Archived Voice Articles

Nicaraguan Internship Gives Holtrop a new Perspective on Business

By Sally Jongsma

Junior Business Major Jake Holtrop is preparing for a career in investments and financial planning and, in fact, is working for a bank this summer. But his semester internship was on the opposite side of the business spectrum. He spent four months in Nicaragua, working with a small business called NicaMade and teaching eleventh grade students about business ethics.

“I chose the Nicaragua Business Internship because of the reputation and quality of experience that previous students have had while on the program,” Holtrop says. He also thought it would be a good way to explore the “business as missions” movement that has gained widespread popularity across denominational boundaries in recent years.

The goal of NicaMade is to create and market products made by rural Nicaraguan communities so that families can provide a sustainable living for themselves. The products range from coffee and pottery to bookmarks and metal art. Many of the products have a Nicaraguan theme and are sold to both mission teams and retail outlets in the United States. Holtrop helped make presentations to business teams; he assisted with market products to the United States, he worked with product development in rural Nicaraguan communities, and did a variety of day to day operational tasks.

The second part of Holtrop’s internship put him in front of a class of eleventh grade students at Nicaragua Christian Academy teaching business ethics. He planned lessons, graded assignments, and gave guidance on projects and presentations. “The students really love to learn and put large amounts of effort into their work,” he says.

“The most significant thing I learned was how to assist the poor achieve a higher standard of living,” he says. Many people want to give machinery, tools, and new infrastructure to countries like Nicaragua. The problem is that such assistance can create a culture of dependence on North American aid. He found that although Nicaragua is past disaster relief work, it is in desperate need of better education, health care training, and access to affordable loans so that people there can support themselves. Holtrop says he also came to believe that U.S. policy to Central America has hurt Nicaraguan families and communities.

“This internship is incredible because it teaches people basic economic principles and decisions,” he says. Since NicaMade was only one year old when Holtrop arrived, the company had the typical start-up problems. In addition Holtrop had to adjust to a different pace and style of living and doing business than U.S. business people expect. Nevertheless, he says, expressing a feeling of ownership for the venture, “I see concrete results in where the business has come in only one year. We are beginning to work with fair trade organizations whose certification should bring about more credibility and market possibilities. We continue to hear stories of success from our communities. One in particular has begun to market products themselves to other areas in Nicaragua. These types of stories give glimpses of hope for the country’s people and Nicaragua’s future.”

Holtrop hopes that once he graduates he can continue to serve by working to provide access to fairly-priced loans and business training in foreign countries.