Jan. 9, 2020

Haskayne Co-op student helps break the cycle of poverty through business

Seven-month experience in Laos brings together community development and business education

Working for Agroasie in Laos, third-year Haskayne School of Business student Jacqueline Peeace was supporting a business that advocates for fair wages to their workers.

Agroasie is an organic farm with two lines of tea: Ancient Traditions coming from the Northern region, and Modern Botanicals, grown on a farm near the capital of Vientiane.

As a social enterprise, Agroasie is looking to make positive social change in the community. Fair wages help rural farmers to stay in their communities without having to send family members off to cities for unstable work or work that might target the most vulnerable including women and children. And by owning the farms that supply the tea, they are able to keep the land locally held, helping to avoid the encroachment of foreign companies looking to produce cash crops.

  • Photo above: Peeace visited That Luang, one of the most famous temples in Laos. 
Haskayne student Jacqueline Peeace in an Agroasie organic field.

Haskayne student Jacqueline Peeace in an Agroasie organic field.

Courtesy Jacqueline Peeace

Peeace knew she always wanted to make a difference, but it was not until she was introduced to social enterprise that she realized business was a great way to make an impact. She saw that first-hand during her seven-month co-op work position in Laos.

“When I was in my first year of university, my dad said you have to take a business class. It won’t be wasted. You are going to learn really great stuff,” says Peeace, who started her studies in community development at Ambrose University. “My prof brought in a social entrepreneur one day to have a talk and it rattled my world. It was definitely that one social entrepreneur who came into talk that kinda changed my mind and made me want to do business.” That social entrepreneur was Suzanne West, who put her passion for environmental stewardship into business through the Imaginea Energy Corp.

Peeace transferred to UCalgary, completing her minor in community development and began her business studies at the Haskayne School of Business. “I had a lot of people in my network that knew that my heart is for community development but I am really passionate about business alongside that,” says Peeace. A mentor let her know about the opportunity with Agroasie. Peeace saw it as a way to build on her business education.

Peeace had traveled before but this was her first time living outside of Canada. Laos is a socialist state with only one legal political party, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. Tourism in Laos has been growing rapidly, but to approve the co-op work term, there were several checks and balances to ensure Peeace’s safety while she was there including weekly check-ins with Haskayne career development specialists.

“Jacqueline’s co-op experience is a great example of how Haskayne students are reimagining their place in business,” says Susan Basudde, academic development specialist, Haskayne School of Business. “Co-op students like Jacqueline are developing their capacity to lead; they are making bold choices that integrate their interests and are intentionally seeking out employers who they can partner with to truly make a difference for humanity. This is not only exciting, it is also inspiring!”

This was Peeace’s second and third co-op work term. Her first work term was with ATB in their marketing team, where she learned skills she employed with Agroasie. She was part of the team that was re-branding the teas and translating the packaging into Lao and English. Previously the packaging had only been in English, but the company wanted to tell their story to the Lao people as well. She also worked to expand the market in the country, pitching the tea line to local business leaders and hotel managers.

Peeace also did some work with Common Grounds, a café in Vientiane. Focused on delivering quality coffee, the shop reviews have risen rapidly on Trip Advisor and is now one of the top cafés listed in the capital city. This coffee shop also got involved in the community by hosting health and safety training and awareness events.

After this extraordinary opportunity to work and make a difference in another part of the world, Peeace is even more committed to her studies but her approach has changed. “I want to focus a lot more on my relationships with people rather than putting things on my resume,” says Peeace. “Because relationships is what got me to Laos in the first place.”

One of the opportunities she has already capitalized on is attending the Social EnterPrize, presented by the Trico Charitable Foundation and the new Trico Foundation Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the Haskayne School of Business where she connected with others interested in social entrepreneurship.

Her motivation changed as well. Her experience abroad brought clarity of purpose to her studies. “Yes, I really want to do well in my school,” says Peeace. “But I want to do well in my school for me. Not for a future employer, not for my grades but because I want to be a better business person. And I want to have a bigger impact.”