The San Antonio Battered Women’s and Children's Shelter recently received a donation from some students at UTSA--a bunch of paper clips.
But it was what the paper clips became before they were donated that is the fascinating part.
Matthew McCarter, a professor of management, says he challenged each student to 'trade up.' For example, the students had to exchange the paper clip for, say, an apple. From there, they got a DVD, and so on.
"And when that item got traded for something else, they would say, 'what is this GameBoy, for example, worth to you? What would you give me for this?"
He says the students had specific rules for this unique lesson in free market economics. First, each group of students had to complete at least six 'trade ups.' They could not do business with any member of their immediate family or with girlfriends or boyfriends. They could not tell anybody that what they were doing was donating to a charity, because that would affect the 'willing buyer, willing seller' concept of free market economics.
"Here they had to be able to use those skills of creating value to claim value," he said.
And the students used those skills pretty well.
The Shelter received, among other items, a chest of drawers, multiple sofas, outside patio furniture, two mini fridges, dining room tables, a twin bedroom set, several microwaves, a bicycle, a flat screen television, even a fully catered Mother's Day dinner for 150 women and children from the executive chef at Taco Cabana. More than $10,000 worth of items in all.
Not bad for a bunch of paper clips.