Story in the School of Business
Sam Baker '08
Finance major, Music minor
Inspired by the social justice philosophy, alumnus Sam Baker co-founded a business that provides low-cost computers to communities in El Salvador.
For Oregonian Sam Baker, Santa Clara University was an easy choice: it has a close-knit community, a warm environment, and is only one state away from home. Although proximity to home influenced his choice to attend SCU, it sure didn’t factor into his business plan, which brought him to El Salvador.
“Something that you hear talked about a lot is the applicability of your studies to social problems or issues,” explains the finance major and music minor. “I studied finance but, on the side, I had a great time exploring all these other things that the campus had to offer.”
One of his explorations was a week-long business immersion trip in El Salvador. In addition to studying the area’s economics, Baker and his cohorts “got to know local leaders, heard people’s life stories, and talked to non-profit and for-profit organizations,” says Baker.
After graduating, Baker went back to El Salvador through a fellowship with Kiva, a micro-lending non-profit. He wrote stories for a local bank about entrepreneurs who had received loans from Kiva. These inspired lenders to make $20 to $50 investments for local entrepreneurs. Baker did this for two years. “Getting in touch with a reality that’s totally foreign to you and getting pulled out of it after a week is difficult to follow-up on without direct contact,” says Baker, explaining why he extended his stay.
Baker recalled one university student in particular who had to travel 8 hours round-trip to use a computer at a cyber café for homework. The lack of computers for students was a growing need the alumnus wanted to address. He quickly clicked with a few local rotary club members who, in El Salvador, “tend to be business people who work on social projects.” One thing led to another and, with the help of these club members and Brian Belcher '09, another SCU alum, Baker co-founded Computodos.
“The mission is to provide high-quality, low-cost computers to low-income Salvadorans. We pay taxes, we do everything like a business, but we have a social mission,” explains Baker. “We’re a Microsoft-registered refurbisher, for example, so we sell Dell Desktops with Microsoft XP and Windows 2007 already installed.” Through this agreement with Microsoft, Baker can sell these machines at low prices.
"That's how we got started and it’s just grown like crazy since then,” says Baker.
He does not plan to stay with Computodos long, however. “Eventually, we want the project to be run by Salvadorans,” says Baker. “It’s local people—these are all Salvadorans—committed to the project.” As of January 2011, the management and owner of Computodos are 100 percent local.
Baker continues to combine the finance expertise he gained at SCU with a bent towards social justice. Looking back, Baker found merging different interests was one thing that was always emphasized at Santa Clara. "I had an expectation that my degree could afford me other types of experiences,” recalls Baker, “that business can really be orientated on a level of higher social issues.”
Click here to learn more about Computodos.