Vanderbilt Student-Athletes’ Impact Immersion in Antigua, Guatemala

Demi Washington (BS, Psychology & Minor, Communication Studies ’23)

This past May, I was fortunate to be one of many Vanderbilt student-athletes that had the opportunity to experience the Impact Business Immersion trip to Antigua, Guatemala. This trip was a unique collaboration between Vanderbilt Athletics, the Owen Graduate School of Management, and Soles4Souls, a nonprofit social enterprise focused on the power of shoes. By preventing unwanted clothes and shoes from going to landfills, Soles4Soles distributes new shoes and clothing to people in need, fights poverty by supporting small businesses, and places protecting the environment at the center of their mission.

In Antigua, I experienced meaningful, international social impact and an immersive business experience. During the trip that spanned seven days, I engaged with the Guatemalan community through distributing shoes with Soles4Souls for two different communities impacting over 500 children and families. It was so special to visibly see the impact we were making on these families’ lives, as we were able to interact with the children and families on a personal level. The shoe distribution was reassurance that I am beyond blessed and I have so much to be appreciative and thankful for.

Over the course of the week, our group met local entrepreneurs working to create and run sustainable, social enterprises in the Guatemalan community. One of the social enterprises we visited is EcoFiltro, a business committed to providing clean water sustainably to one million rural families in Central America and Mexico by 2025. We also visited De La Gente, another social enterprise whose mission focuses on cultivating an equitable, inclusive coffee industry that creates meaningful economic opportunity for coffee-producing communities, particularly small-scale farmers.

We attended tours of the businesses followed by graduate-level lectures designed for us to understand the foundational business structures at play. These lectures were taught by Mario Avila, a professor at the Owen Graduate School of Management and Director of the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures.

Lastly, we were able to explore all the beauty that is Guatemala at Lake Atitlán, touring three different local towns around the lake that were full of history. I experienced a handful of new experiences on this trip, but those that were most important to me included gaining a new perspective about the world of business including social enterprise, and developing a better understanding of social impact through the world of volunteering, global impact, and aid.

As a Vanderbilt student-athlete playing a team sport year-round, it is hard to find time to connect with other student-athletes, but this trip allowed me to spend time getting to know students outside of Vanderbilt’s basketball team that I wouldn’t otherwise. It was really special to me to take a step away from Vanderbilt grounds alongside various individuals associated with the university and integrate our knowledge and experiences as we explored Guatemala together.