Devin Thomas, ‘12

Major: Computer Science

Project: Strengthening Spaza Shops
Spaza shops provide essential services to local residents but struggle to succeed due to inadequate business skills and a weak supply chain. The goal of our project was to strengthen spaza shops by implementing the Triple Trust Organization’s (TTO) Shop-Net program in Monwabisi Park and forming a spaza association. We organized a business training session, enrolled eleven people in Shop-Net, and facilitated the formation of a spaza business network.

Why I chose this project:
I chose this project for several reasons. I really liked the fact that the project involved working with businesses. I have always had entrepreneurial aspirations. It looked like an opportunity for me to see how a small business can be built from the ground up and how they can be successful despite various obstacles. In evaluating this project and the time frame we had to complete the IQP, I felt like I could leave something tangible as a result instead of a written plan or ideas for another team or organization to implement at another time.

What I accomplished:
Through our extensive work, we were able to develop a map of ninety shops in Monwabisi Park and were able to gain an understanding of the spaza market and the issues they are facing. We were able to create conversation among spaza shop owners and introduce them to the benefits of the TTO’s programs. As a result, eleven shop owners officially signed up for Shop-Net, and thirteen people signed up for a business training session. Lastly, the groundwork was laid for a Monwabisi Park Spaza Association, which will be working with the Imvuseleo Business Network, an association of spaza shop owners in Harare.

Recognizing the impact of spaza shops from an outside perspective, I am certain that investing in them will eventually improve the livelihood of the entire informal settlement.

How I have benefitted from my IQP as a person and a student:
The IQP honed an unbelievable number of skills that are overlooked but valued deeply in the workplace. In terms of communication skills, I had to have an understanding of how to address my project goals to organization sponsors, WPI advisors, and shop owners whose first language was not English. It solidified skills in researching, project planning, and organization. Finally, being immersed in a completely different culture for seven weeks has allowed me to learn cultural tendencies and values of a foreign area and to respect the people there and their culture.

The IQP seems to encompass all the workplace situations that a job recruiter likes to see a college student encounter before joining their company. The interviewer can see the passion I had for the project, the amount of work it took me to accomplish, and the impact it has had on me as a person. As a result of the project, my team was able to receive campus recognition in being selected as a finalist for WPI’s prestigious President’s IQP Award.

The IQP continues to positively impact my life. An interesting example of this benefit occurred during the reception after the President’s IQP Presentations. I was approached by one of the audience members about potential job opportunities at the company she was working for. She said she was impressed with my presentation skills and felt that I would be a great fit at the company she was working for. We exchanged contact information and in the following week, I received information about summer/full-time job opportunities. Clearly, I wouldn’t have been exposed to this opportunity without the experience of the IQP.