Encouraging entrepreneurship in Nicaragua

BMA alumnus Peter Stephan ’10 now lives and works with the U.S. Peace Corps in Nicaragua.

March 21, 2013

Peter Stephan ’10, who double majored in business management and Spanish at Bradley, is wrapping up his time in Nicaragua as a Peace Corps volunteer. Stephan, who is teaching entrepreneurship at five local high schools and encouraging them to participate in competitions similar to Project Springboard, writes about how Bradley helped him reach where he is now and direct him toward where he will go.

By Peter Stephan ’10

As I lie in my hammock planning another week’s worth of classes, I reflect on a question most people ask themselves at some point: how did I get here? Here, in my case, happens to be a three-room concrete house that I spend $90 per month to rent. Here happens to be 25 minutes by chicken bus to the nearest bank and supermarket. Here for the past 20 months has been Madriz, a small region in the northwest of Nicaragua.

The answer the question of how I got here goes back to 2008 during my junior year at Bradley. My Spanish professors, doctors Adolfo Cisneros and Melvy Portocarrero, and business management professor Dr. Larry Weinzimmer all encouraged me to study abroad, so I took their advice and spent a semester in Granada, Spain. While living with a host family and taking classes in Spanish, I fell in love with exploring new cultures. After returning to Peoria, I focused on building upon my international experience.

Thanks to further encouragement from Bradley’s professors and advisors, I discovered that the leadership skills learned from presiding over Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity and involvement in numerous volunteer opportunities made me an ideal candidate for the U.S. Peace Corps. As a result, in December 2010, I accepted an invitation from the Peace Corps to work as a small business development volunteer in Nicaragua.

I graduated with a double major in business management and Spanish from Bradley so my responsibilities in Nicaragua included co-planning and co-teaching classes about entrepreneurship to hundreds of high school seniors at five high schools. I also organized, fundraised and prepared my students to compete in five local business plan competitions. Poverty and unemployment are widespread in Nicaragua, so it’s my hope an entrepreneurial education will help my students find opportunities to support them and their families.

Outside of the classroom, I’m working with a coffee cooperative and a women’s support network to develop strategic plans that will guide and grow their organizations. Additionally, this month I received a grant from the U.S. Agency of International Development to build a well in a rural community that does not have access to clean drinking water.

For nearly two years, Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the western hemisphere, has been my home. As one might expect, conditions in Nicaragua are vastly different than where I was raised. I have adapted to a steady diet of bland food and lived without the luxuries of indoor plumbing, reliable electricity and consistent Internet service. During my time here, I’ve had my pocket picked and contracted several gastrointestinal illnesses, one instance which required hospitalization.

Fortunately, the positive experiences of my Peace Corps service have greatly outweighed the bad. More important, I have made several lasting friendships here and have been pleasantly surprised by the warmth and generosity of many Nicaraguans.

This July my Peace Corps experience will end and it will be time to ask a new question: where do I go now? After traveling around Central America, I will return to the U.S. and use my newly acquired skills from Nicaragua to start a career in the fields of consulting, international business or non-profit.