Updated May 19 with winning team — The La Sierra University Enactus team was chosen as the 2016 National Champion.
Two thousand college students from all across the country are in St. Louis through Tuesday for a socially-minded business competition called the Enactus National Expo.
The Enactus university teams are the winners of their regional expos and are competing for the title of national champion by presenting their projects to corporate executives who evaluate the impact of their work.
“We make a positive difference in the world through entrepreneurial action, or the positive power of business to do good,” said Enactus president Alex Perwich, adding that the organization goes a step beyond the proverb “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”
“What’s even better than just teaching someone to do it, is to enable a social enterprise or business around fishing and or industries or services feeding into fishing that creates a sustainable income path for people,” said Perwich.
Each year Enactus college teams develop businesses that help solve social, economic and environmental problems and then they present the results at expos.
For instance, at La Sierra University Joseph Rees and his Enactus teammates have committed to helping a village in India for ten years by doing things like providing microloans to purchase milk cows.
“These women usually work 12 hours in the fields and instead now they’re able to become entrepreneurs themselves. They milk a cow twice a day, they’re able to spend more time with their family and at the same there’s an astronomical increase in their income,” said Rees, a junior accounting major that wants to work in the consumer goods industry.
Rees and his teammates also run a mobile grocery store in Riverside, California.
Watch Rees and his teammates compete in the 2015 National Expo:
If the business executives judging the expo decide La Sierra’s projects have had a substantial impact they could win scholarships and awards. The national champion is awarded $10,000, and Rees said he is a finalist for a scholarship that would pay $10,000 towards his senior year of college.
Perwich said the teams are judged based on their ability to make a sustainable economic, social and environmental impact. For example, one student team put people who couldn't find employment to work breaking down old mattresses to be recycled.
“It’s really a three-legged stool,” said Perwich. “There is nothing sustainable unless it’s sustainable economically as well. So that’s what the interesting thing about a triple bottom line is. There are trade-offs. It’s not profit maximization; it’s optimization within the constraints of optimizing social and environmental impact.”
Perwich said business executives like to participate in Enactus to be inspired and to meet possible recruits. Major corporations like Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola get involved.
The expo also includes a career fair, and Rees said Enactus has connected him to internships and helped him to decide what he wants to do for a living.
“I’ve met CEOs, I’ve met senior vice-presidents of companies, people I never thought I would talk to in college,” said Rees.
The winners of the United States National Expo will go on to compete at the Enactus World Expo in September with representatives of the 35 other countries that have Enactus college teams.
Enactus was founded in 1975 as SIFE, or Students in Free Enterprise. It changed its name to Enactus in 2012.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.