Business with acumen takes SIFE team to world championship
By Billi London-Gray, University Marketing
Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) is a student organization that creates business projects to empower entrepreneurs and people in need. Through their endeavors — which in the 2010-11 academic year ranged from remodeling and furnishing housing for migrant workers to fill labor shortages on West Texas farms to helping local high school students fund rain barrels for their class gardens — Texas State’s team, one of the largest in the nation, implements real-world solutions for real-world problems.
Vicki West is the Sam Walton Fellow in Free Enterprise in the McCoy College of Business Administration at Texas State University. Since 1994, she has been the faculty advisor to the Texas State SIFE team. Under her leadership, the team was first in the world in 2000, and has placed among the top 20 teams in the nation every year since, winning the national title again in May 2011, besting teams from 600 institutions.
In October, the Texas State SIFE team will travel to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to represent the United States as they compete in the 2011 SIFE World Cup. With the international spotlight on her team, West explains their mission and accomplishments in the following Q&A.
What is the goal of SIFE?
As a nonprofit organization, our mission is to create collegiate SIFE teams that teach free enterprise to build better individuals, communities and countries. Working with leaders in business and higher education, students apply business concepts to develop outreach projects that improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need. Through our outreach projects, we involve the community in the free enterprise system, providing the students with an opportunity to teach others what they have learned while developing the skills to become socially responsible business leaders.
How does SIFE help students?
Because of the work involved, students develop excellent leadership, communication and organizational skills on an international level. SIFE’s leadership and career initiatives create meaningful opportunities for learning and exchange among the participants as well as the placement of students and alumni with companies in search of emerging talent.
How does SIFE help others?
Through empowerment — first, by empowering ourselves, then by choosing projects that empower others. Projects are judged by international criteria and must take into account “relevant economic, social and environmental factors.” These three factors refer to the idea of the “triple bottom line” — profits, people, planet. For a business venture to be successful, it must be effective and sustainable economically as well as socially and environmentally.
What is involved in a SIFE competition?
The SIFE U.S.A. competition is a yearlong process of developing and implementing outreach projects, culminating in a 24-minute audio-visual presentation that is quite sophisticated. At regional and national competitions, teams present the results of their projects and are evaluated by business leaders serving as judges. (See SIFE’s 2011 presentation at www.business.txstate.edu/sife.)
What did it take for the Texas State SIFE team to become the national champions?
It took hundreds and hundreds of hours of work, planning and executing projects, and recruiting top team members. We’ve also had to raise funds to support our projects, and create a high-end, corporate-style presentation. The presentation alone takes four months to write, two months to produce a live-action video, and three months to memorize and refine. It's a HUGE undertaking!
How is the team preparing for the 2011 SIFE World Cup?
The World Cup requires some changes in our production. Plus, we’ve got to arrange to travel halfway around the world.
How do you feel about the SIFE team’s accomplishments?
I have immense pride, satisfaction, anticipation and a great feeling overall. The very best thing about being the U.S.A. champion is the attention it brings to our students, who can use this win as a platform to get great corporate jobs with the Fortune 500 companies. These companies’ top executives serve on the SIFE national board, and they also serve as judges.