The dangerous and forbidding slums of Los Altos de Cazuka tower precariously above the Colombian capital of Bogota.
Here, more than 60,000 people are crowded into a shantytown that is, in the main, controlled by criminal gangs and outlaws.
It’s an unlikely place to find a group of students from The University of Queensland’s Business School but it’s exactly where Anne-Sara Budowniczy, Francia Mazzo, Chris Chapman and Michelle Marshall found themselves teaching a group of potential entrepreneurs with their entrepreneurship and innovation lecturer Dr Lance Newey.
Anne-Sara, a French national finishing her business degree at UQ, says the experience taught her humility and how hard people are prepared to fight to find a way out of poverty.
“People are very, very poor and a lot of them are in Cazuka because they fled their homes during the armed conflict in Colombia – it’s pretty tough,’’ she says.
“Some of them have no water or electricity and they are really poor but they are really eager to do something to change their lives and circumstances.’’
The UQ students worked with 32 people, from university students through to a middle-aged woman from the slums trying to find a way to make money to feed her family.
During the four-day workshop, the attendees were taught how to build a business model, from identifying the business idea’s strengths and marketing potential to key activities and resources.
On the first day, all 32 attendees had one minute to pitch their ideas and this was whittled down to 10 for the final-day presentations.
Those whose ideas were not chosen still helped the final 10 prepare for the final presentation so everyone was exposed to the knowledge from the UQ students.
Anne-Sara says the final contenders included a young man running an internet café in the slums who wanted to learn about running a business.
“There was also a girl who wanted to develop a marketing tool to get clients from the city for start-up companies in the slums,” she says.
“Another proposal was to teach people how to cultivate plants in the high-density slums using the little available space such as their balconies.”
Anne-Sara says one of the most surprising things was how much she learnt from the attendees.
“We taught them a lot about passion, about how to deal with business and about marketing but they have nothing and you see them struggling with life and fighting to get something better – that’s just so inspirational,” she says.
“Even if they don’t have any academic knowledge they know a lot about practical knowledge so you have to learn from them.
“They taught me that, with very little, I can create art or design a book or a diary or I can open a shop.
“They have this real passion and fight in them.”