JWU marketing professor helps villagers turn lessons into livelihoodsTypically, Erin Wilkinson, D.B.A. observes student presentations from the back of a classroom or while seated at a desk. In August, she added a new perspective: the Indian Ocean.Wilkinson recalls standing as inconspicuously as possible in two feet of cerulean water along the shore of Zanzibar while she evaluated the sales skills of a student who was marketing hand-crafted jewelry to tourists, from a make-shift stall on the beach. This was just one of her many experiences during three weeks as a volunteer small business and marketing specialist with the Coastal Resource Center (CRC) at the University of Rhode Island (URI) Graduate School of Oceanography.CRC mobilizes governments, business and communities around the world to work together as stewards of coastal ecosystems locally and globally. The organization invited Wilkinson, a professor in the College of Business at the Providence Campus, to train women’s groups in Bweleo and Fumba villages on Zanzibar, a small island adjacent to Tanzania, so that they could establish viable shell craft jewelry businesses. Not unlike the undergraduate and graduate classes she has taught, Wilkinson covered the essential elements — from establishing price points and quality control to creating a marketing and advertising campaign.The project was partially funded by the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Sustainable Coastal Communities and Ecosystems (SUCCESS) Program.Tanzania is not a country that comes to mind during most discussions of global competition. It does however, when Wilkinson, who has an unabashed passion for teaching and marketing, describes her experience. She weaves together the trends of sustainability, women’s role in the workplace, and entrepreneurship with a focus on Africa’s role as an emerging leader in the global marketplace.When she first walked into the “classroom” — cement floors, no windows, a cement roof, and no blackboard — her students greeted her by collectively shouting, “We need marketing.” She chuckles when she notes that if they did not fully understand what they were saying, they did when they finished training with their “Bush Professor,” the nickname they gave their teacher.Throughout Tanzania, fishing has been a livelihood for centuries, and a man’s job. With over-fishing and dwindling resources, the government is seeking new commerce. SUCCESS recognized the opportunity that lies in farming mabe (half-pearl). Community training focuses on women, mabe farming and making jewelry from the final product. Still in its early stages, this project is already showing potential to generate income for the Tanzanians.Wilkinson says her students put the lessons of the day to use, as when taught the concept of packaging. “These women had their jewelry wrapped in pink and white paper. It was pretty to them, but nothing special. I showed them mesh bags that could be used.” The next day, they came back with bags homemade from their own materials.Perhaps her impact was most exemplified by student retention. Several stopped coming to classes as the result of her management lessons. “I’d ask, ‘Which one of you is best at cutting? Managing? Polishing?’” she remembers. “Then one day I noticed a few students missing. I was told they were home working. One of the women in my class got the concept and hired them for their expertise.”Wilkinson describes the entire experience as life changing. “I made an absolute difference to their lives…I could see it day to day, hour to hour. I’ve never seen it that fast.”It is this entrepreneurial spunk that is Wilkinson’s fondest souvenir.