For 10 days in June, sports MBA students from San Diego State University took their classroom on the road, traveling to the Dominican Republic for an international human resources course taught by the College of Business Administration Associate Dean Gangaram Singh.
In the Dominican Republic, where baseball is a national obsession, the 33 students studied ways in which the sport impacts the island, its economy and its people. To conduct their research, students met with team representatives, corporate partners, government executives, NGO leaders and MLB executives, most notably longtime baseball executive Sandy Alderson, who is tasked with reforming the way the league's operations in the Dominican Republic.
MLB footprint in the Dominican
The group utilized their analytical skills to assess baseball’s footprint on the island, determined which ways the game may have a negative social impact and made recommendations to MLB and its teams for corrective action.
“When you’re taking on poverty and social issues in a developing country like the D.R., you have to accept the fact that you can’t solve everything at once, you can only hope for gradual, continual progress,” Singh said.
“The key for us was to focus on one area, in this case, baseball’s footprint, and see how we can leverage the sport’s popularity among Dominicans and MLB’s investment in the country to have a lasting positive impact.”
The group’s assignment was to recommend ways that the greater San Diego State University community can work in concert with the league and individual teams—including the San Diego Padres—to address this footprint and the myriad social issues plaguing this developing country.
The class has already raised more than $5,000 to contribute to community projects and is currently reviewing proposals to determine where to invest the funds.
“There are so many areas of need in this country, it’s very difficult to select one problem to tackle with the money we’ve raised,” said Raquel Rodriguez, a current student in the sports MBA program and a 2007 graduate of SDSU.
“Our expertise is business, so we gravitated toward successful microenterprise programs and initiatives that demonstrate a clear return, such as supporting small businesses or entrepreneurial ventures within the community.”
How SDSU can continue to help
In speaking with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) about some of the social issues in the country, the students learned that the areas of extreme need directly matched SDSU's strengths.
“Functional areas such as education, public health, English as a second language, Spanish, engineering, nursing, tourism, environmental sustainability, the list goes on and on, all need help in the D.R.” said Aaron Bruce, SDSU director of diversity, who accompanied the group.
“These are fields in which San Diego State University excels, and with the cooperation of MLB and the Padres, the service-learning trip that these business students experienced can be easily replicated with a number of diverse groups of students, faculty and even alumni.”
Through the program’s partnership with the San Diego Padres, the sports MBA students were housed for several days at the Padres Dominican Baseball Academy in Najayo, a small, beachside town about an hour west of Santo Domingo.
The Padres complex is universally acknowledged as the most luxurious in the country, and boasts immaculate fields, training facilities and amenities including high speed wi-fi, flat-screen televisions and air conditioning. Just a few hundred yards over the walls, however, students experienced some of the most extreme poverty conditions most had ever seen.
“What I saw was eye-opening,” said Roberto Castro, current sports MBA student, 1999 graduate of SDSU and current Padres employee.
“The contrast in living conditions between the academy and its neighboring town was staggering. It’s great to see that the Padres have made significant investments in the community to address this, and I was proud to be involved in the effort to improve Najayo.”
San Diego Padres investing in the community
To date, the Padres have assisted Najayo in a number of ways, and have led the league in corporate social responsibility programs in the D.R. The team renovated the local elementary school, resulting in an attendance jump from 200 students per day to more than 700; hosted medical screenings and arranged for surgeries aboard the USNS Comfort, and established an after-school education program for at-risk youth.
Last year, the club hired SDSU sports MBA alumna Verónica Nogueira to operate in the D.R. and oversee their community outreach, becoming the first MLB club to have a full-time staff person dedicated to the cause.
“It’s amazing to see the kind of access that an association with the Padres gets you in this community, and the amount of instant credibility you have,” said Noguiera, who has lived in the Dominican Republic since January 2009.
“Major League Baseball is a major investor in the D.R., and everyone is so passionate about the sport that teams here have the power to make things happen quickly. When students from SDSU come here and the locals know we're here because of the Padres, we can make significant progress.”
It’s this brand recognition of the Padres and MLB that the Sports MBA program hopes will motivate more campus groups and departments to get involved in this effort.
“There’s poverty all over the world, and efforts like ours are nothing new. Local government, NGOs, USAID and the Peace Corps have been fighting these battles in the D.R. for decades, and have done great work,” said Singh.
“What’s different in this case is that we’re enlisting the power of sport to mobilize people, which can be extremely powerful.”
Leading a session with the MBA students on the final day, Sandy Alderson challenged the group to return to SDSU and mobilize their university peers.
“We can actually do something here,” said Alderson. “This is not an academic exercise, this can actually translate into something tangible.”