Global Spotlight: Allison Weber, Transforming Communities through Business
There are abounding ways a person can give back. Most of us think of donating cans or clothes when we think of changing lives. Allison Weber is passionate about doing it through business and social enterprise, and her efforts have taken her across the world and back. For her first year at NAU-The W. A. Franke College of Business (FCB), Weber is teaching business communication, opening the eyes of her students to unique businesses in developing countries, and the way positive business growth affects members of communities across the world.
She says her global experiences began during 2006, when she and her husband, David (also a professor at NAU-FCB), moved to India to work at an international K-12 boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas for a year.
“There is so much rich history there,” Weber recalls.
The school was founded in the mid 1800’s as a home and education platform for missionary children. Today, students from all over the world come to learn at the English-medium school. Weber worked in administration and support, and experienced day-to-day interaction with children from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Korea, Africa, the U.S., and more.
She says, “Because of the boarding school atmosphere, we were very involved with the students. We took them on hikes, chaperoned student trips, and organized parent weekends.”
But it was her interaction with teachers that gave Weber the most insight to bring back to the classroom in America.
“Everyone brings their own idea of what education should look like. It’s all about coming together, learning what each of us has to offer, and accepting that we all have something to bring to the table. The question becomes, how do we bring the best out of everyone, and offer a fantastic education to these kids? I think it’s a rich experience for the students, too. They get to experience teachers from all over the world.”
While living in India, Weber and her husband took a trip to Thailand, and fell in love with the country and its people. While exploring the beautiful beaches and mountains, Weber was exposed to some of the struggles that Thailand faces.
“Our eyes were opened to poverty and the lack of education, and how those things feed in to causing women and children to be sexually exploited there,” she says.
It was then that Weber began her work with Night Light International, a jewelry company that provides alternative employment and care for victims of human trafficking. The women the organization serves are not only Thai, however; they come to Bangkok from all over the world. Night Light provides women with an alternative to the sex industry in Thailand, and even assists in procuring and completing the paperwork necessary to return to their home countries.
In 2008, Weber and her husband moved to Phoenix, where they stayed for four years while Weber worked at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University teaching success courses, providing academic advising, and creating programming for students in the W. P. Carey Leaders Academy.”
It was in 2011 that the founder of Night Light International contacted Weber again.
“It had been her vision for quite a while to open a coffee shop right in the heart of one of the red light districts in Bangkok,” Weber recalls.
The idea behind the shop was to provide job opportunities and be a positive business in an otherwise bad part of town. It was in 2012 that Weber moved back to Thailand to begin the project.
“It was very difficult at first. We had to solicit some grants. We needed $150,000, so we spent our first and second months writing grants to different organizations to raise that money, and after about four months, we had enough to actually begin the project.”
They encountered obstacles one might not think of when opening a coffee shop. The building was given to Night Light as a gift, so rent was already paid, but things like researching coffee machines, developing a relationship with a coffee farmer, and planning the lay out for a small building all had to be done before the doors could open to the public. All those “little things” took another year to address. Then training began.
“Training women to make coffee in a different language was really difficult. There are some things, like the amount of foam in a latte, for instance, that are hard to explain,” Weber says.
Weber experienced the shop being open for a few months in 2014, and then returned to the states. The shop is still there, and Weber stays updated through a Facebook page as well as friends still working in the area.
“It makes us so proud to see how much it’s grown. They are expanding their menu to foods, hosting live music, and even karaoke,” she says.
As for what all of these wonderful global experiences bring to Weber in the classroom, she says, “I’m very passionate about social enterprise, and teaching students that their business education and the knowledge that they are learning in their classes is such a force for good in the world. Students with a business education are so needed in development work, so I try to expose them to the unique businesses in developing countries and how social enterprise can empower those communities.”
Weber also developed a study abroad program that will start next summer. The program will take 12-16 students to Thailand through the FCB.
“It will be focused on social enterprise and letting students understand how business transforms lives,” Weber says.
The classroom the students will use for the program is 2 floors above the coffee shop where Weber spent so much time working toward a shared vision of positivity with her passion for uplifting communities.
The couple has made a few short-stay trips back to Thailand to volunteer since.
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