Business Education: Far From the Boardroom

Monday, January 12, 2009

When John Eder, an MBA student at Kenan-Flagler Business School in the US, was on a summer internship in Ethiopia giving business training to women with HIV/Aids, he discovered something surprising.

?Some of the women have been selling stuff in the local market for a long time,? he says. ?And they?d sit there and talk about principles I learned from my classes. Things my professors had been telling me, they would be telling me ? and they never went to any college or had any business training.?

Mr Eder, who was working with the Society of International Missionaries in Addis Ababa, plans to start a business. However, rather than gaining experience through a summer internship at an investment bank or management consultancy, Mr Eder decided to work in a developing country with a non-profit organisation supporting entrepreneurs.

Accenture’s programmeHe is not alone. As the appetite among MBA students for courses that address social and environmental problems grows, many are using their summer internship to gain experience in these areas by working with non-profits, non-governmental organisations, or social entrepreneurs.

?There?s a huge appetite for this,? says Gib Bulloch, director of Accenture Development Partnerships, an arm of Accenture that provides services to non-profit groups in developing countries. ?You have the international experience that people crave and the emerging markets experience that?s increasingly important to the whole sustainability agenda.?

While assignments at ADP are mainly taken up by Accenture employees who wish to spend time working in an emerging market, the company has in recent years also offered the assignments as internships for undergraduates and MBA students. Students have worked with organisations such as Unicef in New Delhi, the Global Food Banking Network in South Africa and Women?s World Banking in New York.

For some individuals, the choice of this type of internship may be a prelude to a career in the non-profit sector. However, for others, such as Mr Eder, such experience is seen as highly relevant to a career in the business world.

?These are MBAs who have offers from McKinsey, Bain and Deloitte,? says Elmira Bayrasli, head of partnership policy and outreach at Endeavor, a US-based non-profit that identifies and supports entrepreneurs in countries such as Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, India, Egypt and Jordan.

?But they?d like to have an experience working with a real entrepreneur in an emerging market.?

Through what it calls its eMBA programme, Endeavor selects students from top business schools in the US to spend 10 weeks working with some of the entrepreneurs on its programme. Recruits come from Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and Columbia business schools. Endeavor is expanding the programme to other schools such as Thunderbird, Chicago and MIT Sloan.

?A lot of the students are going for the first time to these developing economies,? says Ms Bayrasli. ?And they?re not just learning about the economy ? they?re learning about the culture and the people. Those are things that don?t come into a business school classroom.?

While students working with non-profits or entrepreneurs are gaining knowledge of new markets and ways of doing business, the learning process is two-way. Such organisations recognise that MBA interns provide valuable services to non-profits and social entrepreneurs.

Continue reading “Business Education: Far From the Boardroom

Source: Financial Times (link opens in a new window)