An international nonprofit based in Nashville will end the year with an additional $19,655 worth of merchandise, thanks to a group of Wingate University business students who spent much of last semester collecting nearly 3,000 pairs of shoes.

“I collected about 80 pairs of shoes,” said Tsanani Shaw, who lives in Winston-Salem and was one of several students who helped deliver the shoes to the Soles4Souls warehouse in Alabama. “I achieved my goal by asking everyone I knew and some people I did not know. It was not easy at all.”

Nonetheless, Shaw would recommend the class – Business 105: Business, Society and Sustainability – to every Wingate student, because of how much she learned.

Dr. Sergio Castello, assistant dean and associate professor of financial economics for the Porter Byrum School of Business, created the freshman-level course with Wingate’s motto of “faith, knowledge, service” in mind.

“This course considers the role of business in society from a Judeo-Christian, capitalistic and free-market perspective, educating women and men in service to others,” Castello said.

While helping students explore purpose and meaning in their personal and professional worlds, he used the class to present a philosophical framework incorporating virtues such as fairness and equity. To increase their knowledge, he introduced study topics related to management, leadership, marketing, personal finance, accounting, economics, sustainability and the environment. Finally, for the service component, Castello challenged each of his 31 students to collect at least 60 pairs of shoes.

His hope was to encourage them to promote the common good in service to others, not just during the semester but as a lifelong disposition.

Shaw got the message.

“The main thing I learned in this class is that whatever I choose to do in life, I can help people while doing it,” she said. “I learned to not focus on the money, but focus on what I am doing to the environment and to the people in my community.”

Halting cycle of poverty

Soles4Souls proved to be a good fit for the class project. More than a shoe-distribution charity, the organization’s goal is to create sustainable jobs and disrupt the cycle of poverty while being mindful of the environment. The 501(c)(3) sorts donated shoes, sending new and gently used inventory to “micro-entrepreneurs” in some of the most impoverished parts of the world.

Receiving their first shipment of shoes on credit, most of the recipients can establish a sustainable business, since shoes are in high demand in developing nations. The result is that people without shoes can buy them cheaply, and people without jobs can then support their families.

Donated shoes that are in poor condition are kept out of the landfill and are recycled. Soles4Souls uses the money raised to sustain its programs and to distribute new footwear to people all over the world.

Castello, who has published several papers on microfinance and small economies in various parts of the world, said his class had to create a business plan on how to collect the shoes.

“They reached out to family, friends and neighbors,” he said. “They contacted their churches. Some asked for shoes at their workplace; others collected shoes at yard sales. Some asked their fraternities, sororities, faculty, coaches and teammates. They used fliers and social media.”

Eye-opening trip

A group of four college students stands in front of boxes in a warehouse.

Wingate students are surrounded by boxes of shoes at the Soles4Souls warehouse in Alabama. They delivered 2,946 pairs of shoes to the nonprofit.

Donations, which came in from two countries (the U.S. and Great Britain), six states (North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Maryland and New York), 39 cities, five businesses, four churches and more than 500 donors, were boxed and stored in a trailer at the University lake parking lot.

At semester’s end, they were loaded into a U-Haul. Shaw and classmates Erica Barnes, Ismael Alvarez and Karla Botello accompanied Castello and his wife, Lora, to Wadley, Alabama.

“The trip to Alabama was very eye-opening,” Shaw said. “There were so many shoes and clothing items in the warehouse for Soles4Souls, and knowing that each one was going to help someone in need was amazing. It was a great experience.”

Castello, who received a two-year grant from the Network of Vocational Undergraduate Education to create the course, hopes to give that experience to three more classes by offering Business 105 in the spring and fall of 2018 and again in the spring of 2019.

“We will do the same project,” Castello said. “The goal is to collect at least 8,000 pairs of shoes by the end of the four classes.”