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BYU students use management skills to help Roman Catholic priest in Thailand

One might not expect an American Roman Catholic priest living in the slums of Bangkok and Brigham Young University students to have much in common. But Father Joe Maier, founder of the Human Development Foundation, and seven students enrolled in the Marriott School of Management field studies program found common ground as they worked together to better the lives of Thai children.

Improving lives was Father Joe Maier’s goal when he founded the Human Development Foundation. His mission of saving abandoned Thai children with AIDS began with one kindergarten built in the center of a slum where four drug houses and a prostitution shanty once stood. Three decades later, the foundation has expanded to 40 kindergartens and six orphanages spread across Bangkok.

With his foundation growing, Maier began looking for ways to make it more efficient. He was contacted by some missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who referred him to the Marriott School field studies program.

The group of MBA, MPA and a master’s student studying French that makes up the field studies program spent a week during winter semester touring the facilities of the foundation, interviewing the employees and looking for ways to streamline its business operations as well as find new funding.

“Our job is to help them find money or new opportunities to grow,” said Jessica Johnson, a first-year MBA student from Houston, who traveled with the group. “We looked for what was working well, what wasn’t, how they could improve what they do, and then how they could increase their donor base.”

The students’ research was not only beneficial to the foundation but also gave them an opportunity to stretch academically and professionally.

“The real world is always so different from case studies,” said Kristin Hawkes, a first-year MBA student from Taylorsville, Utah, who was a member of the team. “We had to deal with the unexpected while still getting the job done. Sometimes we struggled to make decisions as a group, but it was a great lesson in professionalism and leadership.”

Tamara Masters, a part-time Marriott School faculty member who traveled with the students, agrees. “The significance for the class is that they got to investigate a business and apply the skills they’ve been learning in school,” she said. “They tied together their knowledge of finance and marketing to help people who are in the business of improving lives.”

The class is now working to extract the data they gathered from the employee interviews and create a database where they will be able to more easily identify trends. Although the students will not return to Bangkok, they plan to make specific proposals and suggestions to Maier through conference calls. They will also send their files to Maier and the foundation.

“The mission of BYU and the Marriott School is to increase the knowledge and the well-being of our human family,” Masters said. “Father Joe’s business is one of improving lives and saving children from a terrible fate. This is a chance to breathe new life into the organization and perhaps take care of even more children down the road. Helping a business that’s in the business of helping people is a wonderful thing to be a part of.”

Writer: Camilla Hodge


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