Social Entrepreneurship Abroad students travel to Costa Rica

Spring Break for most Eccles School students meant time relaxing with friends, maybe going to the beach or catching up on some sleep.

For a group of 28 students, though, it meant traveling to Costa Rica to find ways to add value to local communities.

The Social Entrepreneurship Abroad Program sent out its first group of students to learn about the business and day-to-day problems Costa Ricans face. Together, Eccles students and community members worked through ways to solve those problems, and students who return next year hope to bring back even more in-depth, collaborative solutions.

Three of the students who started the program joined the Eccles Extra Podcast to talk about what they learned, what they hope will come from the program and how students can join. Check out the podcast and transcript below.


Eccles School: Welcome to the Eccles Extra Podcast, I’m your host Sheena McFarland. Spring Break often brings about thoughts of travel and fun in the sun. For one group of Eccles students, it also meant a great learning abroad opportunity. Twenty-eight students from the new Social Entrepreneurship Abroad Program took the program’s first trip, which visited Costa Rica. There, they stayed pretty busy, visiting three cities, three colleges, one elementary school and a community group. Their goal was to find ways to solve business and day-to-day problems faced by Costa Ricans. Joining me today are three students who founded the program, Alex Carr.

Alex Carr: Hey Sheena, how are you? Good to be here.

Eccles School: Hannah Haack.

Hanna Haack: So happy to be here, thanks for having us.

Eccles School: And Stephanie Martin.

Stephanie Martin: Thanks for having us.

Eccles School: Thanks so much for being here everyone. First, tell me a little bit about the Social Entrepreneurship Abroad Program.

Hannah Haack: So, we decided on our first trip that it would be a group of hand-selected college freshmen who have shown a passion for creation and innovation. The primary objective for the outreach program is allowing the students the unprecedented opportunity to expand and broaden their perspectives, spark a creative spirit through problem-solving in an effort to teach and inspire international students with similar entrepreneurial passions.

Eccles School: Why did you decide to found the program?

Alex Carr: Our goal with founding the program was really to just allow students an avenue for deployment with their education. So students here at the University of Utah are constantly kind of learning about entrepreneurship and business and really the purpose was to allow them a way to kind of channel that knowledge into a real-life application in a different country.

Eccles School: Very cool. So how did you choose Costa Rica?

Alex Carr: We chose Costa Rica for a number of options. One is there sustainability within the country. Costa Rica is actually the first country to run on sustainable energy for a whole year. So, we thought that was really cool. Costa Rica also has an incredible entrepreneurship atmosphere, lots of local businesses and local entrepreneurs. So, we thought it would be great to just engage with these people and figure out what we can do and how we can be an asset to their futures.

Eccles School: Wonderful. So what did you guys do while you were in Costa Rica?

Stephanie Martin: So while in Costa Rica, we visited three cities including San Jose, Cocoa Beach and Arenal. In each of these cities, we visited with the local university there and did workshops with undergraduate and graduate students there. Our main goal was to have the Costa Ricans tell us a problem in their country, run it through a framework that we’ve learned here at the David Eccles School of Business and see if we could get a result that creates a new business and solves the problem for them. And in each and every one of those workshops, we came up with implementable solutions for them and they were really excited about it. But it wasn’t just us bringing knowledge to them, we also gained so much from that experience and brought ideas back from Costa Rica with us.

Alex Carr: Yeah and kind of snowballing off that idea, we’ve kind of developed a program to go there, figure out these solutions, bring them back, work on them as a team and then as we return the following year, implement them. So really kind of implement that solution that we’ve come up with as a group with them.

Hannah Haack: And I think it is important to point out that the abroad part of it gives everyone such a new perspective on entrepreneurship and starting businesses and the problems that they want to solve. So going abroad and meeting new people and talking with them about the problems that they have in their towns, just gives you a new view on being an entrepreneur in your day-to-day life I think.

Stephanie Martin: And in addition to those university workshops, we also visited a local elementary school in Cocoa Beach. And one of our adjunct professors, David Bradford, kindly donated $1,000 a so we could provide them school supplies but we also did some entrepreneurship workshops with them and those kids were so much fun. They got the games that we were playing with them immediately, and it was really a life-changing experience for us and them.

 Alex Carr: Yeah, and along those lines also, we did provide them with the school supplies and stuff, like that was amazing. I mean seeing these kids kind of light up to receive a pad of notepaper, just kind of have something of their own, it was such a cool experience I think for all of us here.

Hannah Haack: And you can even tell when all of us were leaving, there was a sadness, like a good sadness – it was such a transformational experience of being with these kids and seeing how they light up over the smallest things that we brought. I mean we could have brought so much more to them, so it definitely gave us a good outlook on their community for sure.

Eccles School: Awesome, sounds like a great experience that you have there. What else, experience-wise did you really enjoy while you were in Costa Rica?

Alex Carr: My favorite thing was the workshops with the colleges. We were able to kind of interact in a way that was – between the different elementary schools and different colleges, we were able to kind of see a broad array of educational levels and just kind of working with those students in different ways, I thought was amazing personally.

Hannah Haack: Mine is kind of like a broader experience I guess. Before we had headed off that Sunday, I was a little worried because everyone in this class had come from such different backgrounds and we were all such different people and even though we were around the same age, we seemed to just be different. So I was very worried that there was going to be not really much coming together and being in a foreign country. So that worried me a lot but it was coming home, everyone had developed such a bond and everyone is such good friends now and we’re all connecting and we’re all connecting each other with resources. So just sitting there and watching it and even participating in it, was such an experience for us because we had all come together and created this bond in a week.

Stephanie Martin: So my favorite experience was one of the last nights we were in Costa Rica, we had a Chamber of Commerce through us a community dinner that they had cooked in their own homes. And they brought us to a community center and we sat down with their community and just had a meal with them. And it was amazing to see our students interacting with the local merchants and making friendships and bonds. We would see these people, they were the shopkeepers, the waitresses that we had seen during the day and sit down and just talk with them. And there was a bit of a language gap, we won’t lie – we all didn’t know Spanish but the attempt at connection and the real connections that were made despite that language gap was really amazing to see.

Alex Carr: And interacting with the kids kind of – I had the opportunity of playing baseball with a couple kids that were playing with a stick. It was just amazing. The whole experience of just kind of playing with the kids, having a good time – even though there was that language barrier, we were all such great friends. And I think kind of along the lines of what Hannah talked about coming back here, there is such a continuation of what happened in Costa Rica even though we kind of – once we landed, everyone was still just amazingly resourceful and willing to help each other. So that was really cool.

Eccles School: That sounds like a wonderful kind of bonding experience and just definitely a great Eccles experience really get out of the classroom and get to experience something completely new. So what did you learn from the trip?

Alex Carr: You know I think we learned a lot. There is a lot about social entrepreneurship, kind of what social entrepreneurship really is and actually I think Hannah has a fantastic bit on this piece.

Hannah Haack: Yeah I think even me being in the entrepreneurship department for a little while now, I had a totally new view on social entrepreneurship. We all think entrepreneurship is creating a business, creating a product or service and establishing that either online or in a store. That is what we think of but we really – we went out, we didn’t start any business but we created value in their community. We were able to bring value to each other and to the elementary students and that’s social entrepreneurism, is going out and bringing something to their community or even allowing them to give you some sort of value. And I had no idea what that was until I interacted in that community, so definitely learning about social entrepreneurship.

Alex Carr: Yeah, what I think that we kind of learned also that even the most simple things can change the trajectory of someone’s life just by really giving them a new perspective or an outlook, kind of open their eyes to all sorts of experiences, opportunities more or less and for me, that was amazing.

Stephanie Martin: I think picking up on that kind of idea, on the elementary school we went to, they didn’t brief the kids where we were from. The kids thought we were from Santa Cruz which is a town about 50 miles away from their school. So when we told them no, we are Americans, we’re from Utah, they would stop playing and look at us like you are an American? I don’t know what an American is. So seeing that was – taught me to think about my own boundaries and what’s beyond them.

Eccles School: That’s wonderful. That really sounds like a transformational opportunity. So how do students get involved?

Alex Carr: Students can get involved actually as soon as this summer by enrolling in Entrepreneurship 1010 or 1020. We recommend taking 1010 first. It kind of teaches you the fundamental value creation system that we use throughout the program and I found it incredibly valuable personally as well as professionally just in kind of realizing opportunities and creating value that can be beneficial in so many ways.

Eccles School: Great and just sharing your experiences and your stories, you have given so many reasons to join something like this but why would you encourage someone to take a trip like this especially with the Social Entrepreneurship Abroad Program?

Alex Carr: I would recommend it for a number of reasons but the first one really kind of being to change your own perspective really, to open your eyes to kind of the opportunities out there. You know the whole course is really based on social entrepreneurship in a sense where it is not necessarily business related at all, it’s very much so just creating and finding value. Throughout that process, you kind of really put up pen point on – I don’t know, I guess what is most – yeah, you guys take over.

Stephanie Martin: I think all the courses and especially the trip really gets you engaged in your studies and help you see that the small impacts you can make in school can have really greater effects worldwide. So being able to visualize that as a student is super important.

Hannah Haack: Something that I noticed too that was extremely important for all of us was in college, they always tell you to travel abroad because it opens your perspective and your views. All abroad programs definitely do that for you but this one was so beneficial on the networking side because if you go on and abroad program, it’s you alone and you do meet people that I feel like are setting, forces you to be around 30 other students that are from your same school but we have also immersed them in different universities and different community members and their networks tripled through the program. And they teach you that in business as networking is so important. And this will just kind of force you in that setting.

Alex Carr: Yeah and we are actually maintaining contact with a lot of people that we networked with there still in a creative effort to solve some of their problems on a continual basis, so real fun stuff.

Eccles School: Well it sounds like a phenomenal program and I’m so glad that you guys took the time to come share your story with us. Thanks again so much for being here.

Hannah Haack: Thank you.

Stephanie Martin: Thank you.

Alex Carr: Absolutely. Thank you Sheena.

Eccles School: I am Sheena McFarland, and this has been the Eccles Extra Podcast.

  • Looking for something specific?