Rotaract Club, students help improve Eleuthera economy

Eleven students, nine from Sonoma State and two from Santa Rosa Junior College, flew to Eleuthera in the Bahamas for spring break to use their knowledge of business and the world economy to strategize new opportunities for the island’s economy to grow.

The students worked very closely with the One Eleuthera Foundation, a non-profit organization that invests and works on projects that will further the economic and environmental development of Eleuthera.

Along with the Rotaract Club, the two groups and students came together to discuss strategies against issues such as poverty, healthcare and unemployment. The students who traveled to the remote island specifically focused on the large number of unemployed islanders.

Preparation for this trip began in September when students began to research and study the history and economy of the island. Students had to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the current economic state in Eleuthera.

Once they understood the nature of the island’s economy, they could brainstorm new business strategies to promote economic growth. The students also invited guest speakers from Eleuthera to Sonoma State in the fall semester to get a better idea of the culture they were going to experience in a few months.

Patrick Maloney, a political science major at Sonoma State, was able to learn about the Eleutheran culture and economy during his stay on the island.

“One of my favorite things about Eleuthera is how friendly people are,” said Maloney. “Everyone waves or says hello to each other as they walk down the street. It’s something I wish we did more of here.”

When the students arrived on the island, they were assigned to different projects based on their strengths and interests. Maloney spent most of his time creating a business model and feasibility assessment for a community supported agriculture program for a local farm.

“I really enjoyed working with a woman named Sherry, who had started her own farm in order to provide healthy food to cancer patients on the island,” said Maloney.

He also gave a presentation on the coffee industry and the potential to create a coffee roastery on the island that could create jobs and boost the entrepreneurial spirit on there. That spirit, Maloney said,  is essential to the survival of the island.

“Entrepreneurship means very different things for different types of people,” said Maloney. “For the people in Eleuthera where there is a very high unemployment [rate], new business can literally be a lifesaver. In the U.S., entrepreneurship is less about necessity and more about innovation.”

Social Entrepreneurship professor at Sonoma State University Robert Girling accompanied the students over the break.

“This was an eye-opening opportunity for these students,” said Girling. “They stayed in a local village, met and worked with the common people and experienced a new culture.”

Other students, including Paula Bish and Merissa Rolley, worked with children at the local elementary school and staged a performance at the end of their trip. Another group visited local recycling facilities and worked together to create a business plan to improve the efficiency of recycling on the island, and others helped to empower local women by creating employment through sewing.

The island of Eleuthera, which sits in the Bahamas at 110 miles long and about a mile wide, thrived from 1960 to 1980 back when Pan American Airlines was offering direct flights to the island every day. This made the island a very popular tourist spot.

According to an article in the Tribune 242, a daily newspaper in the Bahamas, writer Larry Smith explained the transition between the island’s successes as a tourist spot in the 1960s to the current state of the island today. 

The struggles that the economy of Eleuthera has faced in recent years can be attributed to the different entrepreneurial attempts to create a resort-covered island.

“Like many other islands in the Bahamas, Eleuthera is littered with failed or stalled resorts dating back to the 1960s that never seem to gain traction,” said Smith in the article.

Smith continued to describe the inevitable fight between a proposed development on the southern tip of the island and the efforts of the One Eleuthera Foundation and the Bahamas National Trust to conserve this untouched part of the island.

While the development of land for hotels and resorts would stimulate the economy by promoting tourism and creating jobs, the success of these plans is yet to be seen on the island. For now, unemployment continues to be the biggest problem for the island’s population.