How MAP Transformed My Idea of Positive Business
By Joe Price, MBA ‘16
MAP has truly transformed my idea of what it means to make a positive difference in business. Now, I know that can sound cheesy because that mission is plastered all over Ross, but hear me out.
I just spent 4 days with my MAP team in Villa Alta Gracia, a municipality about 45 minutes outside of Santo Domingo. While there, we were totally immersed in Dominican culture and invited into the lives of the people for whom we are working this semester. Our sponsor, Alta Gracia (AG) is not only a clothing company -- it’s a groundbreaking case in positive business.
AG is the lone operating entity in the Villa Alta Gracia Free Trade Zone (FTZ). They employ around 200 unionized factory workers, who receive a living wage that is effectively 350% higher than the minimum wage in the Dominican Republic.
Alta Gracia is the only apparel company in the developing world that is independently certified to pay this kind of wage.
Over the course of the weekend, we would learn how receiving a living wage enables AG workers to support their families, provide education for themselves and their children, launch their own businesses, and infuse capital into their communities. Additionally, AG has given its workers hope for the future, a key psychological necessity in the fight to end poverty.
Our MAP project is focused on a re-brand recommendation for AG, and interacting with the workers and the people benefiting from AG’s positive business model was an integral part of our research.
On the first day of our trip, when we arrived at the AG factory, we were so thankful that many of the workers stayed late in order to give us a warm introduction to AG. We learned of the rise and fall from prosperity of the FTZ and were startled at how closely it paralleled the recent history of Detroit. The resilience of the AG community struck a familiar chord.
Then the workers met us in the community and taught us to dance Bachata. It is amazing how quickly language barriers break down when there’s dancing involved. Music is a universal language.
However, our host interpreters, Rachel and Hanoi, were definitely needed during our second day in AG, when we really started to break down personal barriers.
An all-female panel extolled to us the sense of empowerment and economic independence they’ve gained through their experiences at AG. Then a panel of students explained the striking difference between AG and other factories’ stances on education. Namely, AG encourages and allows workers to pursue their educational goals while working, a rarity in the industry.
Over the next two days we connected with a worker who started his own 24-hour restaurant, Pica Polla; we ate dinner with Lea (pictured above), who owns many out-of-the-home businesses and is an AG catering favorite; we had in-home visits with workers, including Ramonita, a worker who has finally been able to upgrade from a shanty home to a proper house in order to fully support her multigenerational household; and finally, we took a group hike through the hills of Villa Alta Gracia to a worker’s farm for a farewell dinner we won’t soon forget.
In just four days, my team and I came to understand the true impact of AG’s living wage business model. It’s a refreshing and inspiring difference. And the impact they have in the community and on its members is astounding. That is positive business.
Joe Price is a first-year Ross MBA student. His MAP project is sponsored by Knight's Apparel.