This semester, a group of Berkeley students is putting its marketing muscle to work helping a humanitarian organization turn mines into vines. As students in the Haas School’s Social Sector Solutions (S3) course, the team this month presented a strategic communications plan to Roots of Peace, an organization founded and led by Cal alumna Heidi Kuhn, BA 88 (Pol. Econ. of Indust. Soc.), which is building sustainable crops on war-torn land once too dangerous to traverse.
The students’ help comes just in the nick of time.
On March 28, the organization’s headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, was hit by Taliban suicide bombers. Although no one from the organization was hurt, the various attackers died. With the increased media coverage, the organization has had an immediate opportunity to use the student team’s recommendations to present an updated vision of itself to the world—and use the incident as another opportunity to promote peace among local people.
“Throughout the years, we have remained 'true to our roots' with a strong commitment to peace, yet we did not know how to quite articulate this powerful message to the world,” says Kuhn, who founded the organization in 1997. “The Berkeley students took a comprehensive look at our demine-replant-rebuild model and came up with the grounded business phrase, ‘Economic Empowerment for Peace.’ They hit it!"
“These five outstanding students have been able to properly articulate our worldwide message,” she adds. “In the coming months and years, we will all be able to see the 'fruits of their labor' as we raise both funds and awareness for the 'Economic Empowerment of Peace.’”
What began as an effort to unearth dangerous landmines in countries affected by war has grown into an organization that empowers farmers and families in Afghanistan, Croatia, the West Bank, and Vietnam to grow and export high-value crops.
“Roots of Peace also indirectly and directly tackles the drug trade, gender inequality, violence, hunger, and poverty, all through one powerful mechanism—economic recovery,” says Daniel Rachman, MBA 14, an evening and weekend Berkeley MBA student and member of the S3 team.
Moreover, the organization takes a business-oriented approach to local empowerment, with the farmers paying for a portion of the demining, agricultural resources, and training required to develop their land. “It’s more high-impact than a direct charity,” Rachman says. Charged with helping Roots of Peace expand its global visibility, the Berkeley students have conducted surveys and interviews with country directors to develop recommendations for rebranding. “We’ll be providing them with a roadmap for using social media” at the end of the semester, says Jessica Clayton, who is earning her master of development practice (MDP) at UC Berkeley and leading the S3 team. The team has also assessed the funding market to help the organization expand its funding base.
“I love hashing out problems with the team because it seems like there’s nothing we can’t solve. We’re a diverse group of five and enjoy bouncing ideas off of each other,” says Rachman. The team includes Jacie Jones, MDP 15; Sergio Ruíz, BS 15; Ravi Agarwal, MPP (Master of Public Policy) 15 .
The students’ work has also included participating in the U.N.-created International Landmine Awareness Day by participating in a tree-planting ceremony in Marin County, which also included Kuhn and her three children (pictured).