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USU Runs Virtual Mentorship Program For Small Businesses In Underdeveloped Countries

A program that has traditionally offered opportunities for Utah State University students to teach business principles to entrepreneurs in underdeveloped countries is now providing virtual mentorship services.

Utah State University’s Small Enterprise Education and Development program made the changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program has previously sent students to Peru, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Ghana and the Philippines. As a result of the global health crisis, however, interns in the spring program had to return from their various international locations and fall internships were postponed.

“We made a decision to suspend the program out of concern for the safety of our students,” said Andy Thunell, the manager of the program. “Over the last six months, we have been able to work on a number of different initiatives with the same focus of providing help and support to business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.”

Students who have already completed a SEED internship have been hired as mentors for initiatives in Ghana, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. 

“A lot of small businesses in these underdeveloped areas struggle to grow and COVID has just made it more difficult,” said Alexander Davis, a mentor in the program. "It’s a fun and fulfilling opportunity to be a virtual mentor and help these small business owners who have often had very little education and business training."

The SEED program has also recently helped form the Cache Valley chapter of the Hope Corps with a mission to assist businesses, nonprofits, and people of Utah who have been impacted by COVID-19.

“Sometimes all that an individual needs is to know that someone is there for them,” Thunell said. “That’s exactly what our students are doing; providing a helping hand, an ear to listen, and motivation to help alleviate struggles and suffering.”