JENKINS MBA TEAM DEVELOPS FRAMEWORK FOR SUSTAINABLE TOURISM IN MICRONESIA

Submitted by Anna Rzewnicki on Thursday Jul 31, 2014.

A sustainable tourism draft business plan for the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), developed by a team of Poole College’s Jenkins MBA candidates in spring 2013, has been accepted by the UNESCO consultation in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and is moving toward final submission of the joint nomination of two ceremonial cities in the region as a Global Heritage site in February 2015, said KnowledgeWell Senior Consultant Aaron Smith.

What makes these cities unique is they were designed and constructed on the water with waterways for streets.

The Jenkins MBA students’ contribution is a portion of the deliverables being overseen by KnowledgeWell, Inc., a Raleigh-based not-for-profit organization founded by Smith and his classmates in 2005, when they were MBA students at the Kenan-Flagler Business School in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The organization’s mission is to deliver expertise to emerging and under-resourced areas of the world.

Smith had contacted the Jenkins MBA program’s career development staff asking if any students might be interested in working on the FSM project. Given its focus on sustainability, the request was forwarded to members of the NC State Net Impact student organization, based in Poole College.

TAPPING INTEREST IN SUSTAINABILITY, MBA COURSEWORK

Eddie Jones and Donavon Boykin, then president and vice president of communications of the Net Impact chapter, respectively, along with fellow students Jeffrey Behrens and Nick Clevenger, found the project a great fit for their knowledge of and interest in sustainability. Smith and the four team members, who graduated in May 2013, responded to interview questions by email for this story.

“I knew that this would be a great opportunity to combine my interests in sustainability with the tools and knowledge I've gained from my MBA curriculum,” Jones said. He had traveled to both the Virgin Islands and Costa Rica, “two countries,” he said, “that provide great examples of sustainable tourism strategies.

"In the U.S., what we consider sustainable practices are necessities for these smaller countries that do not have the natural resources of the U.S. Because I've seen how well they have been able to capitalize on the tourism industry while maintaining their environmental resources, it was great to share that knowledge with a similar country looking to do the same thing. Additionally, I was able to pull knowledge from my MBA classes (and) use it to develop a culturally and environmentally sustainable business plan that can also generate revenue,” Jones said.

He cited the then-new Sustainability in Business course taught by Scott Showalter, teaching professor in the college’s Department of Accounting, and the Marketing Management and Strategy course taught by Jonathan Bohlmann, assistant professor in the Department of Business Management, as particularly helpful with this project. “Combining the sustainability strategies and initiatives with the marketing experience needed to identify opportunity and value provided the basis for the whole project,” Jones said.

“This was an enjoyable project for all of us involved, and we each were able to pull from our knowledge and experiences while working on an active business case,” Behrens said. “The Jenkins MBA courses helped me to appreciate both the sustainability and business needs of this particular project,” he said.

BALANCING NEEDS OF THE SHAREHOLDER, STAKEHOLDER 

“Understanding how embedding sustainability within your organization’s culture today can help foster innovation and deliver the competitive advantage companies are looking for is immensely important; moreover, this mindset becomes more significant as social and political pressures concerning corporate responsibility intensify,” Behrens said. “It might be an age-old debate, but embedded sustainability is one way a company can account for this paradigm shift from shareholder to stakeholder focus, and this project was a great example of balancing both sides,” he said.

Clevenger said he saw in the project the alignment of sustainability with his prior experience in urban and regional planning, including a summer fellowship with Envision Charlotte’s Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corp.

“The potential to help the FSM strengthen their economy and, at the same time, preserve their cultural and environmental heritage made this project extremely appealing,” he said. “This was an excellent opportunity for me to combine my planning background with what I have learned through the Jenkins MBA program to help create a compelling long-range plan that will hopefully lead to economic prosperity and awareness of this rare, beautiful historical site.” 

The team took a ‘divide and conquer’ approach to the project, with each member applying his unique strengths to develop the best plan possible.

“I viewed this as a major opportunity to incorporate a unique global perspective and use it in tandem with my MBA,” Boykin said. “Not only did we have a chance to combine our group’s passions for business, best practices, and sustainability, but we also were able to simultaneously support a worthy cause,” he said.

“Given the unique parameters of our project, including the distant locale and the preservation efforts, our team had to conduct a great deal of research and analysis to complete our plan,” Boykin said. “I was extremely glad to be included in such an awesome opportunity, work with such talented peers, and showcase the marketing skills I have strengthened and acquired while pursuing my Jenkins MBA.”

The team’s plan was presented to UNESCO March 2013 in Pohnpei FSM by Dr. Felicia R. Beardsley, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of La Verne and KnowledgeWell Board member who has directed or co-directed archaeological projects throughout the Western Pacific, including the Federated States of Micronesia, over the past two decades.

Beardsley has served as a consultant to federal and local governmental agencies in the Republic of Palau and Federated States of Micronesia, private organizations doing business in the Western Pacific, and the U.S. National Park Service in connection with their support of government archaeology programs in former trust territories. This current project is an extension of her work.

“I believe that they accepted our plan because it provided a framework for how and why they could utilize their natural environments and cultural history without compromising their culture,” Jones said.

CREATING A SUSTAINABLE REVENUE STREAM

The main objective of the sustainability plan was to provide a strategy that would allow for the development needed to support increased tourism without compromising the environmental and cultural integrity of the islands. The plan focused specifically on the historic ruins sites of Nan Madol and Lelu and their potential for tourism in order to provide revenue for the Federated States of Micronesia.

In developing their plan, the Jenkins MBA team’s first step was to determine the potential markets for tourism on the island along with evaluating the existing infrastructure. The next step was to develop the value proposition and marketing strategy. This was to promote the islands as a secluded, undeveloped, tropical getaway with incredible historical significance.

A management and revenue strategy was developed for each historic site including entrance fees, attractions and tours, and visitor centers. These were modeled after the U.S. National Parks system and will provide revenue to the islands while maintaining the culture and natural environment.

“KnowledgeWell’s vision for this contextualized Strategic Sustainable Tourism Plan applied James F. Moore’s “business ecosystem” work to the direct and supporting opportunities the FSM stands to gain from the nomination,” Smith said. “One of the challenges facing past World Heritage Site nominations has been preparing the public and private sectors for the surge of economic activity from tourism. Accounting for the tourism impact includes sustainable development while at the same time, as Eddie mentioned, preserving the culture and environment,” he said.

“What the NC State Jenkins MBA team accomplished, through the contribution of the Strategic Sustainable Tourism Plan, was to create a foundation for success by giving FSM leaders the framework and opportunity to create a sustainable future,” Smith said.

“As an “open source” model, KnowledgeWell eagerly teams with universities. It has been a pleasure to work with the Jenkins Graduate School students and KnowledgeWell looks forward to partnering again soon. The team was extremely passionate and contributed tremendous value. It was a pleasure to get to know each of them," he said.

“As a result of the Jenkins MBA students’ success (KnowledgeWell’s first student initiative), KnowledgeWell Executive Director Lisa McFarland has launched a new student volunteer program. A special thanks to CSR partner McKim and Creed  for hosting and sponsoring this NC State Jenkins Graduate School student pilot as well as sponsoring the related field work,” Smith said.

View the following brief videos to see the environment this project aims to preserve through sustainable eco-tourism.

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