part, says the SSI course will keep its focus on Peru, because the need is so great. “This class is our steppingstone into bigger projects and bigger classes in the future. It’s just the beginning.”
By Wendell Brock