WFU Law School Joins Project Nicaragua

Two students from Wake Forest University’s School of Law are heading to Central America to share their skills with small business owners and entrepreneurs.

The goal of the trip, during the holiday break, is to learn about business and law outside the classroom.

The pair will travel to Nicaragua on Saturday along with 16 MBA students and one undergraduate student as well as two Wake Forest Babcock Graduate School of Management’s faculty members as part of Babcock’s Project Nicaragua.

Maureen McDonald and Lynsey Hathcock are both studying to earn joint JD/MBA degrees. They are joining the ongoing MBA student-driven effort to educate aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners in Nicaragua’s economically deprived areas.

“This is still a pilot project for the Law School,” McDonald explained. “We want to see how the Law School can be involved down the road. It’s a really cool experience to see how things are different and to see international law in action firsthand.”

Project Nicaragua was started in the fall of 2006 by a handful of students who wanted to make a difference.  What began as a way to provide basic business consulting for a small businesses and entrepreneurs in Managua has expanded to a two-day seminar that was successfully presented in Benin, Africa, this past summer. The project has become one of the most popular social entrepreneurship initiatives in Babcock’s history.

“We are very proud of the impact we have had on these business leaders,” said Chris Yuko, MBA ’09,one of the project’s co-founders.

Hathcock will help teach part of the business seminar, while McDonald will visit small business owners as part of the project’s new Small and Medium Enterprise, or SME, lending arm.

“We helped raise $2,601 for the SME lending,” McDonald explained. “This really is pro bono work which goes hand in hand with the university’s motto ‘Pro Humanitate.’ ”

The Dec. 13-20 trip will be the fifth made by Wake Forest’s Babcock students in the past two years.

The students’ goal for this trip is “to consult with companies that have already attended our seminars and we will be evaluating prospects to disburse our newly designed SME-lending fund,” said project faculty adviser Sherry Moss, who is going on the trip along with fellow faculty member Ajay Patel.

As part of the trip, students will interview eight entrepreneurs to assess their business needs and determine if they have capital needs.

Based on the interviews and consultation, students will make lending decisions for potential SME loans to those entrepreneurs. The loans will be administered and monitored by students as an SME Lending Fund. The fund is being seeded this year by the fundraising efforts of students, who have to date raised more than $5,000.

This semester 15 Babcock students have provided distance-consulting services to Nicaraguan business owners through video conferencing technology.

“Our goal is to bridge the gap between our seminars and their businesses and this has allowed us more continued direct contact with the network of businesses,” Yuko said. “Student teams at Wake Forest have been able to speak directly with their businesses and continue the two-way learning and transfer of knowledge that takes place during the trips to Nicaragua. It is pretty incredible to think that we are providing actual consulting services to these businesses, via internet and video technology, across borders and countries.

“Furthermore, this is the initial stage research being conducted by our SME Lending team, allowing us more insight into the businesses so that we can more effectively evaluate their lending needs and more confidently make a lending decision in January. These consulting sessions will be continued while in Managua this December, including business visits and further seminar education.”