Ana Escalante

Executives Sans Fronti?res – Executives Without Borders

airplane and mapMany people are driven to go and work in other countries for some period, especially now that it is easier than before. Traveling and working is an excellent way of learning about the world, gaining first-hand knowledge, and exporting some of our own knowledge. At a personal level, working abroad helps you learn about yourself and your own culture while at the same time giving something back to humanity by offering some of the things you know and have experienced. There are many programs worldwide through which professionals can go to other countries and work to apply their skills. The first one that comes to my mind is the Peace Corps, but there are many other programs, including a new one that just started.

Have you heard of Doctors Without Borders? Well, the main idea is that doctors go around the world and help communities in need for a couple of years. The new “Executives Sans Fronti?res” (Executives Without Borders) is patterned after the same premise, but with a market approach. I find this idea really interesting, because individuals with business expertise can help manage market development in disadvantaged areas in the world by building sustainable commercial ventures. Strategy + Business’s Jonathan Ledgard wrote an interesting article on this new endeavor and how they could help one of the poorest regions in the world: the Sahel.Although some businesses have tinkered with sending salaried consultants to developing countries on pro bono projects, such projects tend to be temporary and focused at the higher levels of government. The ESF, however, would be far more adventurous, appealing to executives? altruistic instincts while giving them an opportunity to apply real business learning in exciting, uncharted settings. ESF would target mid-career managers with experience, drive, and a sense of joie de vivre. There could also be an opportunity for companies to get involved directly; for example, FedEx might donate 15 employees a year, who would each serve four years with ESF while remaining on FedEx’s payroll.

The Wall Street Journal blog says “EWB couldn?t fix every problem in the developing world, Mr. Ledgard writes in consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton’s magazine Strategy + Business. But it might help address some issues more efficiently than aid money, he says. For example, the Sahel, which spans nine African countries along the southern part of the Sahara, is in urgent need of business savvy. It suffers from civil war and drought, yet has abundant and untapped natural resources such as livestock, cotton, corn and sorghum.”

Also, Pablo from iPienso wrote about EWB last week, adding that “?there already exist organizations that are using this Medecins Sans Frontiers model: International Executive Service Corps, Financial Services Volunteer Corps, Geek Corps, Technoserve and Nabuur. Also see Jonathan Greenblatt on a Social Enterprise Corps.”

I think that the idea behind EWB is really great. Many times, people living in poor countries have good ideas and good resources, but they do not know how to commercialize their products, how to build a business plan, or how to run their businesses, and they could use some assistance from trained and skilled business professionals. At the same time, business professionals will have the opportunity to learn how things are done at a grassroots level, which is always helpful to understand the larger scheme of things and at the same time, live abroad, which as I said before always opens your vision. I look forward to seeing this new organization work and I would be really interested in seeing the results that come from it.