April 7, 2014Vol. 44, Issue 4

Training Up Leaders

Curt DeBerg Focuses on New Book, Student Leadership Group SAGE

It’s been a big spring for accounting professor Curt DeBerg. In the last few months, the 20-year university professor has received a groundbreaking endorsement of his student entrepreneurial group SAGE while earning significant media attention for his former association with the group SIFE.

DeBerg’s new book, How High Is Up? The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of a Sam M. Walton SIFE Fellow, details his previous relationship with Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), a nonprofit organization supported primarily by Walmart and other national retailers.

The book also describes his achievements with Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship (SAGE), a rival group he started at CSU, Chico that has enjoyed global reach in recent years. In February, Ndaba Mandela, CEO of Africa Rising and grandson to the late Nelson Mandela, became the SAGE ambassador for South Africa and announced he will focus on making SAGE a national program in that country.

From 1993 to 2005, DeBerg served as a SIFE fellow, or advisor, guiding university student teams in state and national competitions to determine which teams were most effective at teaching others about free enterprise. In 1999, the CSU, Chico SIFE team was named international champion and DeBerg was named the faculty advisor of the year. In 2002, he started SAGE, a similar program geared toward helping high school students start entrepreneurial ventures. In that program, CSU, Chico students serve as mentors to the U.S. SAGE chapters, helping nurture the budding entrepreneurs. 

DeBerg recently conducted interviews with Salon.com, and his book has received several favorable reviews, including one by Walmart authority Nelson Lichtenstein. The book also features a foreword written by former CSU, Chico president Manuel A. Esteban, who retired in 2003.

“The book is really three stories in one,” DeBerg said. “It’s an exposé detailing problems within the SIFE organization, a memoir explaining why I started SAGE, and an academic journey. The journey is a story of redemption, because through SAGE we are able to combine service learning with social entrepreneurship to literally change lives around the world.” 

How High Is Up? book coverSince its founding, SAGE has exploded in growth across the globe, and DeBerg travels during semester breaks around the world starting new high school chapters. SAGE currently serves about 1,100 schools in 21 countries, impacting about 11,000 students each year. The student teams spend the year creating for-profit businesses or social enterprises, where students seek a solution to a social issue or problem. In addition to the success of their business ventures, they are judged on how well they integrate environmental stewardship and civic engagement into their solutions. 

About 20 CSU, Chico business students will staff the SAGE California competition in Colusa Hall on April 19. Ten will travel to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, May 23–25 to staff the national competition, and several will accompany DeBerg to the SAGE World Cup in Moscow Aug. 8-13. Two CSU, Chico students, Sebastian Martinez and Danny Gross, recently traveled to the Philippines to teach high school students there how to start their own businesses.

Countries with SAGE chapters include Burkina Faso, Canada, China, Ghana, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Tanzania, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Vietnam, and Zambia. The highest concentration of SAGE chapters is in Nigeria, with 800 schools participating. These chapters have raised money for new school buildings, latrines, and water wells across the country.

How High Is Up? is available electronically at Amazon.com and in paperback at the Wildcat Store and Lyon Books. It was published by Memoir Books in Chico.

Sarah Langford, Public Affairs and Publications

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