Market Research Program Connects Michigan Students to African Businesses
The Digital Futures Fellowship Program was launched in January 2019 to connect university students in Michigan, United States to small to medium-sized businesses in Ghana, West Africa. Through the program, participating Ghanaian businesses gained leverage to compete in the global market through the market research performed by the University of Michigan-Dearborn College of Business market research students. “Working with Ghanaian businesses gave students two really great experiences. One, they could apply what they’ve been learning here, in terms of qualitative research and doing interviews, but they’re also working with an international company. That gives them the opportunity to work not only with a real client, but it’s a global experience. I was really happy to present the opportunity to my students and they were really enthusiastic about it,” says Dr. Crystal Scott, Assistant Dean and Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Michigan-Dearborn College of Business. The program’s pre-assessment revealed that the majority of the University of Michigan-Dearborn market research students have never engaged with anyone from Africa, or even engaged with authentic African-made products. Moreover, 66.7% of the students shared that the continent of Africa has never been discussed in other business courses. 73.3% of the students, however, answered ‘yes’ to pursuing international business in other countries after graduation. The lack of interaction and real-life engagement that the students have with African-based companies, Ghanaian-based companies, in particular, reinforced the significance of this program’s pilot. The program not only gave students real-life experiential knowledge in market research for international businesses, but it is also paving the way for Ghanaian businesses to break into the global marketplace. When asked about their experience working with a Ghanaian-based company, one of the students said, “The real-life aspect knowing that this is a real company in Ghana and that we were helping them and what we did our research on is going to go back to [the company] and they can take from that and learn from it, having that impact on a company is pretty cool.” The Digital Futures Fellowship Program pilot was formed through the partnership of three organizations: the University of Michigan-Dearborn College of Business, The Virtual Global Consultant (VGC) Group, LLC, and DHL Ghana. The collaboration was the brainchild of The Virtual Global Consultant (VGC) Group, a US-based company that develops and designs eCommerce systems that help generate revenue online for people, businesses, and organizations aiming to create business online. The VGC Group co-founders W.E. Da’Cruz and Naomi Jordan Cook provided both in-person and virtual mentoring and support to the students for the duration of the three-month program. Over 30 undergraduate students participated in the program to impact nine (9) selected Ghanaian-based companies, ranging from skincare brands to fashion and accessories. The students presented their findings and submitted their research reports to The VGC Group in a two-day reporting session at the university. The research findings included recommendations on how the companies can expand and increase their sales globally through price points, quality of the material, and location where to market each product. “While the companies are at different levels in business, many of them showed potential and the research shows that there is a demand for these products,” says Cook of The VGC Group, which specializes in helping businesses go global by creating business online. With the market research in hand, the program will continue to its next step with The VGC Group meeting the participating companies one-on-one in Ghana to discuss the findings and develop a partnership to integrate various recommendations in order to track success for these companies. “We see The VGC Group as the bridge between emerging markets — in this case Africa, and the rest of the world. Through this program, we aim to make a positive impact on employment and the labor force in both countries — the U.S. and Ghana. In the case of Ghana, as companies increase their sales, they are able to hire more. In effect, more money is able to circulate among African households,” notes Da’Cruz. Due to the success of the pilot, The VGC Group is aiming to expand the program to other universities across the United States this Fall. For more information about the program or to participate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.