Sauder students connect with small businesses in rural communities


Through a unique learning collaboration, Sauder School of Business marketing students have been using new leading-edge video conferencing technologies at the school to bring fresh ideas to small businesses in remote areas of British Columbia.

The students were taking part in Rural Community Service Learning (CSL) initiative, a partnership between the ISIS Research Centre at Sauder, the Ike Barber Learning Centre, and the UBC Community Learning Initiative, that brings small business and experiential classroom learning together for mutual benefit.

“The CSL program is a wonderful way to connect small businesses in remote communities with cutting-edge business knowledge that they would not otherwise have access to,” says Andrea Lloyd, Sauder's Community Service Learning coordinator. “It also provides the students with opportunities to link theory to practice, to learn from diverse stakeholders in our community, and to apply the skills and knowledge that they acquire in the classroom.”

Through the initiative, the fourth-year Marketing 468 students, led by lecturer Ann Stone, worked in teams of six to create full marketing plans for the small business with whom they were paired.

Communication between the students and the businesses was key to the success of this learning partnership. To overcome the geographic barriers, the Vancouver-based students and their more remotely located small-business clients relied on new communication technology available at Sauder.

“We were able to host effective meetings using the Wimba technology that allowed seamless and professional interactions,” explains student Robert Winson. “In addition to this, we leveraged technology to make use of the conferencing capabilities when our team was at times in different geographic locations around Canada.”

From Skype to iChat, the students utilized new state-of-the-art video-conferencing facilities at the school to meet with their clients on a regular basis. The expanded technological capabilities are part of Sauder's $85-million renewal and expansion of its building on UBC campus.

The hands-on experience working with their community partners proved to be both challenging and eye-opening. Marketing student Donald Lake says, “It’s not enough to cite dusty concepts from the textbook. You have to deliver something that is pretty certain to affect the client’s bottom line. It was powerful. We felt a real responsibility to do good work.”

For the businesses involved, the students’ marketing plans far exceeded expectations.

“The students helped identify and quantify the potential target markets as well as map the ways to reach those markets,” says Andy Eadie, owner, Island Labs in Courtenay. “It’s pretty unlikely that we would have been able to find, let alone fund, a marketing study like the one provided to Island Labs by the Sauder students. They provided a very useful marketing report and a presentation that would normally be out of reach at this stage in the business.”