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BizWorld Brings Business to Local Youth

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They say that the best way to learn a subject is to teach it to others. Should you feel that six weeks isn’t enough time to truly master the intricacies of OPIM and CAPM, what better way to test your knowledge than helping mold the spongelike minds of future business leaders? And no, we’re not talking about your learning teammates.

Every year, BizWorld volunteers armed with posterboard, markers, colored string, and fistfuls of BizBucks, disseminate throughout West Philadelphia to introduce the concept of running a business to elementary and middle-school students.

The BizWorld program consists of three, one-and-a-half hour sessions that meet on consecutive Fridays. We split classes into teams of five to six students, forming “companies” that design, manufacture, market, and sell friendship bracelets in the BizWorld market. Through this dynamic process, Wharton volunteers teach their students how to solve various business issues in a fun and interactive format.

Venture capitalist Tim Draper conceived of BizWorld to answer his daughter’s question, “What do you do every day?” He used his daughter’s enthusiasm for making friendship bracelets to create a simulation activity in which students learn to start and run their own business. The BizWorld programs have reached students in all fifty states and eight-four countries.

Now, you may think that the key to your future is wrapped up in a 10,000-point bid on Wessels. But most BizWorld volunteers find that, despite their finely honed analytical skills and calculator-like minds, it can take a far broader skill set to effectively teach a classroom of extremely energetic and eager fifth graders.

(Day one) begins by creating teams and distributing company responsibilities. The students then raise money from the BizWorld bank and begin designing prototype bracelets. Teams work together to select the best prototype design and then decide on how to manufacture the bracelets.

This year at the Penn Alexander School, students setup manufacturing “cells” with levels of efficiency that would make Toyota blush. Other groups organized assembly lines that …

(Day two) … was devoted to product development and manufacturing or, more specifically, process efficiency and optimization. While some teams started out by apportioning tasks and creating assembly line prototypes, other teams delegated the entire process to a few members who demonstrated expertise in bracelet making. However, by the end of the day, it became apparent to our mini- COOs that neither situation was ideal. As children tend to be eager to act rather than to plan, it took some time before the teams realized the importance of knowledge sharing and how it could increase their manufacturing capacity by having the experts take time out to teach the skills to others. Unfortunately, others learned this important lesson when they saw the variability in output between teams.

Lesson learned: The quickest path to your destination is not always the shortest route.

On the final day, the teams developed their marketing and advertising strategies to create posters, jingles, and TV commercials. Second graders were brought in to act as consumers, and each team got two minutes to perform their pitch before everyone was let loose to buy and sell in the bazaar. Their competitive spirits emerged when the teams realized that only a few BizBucks were left floating around in the market and began slashing prices.

Another team did such a great job at promoting their products and their company that they ran out of bracelets. But, with demand still high for their products, they ended up cutting up left over string and tying them as necklaces onto their customers! Another team still displayed such entrepreneurial genius as to ask us (and who were we to say no) if they could sell their marketing materials!

Lesson learned: Intense desire fuels the fire of pursuit.

Ultimately, interacting with the kids and seeing how engaged they were in the program was the greatest reward. Two years ago, the BizWorld team was serenaded twice and taught some new dance moves. Last year one of our member helped to make a newly arrived student from China with minimal English welcome by translating the BizWorld activities into Mandarin. All these experiences were unforgettable, but ultimately little compares to the round of endless hugs that we all received on our last day as we bid our final farewell.

And at the end of the day, giving back to the community can be a great ego-boost. One of the most priceless comments of the season came from Erika Spencer, a fifth grader who demonstrated rare insight and precociousness when she made the following remark:

“Thank you very much. You helped my future a lot these past few weeks. This helped me in working with others. Also, I liked how you both dressed and your hair.”

Lesson learned: Always leave them with something to remember you by.

© Copyright 2007 Wharton Journal

By Rosebud Buruku (WG ‘08) Contributing Writer

Photo Courtesy of The BizWorld Foundation

Related Story: Teacher Spotlight: Mary Arnold


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