Due to the efforts of an MBA class project, a new e-commerce website will soon sell hand-made clothes, bags, blankets and other home goods to raise funds for the Inkster-based charity Zaman International and its clients.
The website is the culmination of weeks of work by seven University of Detroit Mercy MBA students as a class project sponsored by a grant to Detroit Mercy from the Ford Motor Company Fund, Ford Community Corps.
“Zaman International has a community-driven approach to help households meet their needs and break the cycle of poverty,” explained MBA student Sarah Fioritto. “Their mission is to facilitate change and advance the lives of marginalized women and children by enabling them to meet essential needs common to all of humankind.”
Zaman offers sewing, culinary arts classes and English literacy classes for women, teaching skills that could earn them wages. Some women design their own items and sell them at fairs.
Abigail DeMars, volunteer coordinator for Zaman International, said her team approached the class with the idea as a way to address the expense and logistical challenges of getting clients and their handiwork to and from craft fairs.
“We were connected with the MBA class through the Ford Fund,” she said.
DeMars said the students received substantial hands-on experience on how to work with clients, how to respond to specific needs and requests, and how to make changes based on feedback. She said they also had the experience of working on a team to complete the project, which most of them will probably be doing in their future jobs.
“I think having the students work with nonprofits is especially helpful,” DeMars said. “It exposes them to more monetary and staff resource restraints that they might not see as much in corporate clients.”
Student Nicole Fitch also said that in several of their visits to Zaman in person, students found how challenging it was for clients to make sales off-site.
“Our experience taught us how important this would be to them,” she said. “This can help families become self-sufficient while working from home.”
“Sewing classes consist of both volunteers and clients and they learn how to sew things such as aprons, blankets and quilts,” Fioritto said. “The profits of the volunteers go directly to Zaman, and 100% of profits made by the clients go to the clients.”
She said the team chose to use Shopify, a web-based commerce platform, that will allow Zaman’s clients to sell their products online without the expense and logistical hassles of working away from home and traveling to craft fairs.
“Within Shopify, you can personalize product menus, write blog posts, you have access to everything you need right from the start,” she said. “Shopify provides an affordable option to organizations that have a limited financial and marketing resources to develop a website.”
Student Joseph Snyder laid out their marketing plan for Zaman, which emphasized the increased reach of the organization once the website was up and running.
Rania Khalil, entrepreneurship leader for Zaman, said the new e-commerce site will broaden the market for the sewing students’ products.
“This really opens an opportunity for them by being able to sell outside their community,” she said. “They’re used to selling to and talking to people nearby, and this site gives them a venture into new tastes and customers.”
The students set a five-percent increase in sales and reach, measured by the Shopify platform and the Hootsuite social media management tool, as a benchmark for success of their program.
Director of Service Learning Tim Hipskind, S.J., said the students’ work fulfills the mission of service learning by not only providing them a sense of accomplishment, but a chance to make personal connections with clients, volunteers and staff members at Zaman.
“The students not only did a job, but they visited Zaman and got to see all the work they do,” he said.
“We like to think that Detroit Mercy teaches students professional skills – and something more. That “something” is being graduates who lead and serve in the community.”
At the close of the presentation, student Abir Mouhajer announced that the student group had won the Empowering Marginalized Through E-Commerce $5,000 scholarship from the Michigan Colleges Alliance. In addition to those quoted, other students on the team were Stephen Erwin, Christina Pauken and Joseph Snyder.
“I wanted to wait until the end as a surprise,” she said.
Another group of MBA students in the fall 2019 term, joined by Mouhajer, will continue working with Zaman to help grow the organization’s web presence.
“Since I have been awarded a 2019 Independent Innovators Network scholarship,” Mouhajer said. “The MCA would like me to follow up with Zaman in the fall 2019 term to operationalize, maintain and revise the e-commerce site.”
She said she will work closely with Zaman International to execute the marketing plan.
“This service-learning project was very valuable for me,” Mouhajer said. “I am a firm believer in the notion that each individual has the ability to create changes in the community around them. Making even a small impression can change a person’s day, and possibly even change a child’s perception of their future.”
Mouhajer added that her experience with the project has inspired her to put into practice what she learned in the real world by putting more volunteer hours into the community.
“Working with Zaman taught me that their services meet real demands and fill gaps, and how their work enriches the community,” she said.
Student Mosea Miles looked ahead to the next term and was encouraged at the progress the team had made with Zaman.
“It’s a great way to start off this course,” Miles said, adding that the winter 2019 term was the first time this course was offered at Detroit Mercy. “We’ve got the ball rolling and now the next group can come and pick up where we left off.”
According to DeMars the non-profit will take on an intern for the summer to assist with the setup of the Shopify website and implement the MBA students’ marketing plan.
By Patrick Andrzejczyk