News - Partners In Profit: Students Learn, Nonprofits Benefit

Partners In Profit: Students Learn, Nonprofits Benefit

by Rachel Heston-Davis Partners In Profit: Students Learn, Nonprofits Benefit

Students pause from lunch in the University’s dining commons to peruse table displays of fair-trade bone jewelry from Kenya, colorful bracelets of recycled paper from Uganda, polished bowls lovingly crafted from cow horn, and handmade bags. A few smile for the camera at a photo station, modeling the jewelry and handbags.

The sales and photo event is the culmination of a semester of work for students Kristyn Ewing ’20, Alli Haug ’19, Ethan Chi ’19, Paige Lunde ’19 and Olivia Maurer ’19. They partnered with Kim Brannon, founder and director of Roots-n-Streams. This social enterprise ministry sells merchandise from artisans in developing countries, many of them widows and orphans in need of income.

The partnership between Roots-n-Streams, students and artisans halfway around the world came about through Business Practices and Design, a class created by graphic design professor Lisa Sharpe. Sharpe pairs student designers with nonprofits in need of design services.

Easing the Workload

Kim Brannon certainly needed help. Despite its humble beginnings, Roots-n-Streams had taken on a life—and a workload—of its own.

It began as one act of service. In 2010, Kim began sponsoring a widow in Burundi after visiting the country. In order to pay the monthly fee, she brought back handmade items to sell in the U.S.

Soon, two friends from two different countries asked Kim to sell products for them as well. The enterprise grew until, eight years later, Kim offers a diverse line of products from artisans in Uganda, Kenya, south China, Nicaragua and Thailand. Her workload includes attending large fair-trade markets, speaking engagements at church groups and sales events like the one in the dining commons—all this in addition to her “day job” at Greenville University as administrative assistant in the Department of Music. She wanted to expand the social enterprise and help more artisans, but faced limited time and resources.

The five-student team from Business Practices and Design was a godsend. They wrote a fresh business plan for Roots-n-Streams, created an Etsy shop for online sales and captured professional photos of students modeling the merchandise to go on the web site. They also redesigned the site and created a new logo suite. 

"I couldn’t have asked for a better team of students to work with me,” Kim says. “They treated my business as if it was their own and accomplished all of the goals we set at the beginning."

What Is Your Time Worth?

Three other student groups from Business Practices and Design also provided design services to nonprofit organizations during spring semester. These included a veteran’s physical fitness organization, an animal rescue service and Greenville University’s new CVCMS, an educational initiative that encourages interdisciplinary study between art, writing, communication and digital media.

Sharpe initially created the Business Practices and Design class to address the lack of financial guidance available to young design professionals. Each year, she received perplexed messages from former students asking how much they should charge for their freelance work, or what salary range to negotiate at a new job.

She created a class where students practice pricing their work and balancing that price with hours dedicated to the project.

“The purpose is for the students to actually work as a mini design firm, and by setting an hourly rate, creating estimates and keeping track of their time, they actually have to realize profitability at the end of the semester,” Sharpe says. 

The money is all hypothetical, of course; no “clients” are actually charged. Sharpe and her students track the hours worked and the hypothetical price tag on a spreadsheet so students can see what it takes to turn a profit in the design world. 

“I want [my student designers] to have a sense of their value in the marketplace, and that we can put a number on that value,” Sharpe says. “Students tend to undervalue themselves, especially at first.”

Designer Chameleons

In addition to teaching good business practices, Sharpe says the class helps students become well-rounded workers.

“Our goal is to serve nonprofit businesses of all kinds, especially those that are out of the students’ realm of what they normally see.”

Rather than assign every group to the familiar world of churches and mission organizations, she pairs them with nonprofits in various fields. “[Design graduates] need to be able to be chameleons and work for any client,” Lisa says. Many designers survive on freelance work or run their own firm, so the ability to adjust to different audiences is crucial.

Sharpe plans to offer the class each year in the spring, to make sure every graduating class of designers has the chance to learn profitability—and help someone along the way. 

For more information about Roots-n-Streams, visit them online.


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When you support scholarships, you open the door for students to serve the Kingdom of God beyond the classroom. Thank you for giving.

This story was published on June 18, 2018

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