For four Eastern Mennonite University students the Nov. 2-4 convention of Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) fueled their professional interests and provided an opportunity to pitch a business idea in front of judges.
The result was a second-place award, but more importantly, a better idea of what it means to make business a calling. This year’s convention theme was “Business as a Calling: Building Bridges to Enduring Livelihoods.”
MEDA is an international economic development organization whose mission is to create business solutions to poverty. Students from EMU have attended for the past several years, according to the business and economics department chair Jim Leaman.
The 2017 conference included a wide variety of seminars and speakers, including Dr. Samantha Nutt, humanitarian, founder of War Child Canada and author of Damned Nations; Wally Kroeker, recently retired MEDA director of publications; and Tareq Hadhad, founder of Peace by Chocolate.
Lucas Miller, a junior economics major, said that the conference “opened my eyes to career opportunities and connections I never knew I could possibly reach.” He came away inspired by Hussein Hallak’s story about “forging his own success” with Launch Academy, a Vancouver-based tech incubator that supports startups.
Isaac Brenneman, too, counted as a highlight Hallak’s advice for future entrepreneurs. Brenneman, a self-described “adrenaline junkie” and junior business administration and recreation leadership and sports promotion double major, hopes eventually to start his own business, “possibly in the adventure sports industry.” He said that the convention was “a great way to network with other entrepreneurs and learn about what MEDA is doing in the world, and how to get involved.”
Ryan Faraci, a senior accounting and business administration double major, recommends that other students also attend the conference to network across industries and learn about MEDA’s “mission to fight poverty,” he said. He plans to become a certified public accountant.
Faraci and Miller both highlighted learnings from a seminar on the economics of United States and Canada, in which Leaman was a co-presenter. Faraci learned about “some of the economic bubbles to watch out for.” Miller, too, came away from Leaman’s presentation with “good insight into the context of our current economy and potential dangers in the coming years,” he said.
After Leaman’s presentation, Kyungho Yu, a junior economics major who hopes to support education through microfinance, noted that “the Canadian government has different economic perspective from the South Korean government: Canada focuses on the middle classes to increase the GDP, in part through efforts to increase equity through a high minimum wage.”
The MEDA pitch contest, in which entrepreneurs under 30 have five minutes to showcase an international development business idea, focused on innovations to reduce extreme poverty in developing countries. The EMU team took second place with “Better Health, Better Wealth,” a proposal to train Liberian community members to address mental health concerns using methods based on the “direct connection” of mental health to agricultural output in rural Africa.
MEDA, an international economic development organization whose mission is to create business solutions to poverty, convenes annually. Founded in 1953 by a group of Mennonite business professionals, it partners with the poor to start or grow small and medium-sized businesses in developing regions around the world. Its 2018 convention next November will be in Indianapolis.