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University of Nebraska–Lincoln

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March 29, 2016

Uganda Trip a Passionate Success for UNL Students

University of Nebraska–Lincoln students proclaimed “Mission Accomplished” after spending spring break on the inaugural Uganda study abroad program trip, delivering and implementing a new piece of technology designed to speed production timelines for African entrepreneurs. The students experienced an adventure they will never forget, and it packed all the drama of a Hollywood-like script.

UNL business and engineering students planned, designed and built a machine which flattens used drinking straws mechanically, streamlining a process formerly done by hand. Workers at Kinawataka Women Initiatives (KWI), the organization receiving the machine, then weave the flattened straws into bags, mats, jewelry and other retail items. The intent was to begin setting up the machine immediately after landing in Uganda, but when students arrived there was no machine.

UNL and Uganda students set up straw flattening machine
UNL and Uganda students set up straw flattening machine
“We expected it to be waiting for us when we got there, and we’d install it within the first couple days,” said Dr. J.K. Osiri, director of international business and associate professor of practice in management at the College of Business Administration and faculty advisor on the trip. “Unfortunately, it didn’t arrive until Thursday night. We immediately got on the phone trying to pick up the machine, but they told us to forget it because Friday was the start of a four-day holiday, and we were returning to Nebraska that weekend.”

After several more frantic phone calls the students received news there would be a small window to pick up the machine while returning from a safari they began Wednesday. Marisa Halfmann, a senior management major from Tucson, Arizona, explained how things unfolded with the help of Madame Benedicta, executive director of KWI.

“At that point, we weren’t expecting to get the machine installed during spring break, but by using Madame Benedicta’s contacts in the government and community, we got it out of customs Friday evening,” Halfmann said. “Our engineers worked on installing it Friday night and all morning and afternoon Saturday. While the engineering team did the installation, the business students networked with artisans at a local craft market to share details of Madame Benedicta’s products. This was a big step in creating interest, and expandingtheir business further in Uganda and the international market.”

Halfmann at rooftop dinner party
Halfmann at rooftop dinner party
Business students also coordinated a business plan which focused on the increased production.

“A big part of the business plan was relying on increased productivity from the machine. As KWI is able to create more products, we hope the success rate for larger orders will increase,” Halfmann said.

Halfmann coordinated a simultaneous project for the trip collecting money for backpacks and school supplies for Ugandan children.

“The things Madame Benedicta does for the women she employs and children she cares for are inspiring. I wanted to show her our appreciation by purchasing backpacks filled with school supplies, a calculator and a pair of shoes for each of her eleven girls, as well as shoes and a treat bag for boys she supports in other families,” Halfmann said.

She also helped purchase two laptops for Madame Benedicta to use in her work and school endeavors. The human connection was the best part of the trip for Halfmann.

Students networking at entrepreneurship conference
Students networking at entrepreneurship conference
“The looks on their faces made everything worth it. When I presented the items to Madame Benedicta, she hugged me and cried with happiness,” she said.

Osiri believes the Uganda trip gave students a life-changing look at another culture.

“I’ve never seen students so passionate about a project,” Osiri said. “They had complete ownership and felt so responsible for the project that their hearts broke when they thought they weren’t going to be able to install the machine. I told them it was about more than the machine. It’s more powerful when you connect to human beings when there’s a mission behind it. They developed their business plan and created this machine to make an impact on people, and that intent went a long way in making everything a success.”

In addition to the group projects and safari expedition, students also participated in an entrepreneurship conference at Kyambogo University, where they networked and shared their business plan for the advancing their enterprise with the new straw flattening machine.

KETV Omaha news segment on Uganda trip
Group shot of Uganda study abroad students, faculty and Madame Benedicta with children
Group shot of Uganda study abroad students, faculty and Madame Benedicta with children