Student International Business Council: The great unknown of campus groups

Author: Ed Cohen

Name the largest student group at Notre Dame without saxophones.

The largest with them, naturally, is the Notre Dame Band, which had 360 members last fall, including 52 saxophone players.

Second in size, with about 300 students, is an organization that’s much less visible and more than a hundred years younger.

The Student International Business Council, founded in 1988 (versus 1846 for the band) bills itself as the largest academic student organization on campus. It’s also undoubtedly the wealthiest, with an endowment valued at $3.3 million, according to the organization’s adviser, Susan M. Soisson, an assistant program manager in the Division of Student Activities.

The business council began as the Notre Dame Council on International Business Development. It was based on an idea of Father Hesburgh’s and was established with an endowment gift from attorney and investor Frank Potenziani ‘67. The name was changed in 2000. More recently a similar organization for Notre Dame alumni has been established. It’s called the International Business Council.

As its name suggests, the Student International Business Council promotes student involvement in and knowledge of international business. One if its main activities is arranging internships with companies in foreign countries. Members also undertake about 30 group projects each semester involving case studies of companies, market analyses and the like.

But this is more than a club for future business executives. About a third of the group’s membership is non-business majors. Soisson says many members who are Arts and Letters majors were attracted to the organization by its projects involving economic development in poor areas of the world. In recent years the group has been active in Haiti, supporting the production of bed nets to protect people from disease-carrying insects, and production of iodized salt, which guards against problems with stunted body growth and diminished brain development.

Among the organization’s latest initiatives is an effort to establish a kind of mini-business school for women living in the Kibera slum near a Holy Cross mission outside Nairobi, Kenya. The Jim Karaffa Business Academy for Women aims to teach women how to make a subsistence living for themselves and support their families through farming, craft-making and similar activities, says senior Dan Degen, the council’s director of global development.

“The idea is basically taking whatever they have a joy for or love for and putting that into a business setting,” says Degen, adding that the lessons also will focus on Catholic values.

The academy is named in memory of a Holy Cross priest and double Domer who ministered to people living in the slum. He was trampled to death by a giraffe while hiking in a Kenyan game park in 2002.

U.S. government advisories against travel to Kenya have prevented students from journeying to the area the past three years. But Degan says he and fellow senior Patrick Magee, one of the Kibera project’s leaders, plan to organize a trip with the alumni council after they graduate in May.