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A cross-cultural exchange is benefiting both Bradley students and Brazilian female entrepreneurs

Bradley University

A cross-cultural exchange between Bradley University students and female entrepreneurs from Brazil is boosting women-owned businesses internationally and offering new perspectives for students.

The program is called "Empowering Women Globally." It's laid out in three stages, beginning with a female scholar visiting Bradley for a six-month immersion course in teaching and business skills.

Dr. Paola Mazzilli is a professor at ESPM, a marketing and advertising school in Sao Paulo, Brazil. After spending time in Peoria, Mazzilli matched students with female entrepreneurs in Brazil.

She says there's a lot of positive learning outcomes.

"For the students, it's an amazing opportunity because they can learn more about not just social entrepreneurship and female entrepreneurship, but they also can have the experience of being in touch with people from different places," she said.

Over the past twelve years, Empowering Women Globally has paired more than 330 female entrepreneurs in Brazil, Iraq, and India with student volunteers who help them grow their businesses.

Eric Hennies is a communications major who collaborated with a woman who runs a non-governmental organization assisting mothers of children with special needs in Brazil. He says in Brazil, those mothers are often isolated. Luciane Souza Bomfim wanted to create a supportive community for those families. But Hennies says she needed a physical space.

"We managed to get a headquarters for the NGO. So we got that, but it was a abandoned building in Brazil," Hennies said. "So she got that from the government. So we needed to do a lot of work on it. "

Hennies says he connected Luciane with an architect who drafted up renovation blueprints.

"It was the first time she actually got to see the changes that were happening. She was actually taking steps forward. So it was really special for her," Hennies said.

Advertising and Social Communications major Mariana Martins worked with a painting company using an exclusively female workforce.

"Less than 25% of the workers registered in the civil engineering market in Brazil are women," Martins said. "It's a traditionally male market. So they are really trying to make the most with the business."

The third step of the program is called the "ripple." Top-performing students, or "changemakers," receive entrepreneurial training at Bradley University to create so-called "ripples of impact" across cultures. Six Brazilian changemakers displayed their products and told their stories at Bradley's Michel Student Center last week.

Martins says "Empowering Women" provided a worthwhile experience she will carry forward with her into her career.

"Giving this practical side of my undergraduate course truly helped me. It's always good to turn the theory to practice," she said.

Eric Hennies agrees. He says he had never even considered working with a NGO before participating in the program.

"I mean, just learning about all of that and being able to actually experience something like that, and being able to help somebody that I truly believe it's going to be something big one day. It was huge. It was a huge learning experience," he said.

Dr. Paola Mazzilli, the Brazilian professor, says Empowering Women allows participants to not only think globally, but also to share their values. She beamed as she told a WCBU reporter about the impact the program has on her and her students.

"This is something that is going to change our lives like forever," she said. "Because all these experiences that we have, when we are not just inside a classroom, but also doing field work, when we can actually see the result of our job."

The Empowering Women Globally program is sponsored by the Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Bradley University. Contact Dr. Mary Conway Dato-On for more information.

WCBU student reporter Isabela Nieto contributed to this story.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.