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Students Help Break Cycle of Poverty in Sri Lanka

By Maxime Devillaz
Alumni Contributor

A newfound objective has brought marketing students to slightly modify its class framework for a good cause: to raise money for poor and orphaned kids in Sri Lanka. The idea derived from a story heard in Dr. Greg Sand’s capstone marketing seminar (MKT81).

Photo by Kim Toledo
Students in the marketing seminar with their professor Greg Sand.

In May, Sand brought two Post students, Jake Murphy and Thomas Schoen, to present at an international marketing conference in Colombo, the country’s capital. The group visited a Don Bosco high school during its stay to better understand the socio-economic situation of the country. The Sri Lankan government has asked the Salesians of Don Bosco, a Christian congregation, to house and teach agricultural and animal husbandry skills in such institutions. The students’ religions in Don Bosco schools reflect the general Sri Lankan breakdown: Buddhists 70.19 percent, Hindus 12.6 percent, Muslims 9.7 percent, and Christians 7.4 percent.

“The idea of the government is to train these kids—orphaned by oods, mudslides, and disease—in skills such as planting coconut and banana groves, and raising pigs,” Murphy said. “Once trained, these poor kids bring these skills back to their own villages. This is viewed as a way to break the cycle of poverty.”

While at that Don Bosco high school, Murphy and Schoen organized a basketball game with the kids, which, Murphy explained, gave birth to the idea that U.S. college students could make an impact on the lives of these kids through sports. With help of seasoned accountant, Frank Neary, CPA, a non-profit—the Don Bosco Charitable Foundation—was NYS-registered, and the MKT81 class re-designed to assist the cause.

Historically, the seminar relied on the case study method and a computer simulation, according to Sand. But this fall, students have indulged in a full-spectrum marketing campaign for the foundation. “The concept of practical social media marketing and a promotional event seemed like a more concrete bridge to the world of work,” Sand said.

Students are getting certified in Google Analytics and AdWords, communicate their message with MailChimp, and note their research on Excel spreadsheets. Additionally, the group holds weekly briefings to go over specifics it has accomplished, and what the students plan to get done in the upcoming week.

“This is an innovative method of preparing students for real-life marketing applications across different industries,” said Dante Montovano, Marketing Specialist at 7 Circle Media and former student at LIU, who helped develop the website for the foundation.

He credits Sand for being progressive in his approach to the coursework. “We have recently applied for a $10,000 grant from Google AdWords and plan to allow Dr. Greg Sand’s class manage [it],” Montovano said. “This will be a major opportunity for students to experience managing a budget this size for Google AdWords.”

The marketing seminar group organized fundraising events every Wednesday during common hour in October. For instance, participants were invited to the “3-for-$5 Kick-on-Goal Challenge,” where they could donate $5 and have the opportunity of scoring three goals and winning a Starbuck’s gift certificate.

The group also collected new or gently used soccer balls to be donated to poor and orphaned kids. These promotional efforts have so far brought in 52 soccer balls and over $1,000 in student donations to the cause.

Recent LIU marketing graduate, Bailey Taft, is the founder of the non-profit organization “Equipment for Kids — Kids Helping Kids.” Bailey showed the MKT81 class the basics of designing promotions for raising money and collecting sports equipment for needy kids.

Sand explains where the foundation would be able to most good. “Pigs are one of the most profitable animals to grow in Sri Lanka,” he said. “So, the donated money will go primarily to increasing the number of Don Bosco pigs from 500 to 1,000.”

In January, LIU graduates will volunteer to conduct soccer clinics at eight Sri Lankan Don Bosco high schools, and will bring all donated soccer balls to the kids. Sri Lanka has suffered a long civil war that ended in 2009, two tsunamis in the past 13 years, and a worst-ever dengue crisis that killed nearly 300 people and infected more than 100,000 this year alone, according to NPR.

Senior Johan Mauritzson, a former MKT81 student, cherishes the project, and hopes his scads of LIU friends will recognize the effort. “Sports is a way of bringing a smile to these kids’ faces,” Mauritzson said. “It’s a way for them to relax, have fun and be just that—kids.”

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