Foster MBA explores Rwanda post graduation

Guest post by Foster alumnus Jim Bullock (MBA 2010)

So, what comes to mind when you think of Rwanda?  Maybe you think of the ethnic tension that culminated in the tragic events of 1994. Maybe you think of poachers in the jungle, hunting mountain gorillas for their heads and skins. Maybe you think of a rapidly developing economy and see opportunity. If you’re like me, you’re not really sure what to think. I guess I thought of all those things and a million more before my flight touched down in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali almost two weeks ago. Now I’m sitting in a sophisticated café, sipping a café au lait, and trying to put this tiny African nation into a category: an impossible task.

A snapshot of my current life – international work and travels

I finished graduate school at the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington a few months ago. Before that I worked as an engineer, mostly in California. While at Foster, I received an offer to work with an NGO called Rwanda Girls Initiative (RGI) in order to help them with their business operations. Soon after accepting a three-month position with RGI in Rwanda, I was selected for a fellowship that offered me funding for eight months of international travel. Naturally, I decided to do both. I plan to work with RGI for the next three months before embarking on eight months of independent travel. Now here I am, 12 days into the journey, with almost eleven-months lying in front of me.

It’s hard for me to succinctly explain what attracted me to the Rwanda Girls Initiative and Bonderman Fellowship. Promoting gender equality, meeting people from around the world, providing education in rural Africa, wanderlust, a guilty “western” conscious, curiosity…hey, take your pick or make up another reason. Suffice to say it seemed like a once in a lifetime experience for me to make a real impact in a very interesting way. There’s nothing I would rather be doing right now.

After a week I’ve got some stories about the business culture, regional politics, the Kigali Memorial Center, friendly locals, restaurants and cafes, and of course my neighbor’s rooster (who likes to wake me up at 4:30am). But sadly I’m about done with my coffee and it’s time for me to catch a moto-taxi home. I’ll write again someday soon. Until then, murabeho.

Jim Bullock (MBA 2010) is a UW Foster School of Business graduate, consultant for Rwanda Girls Initiative and recipient of an international travel University of Washington Bonderman Fellowship.

UW Foster students win silver at national accounting competition

A team of Foster accounting students won second place in the national KPMG-sponsored Association of Latino Professionals in Finance & Accounting (ALPFA) competition in Florida this August. The UW was one of only 28 schools invited to participate in KPMG’s prestigious national competition.

accounting_competition_2010The Foster team, Richard Clough, Nick Colmenero, Marilu Cruz, Vincente Silva and Veronica Talavera, received a case study about Alcoa Corporation in January 2010. For six months, the students worked on an in-depth analysis of Alcoa’s strategic risks, business processes and accounting issues. They made recommendations to Alcoa’s audit committee, and suggested ways the company could manage strategic risks. Case questions included complex probing on financial derivatives, hedging activities, risk assessment and management as well as corporate governance.  In August 2010, the team traveled to Florida and presented their case findings to a panel of KPMG judges at the ALPFA convention.  After winning second place, the UW team was honored at the convention’s leadership luncheon. 

The ALPFA convention provided the students an opportunity to network with accounting professionals and attend Microsoft Excel learning sessions. They also explored potential career paths at a national job fair.

Foster’s 2010 team had three mentors: UW faculty member Patricia Angell, KPMG manager Matt Quint and Foster graduate Jacob Brownfield.

Global health gets global business make-over by Foster MBAs

With more than $4 billion in activity among 190 nonprofit organizations, such as PATH and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle has become a magnet for people driving solutions to the health and wellbeing of the poorest people on Earth.

Since the University of Washington Foster School of Business also attracts individuals who seek to make a difference, it was only a matter of time before those crowds mingled.

Take winter quarter 2010, when the Foster School’s year-long Global Business Forum focused on global health and development. Among the 20 speakers brought into the MBA-level forum was Lisa Cohen, executive director of Washington Global Health Alliance, an organization established in 2007 to promote issues and improve collaboration between the dozens of Washington-based global health groups.

“There has been a tremendous increase in funding of global health activities,” Cohen said in a recent interview, “but the great struggle for a nonprofit in global heath is sustainability. When I told that to the class, they asked, ‘What can we do?’ I said, ‘I need a business model.’ ”

“The Foster Four” create road map for global health

In addition to a Gates Foundation grant, the Alliance is funded through membership dues of other well-known organizations such as Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and the University of Washington Department of Global Health.

Three full-time Alliance employees, including Cohen, operate like a start-up with early investors who want results – a start-up with a bold mission: “… engage in, and advocate for, Washington state as a center for global health on the world stage.”

When Foster MBA students Bala Balamurugan, David Cohen, Colin Hanna and Jason Moll (aka “The Foster Four”) heard Lisa Cohen’s talk about the Alliance, they were immediately intrigued with the possibility of putting their business education to work for the nonprofit.

“There is a lot of buzz about global health in Seattle and we saw an opportunity to get to know that whole sector through one very influential point of contact,” said Hanna (Evening MBA 2010).

“We want to make a bigger impact than just working for an organization that is trying to maximize profit,” said David Cohen (MBA 2010). “This was an opportunity to add life to an organization that is trying to make a much bigger difference in the world.”

Not only did The Foster Four (who were given the nickname by leaders in the Seattle global health realm) spend 15 hours a week for nearly 12 weeks consulting for the Alliance and meeting with the organization’s crew and community supporters, but they produced a final report that Lisa Cohen says will be a road-map for growing the nonprofit.

“I have been astounded by their personal dedication,” said Lisa Cohen. “I felt so confident that I had them present their report to my executive board, which is all the top leaders in global health in this region including the Gates Foundation.”

Making a difference (squared)

“It became clear to us right away that the Alliance is making a ton of impact but, with relatively minor changes from a business standpoint, they could do a lot more,” David Cohen said.

“It is a classic start-up environment,” said Balamurugan, who works at Microsoft while attending Foster’s Evening MBA Program. “How do you sustain it? How do you deliver value and keep going?”

The Alliance is not resting on the assumption that its grant from the Gates Foundation will be renewed. Lisa Cohen and her team plan to continue to push for success and prove their worth.

The Foster students’ eight-page report, titled “Roadmap to Sustainability” and signed “The Foster Four,” is a succinct and elegant analysis with recommendations covering everything from a new membership model and performance metrics to the Alliance’s nonprofit legal structure. For example, on the revenue generating side, the students propose increasing fees for the executive members. Some of those members have agreed that was the right move. They also propose adding a basic membership for other nonprofits with fees on a sliding scale, as well as opening doors for companies to sponsor events.

“There is a real push to achieve impact at scale,” Lisa Cohen said. “Rather than just a single project in a single village, the challenge is, What can we do for a country? What can we do for a continent?”

That incredible challenge – improving the lives of potentially hundreds of millions of people – held a deep attraction for The Foster Four.

“I think there is increasing interest among MBA students in this blurring of the lines between the business world and the nonprofit world,” added Hanna.

About the project, David Cohen concluded: “This has been the most rewarding and worthwhile experience of my MBA.”