Fordham Notes: GBA Students Tackle Sustainability

Thursday, April 15, 2010

GBA Students Tackle Sustainability

On March 13, 24 Fordham graduate business students and two professors, John Hollwitz and Sharon Livesey, boarded a plane outbound for Cholula, an old city in southern Mexico. The students didn’t know what to expect from the trip, but all had one shared goal – to get a new angle on sustainable living and community.

Some of the students were first dipping their toes into the sustainability movement, while others were immersing themselves more deeply in an issue they already felt was extremely important. By the end of the study trip, what was clear was that the participants went from almost strangers to a tightly knit group of friends in the short period of 10 days. Each emerged more enlightened on the environmental and social challenges facing the planet and all with a new understanding of the true nature of community.

Community Links International, a non-profit organization run by Jim Petkiewicz and Arturo Ortega Vela, was the host of our trip. Community Links assembled an array of diverse experiences, each individually designed to teach serious issues facing local Mexican communities, and by extension, our own. CLI operates in five countries, and focuses on four main areas of work – environment, community-based education, fair trade, and social justice.

Community Links International co-founder Arturo Ortega Vela entertains students and friends in Oaxaca City

Our lectures and on site visits covered three major aspects of sustainable development - environmental, social, and preservation of environment natural development. Over the 10 days of immersion study, students learned about local sustainable development, indigenous cultures, and Mexican’s love toward Mother Earth.

Patricia de la Palma leads a ceremony acknowledging Mother Earth

We are very touched by on site presenters, especially environmental activist, bamboo architect, anti-human-trafficking activist, and founders of the non-profit Visual Disability School. They believe everyone has the power to change the world, and with hope and love, we can make our communities a better place for our future generations.

Fordham GBA students visiting the Visual Disability School

We also visited two Nastakah families in Cholula, who utilized a simple energy-saving clay stove to cut burning waste and water-conservative technology to renew water for daily use. It was an amazing experience to see what sustainability means for indigenous people - a lifestyle of independence and survival. Our Mexico trip not only gives us lots of humble learning experiences, but also opens our minds to different perspectives of community engagements.

In Oaxaca, the students had a rare opportunity visiting Yeni Navan Michiza Coffee Cooperative headquarters. The co-op, a self-help organization founded in 1985, supports 40 local regions and five indigenous groups. Michiza’s mission is to improve its members’ production in organic agriculture, overall coffee quality and yield, and fair price for coffee producers.

As we learned more about the benefits and shortfalls of fair trade, fair trade may not be so “fair” to coffee growers after all. Fairtrade Labeling Organization International can only ensure Michiza being paid at minimum of $1.25 per pound payment for organic beans, and coffee producers then become the victims of receiving less than 30 cents per pound for their hardship and labors.

Fordham GBA students visiting Nastakah indigenous families

“As people have come to recognize some of the paradoxes and dilemmas affecting (especially small producers or cooperatives), the notion of "direct" trade that cuts out middlemen profit taking has begun to take hold," said Livesey, associate professor of communication and media management. "There is also a movement in some parts of the world to "buy local" in order to support local economies."

Since returning, Fordham GBA students have begun working in smaller groups on projects that can bring the trip home and create a lasting impression on the Fordham community. Students are hard at work developing marketing plans for sustainably grown coffee, Mezcal (an indigenous Oaxacan liquor) along with multimedia presentations and articles. In fact, there is even a group of students, doing an independent student in the summer, will work with Michiza coffee cooperative to better market and sell organic fair trade coffee across multiple US industries.

Fordham GBA student Natalia Saldarriga experiencing different types of raw beans

To learn more about MBA Global Sustainability (GS) Designation, please visit

-- Scott Lasky and Michelle Wu, with photos by Abhilash Pillai

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