Category Archives: Global Business

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.

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.”

MBA study tour: Kenya the magnificent

Guest post by Tarang Shah, Foster MBA student and 2010 study tour participant

kenya3Magnificent is an understatement. The Kenya study tour is, hands down, one of the top 3 MBA experiences I have had at the Foster School of Business. Not surprisingly, this statement echoes the sentiments of a lot of other folks who went with me on this study tour. There is something special about spending two weeks with your classmates, colleagues, and teachers, far away from your homeland, that brings people together to form inseparable bonds.

We visited a breadth of firms and organizations including financial, airline, consumer product, telecommunication, micro-finance, non-profit… and schools. Some us even got a chance to attend a class at the Strathmore Business School, which confirmed that “case discussions” are the way to go in business schools. It also confirmed that the frameworks we learn at the business school stay the same across the continents, but the implementation details vary to accommodate various cultural, economical, geographical, and environmental aspects.

hakimWe had the honor to visit an orphanage in the outskirts of Nairobi. The hope and smiles on the kids’ faces were truly inspirational.

We went on a 3-day safari and saw the Big 5 animals (lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos, and rhinos) in addition to ostriches, zebras, dik diks, hippos, giraffes, gazelles, warthogs and several other animals and birds.

On the last day, Mutua’s (one of our 3 rock-star study tour leaders) parents invited us for lunch at their home and we got to experience the warmth of a traditional Kenyan family. What a perfect way to end this surreal experience. I want to live it again!

 

kenyaThe Global Business Center at the University of Washington Foster School of Business offers students study tours and other international experiences each year. Study tours expose students and faculty to businesses, cultures and adventures to gain global perspectives and augment academic studies. 2010 was the first year the Global Business Center sent MBA students to East Africa, specifically Kenya. They were accompanied by Foster School Assistant Professor of Management Chris Bauman.

MBA study tour in the Middle East

Guest post by Thomas Potier, Foster MBA student and 2010 study tour participant

Middle_EastWe landed in Dubai after 16 hrs of flight in a top-notch triple 7 with the widest screen entertainment units that I had ever seen. Getting out, I remember feeling the same as I felt when I landed in 2001 in Beijing: disconnected from my reality. I felt quite lost until I heard the familiar voice of Florence (MBA student trip leader): “Girls, there’s a restroom here. I’ll wait for you if you wanna go.” We were in good hands.

Wonders of the time spent in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat flash before my eyes as I write this: So much to remember. The first of these wonders are the bonds I created with the Foster MBA and faculty group. I sometimes knew them—as classmates or teacher—and sometimes didn’t. The relationships I forged in the Middle East will always be somewhat stronger and tighter.

There is also this culture clash:

  • These female master’s students with a veil whom we were asked to talk to in a group with at least one female representative
  • Sam at Sport City in Dubai saying: “We build first and see what to do with it.”
  • Very formal presentations, especially when His Excellency showed up
  • The desert full of buildings and expensive cars….

Middle_East2Finally, there was the fun. The desert tour, snorkeling tour and Sheesha evenings.

Taking the plane back home, I pictured myself having an internship at Masdar City—building the least energy-consuming city, the first carbon-neutral city for one of the highest energy-producing countries.

Marrying antonymic themes is what the Middle East thrives at:

  • Cities with a lot of water inside the harshest deserts
  • Providing a lot of fun with great openness in a very austere society

I hope one day I will have the chance to go back and marvel again.

The Global Business Center at the University of Washington Foster School of Business offers students study tours and other international experiences each year. Study tours expose students and faculty to businesses, cultures and adventures to gain global perspectives and augment academic studies. 2010 was the first year the Global Business Center sent MBA students to the Middle East, specifically United Arab Emirates and Oman. They were accompanied by Foster School Assistant Professor of Finance Thomas Gilbert.

State of the economy with faculty Hadjimichalakis and Rice

The 2010 MBA State of the Economy forum at the University of Washington Foster School of Business with finance and economics faculty members Karma Hadjimichalakis and Ed Rice covered issues related to our national economy, European trends, state and local economic issues as a result of the recent budget crisis, health care reform and more. This event is an annual series for Foster alumni.

RSS Missed the event? Listen to the 50-minute MBA State of the Economy podcast.

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Undergrads consult with farmers over spring break

Over 2010 spring break, roughly 29 University of Washington undergraduate students, most from the Foster School, visited a mountain village in Panama to help the villagers improve their farming business.

The team spent most of their spring break on Machuca Farm in the Cocle province, roughly three hours from Panama City. The farm is a 25-minute hike from the end of the nearest roadway. The community has about 800 inhabitants, but the farm group that the students focused on has 14 members and supports roughly 35 people. The farm grows yucca, plantain, rice, beans, corn and other crops and also raises chickens, goats and fish in a pond. Read more.

Click image above to play video.

Foster team wins 2010 Global Business Case Competition

UW Foster School of Business undergraduates—Joyita Banerjee, Kaitlin Johnson, Derrick Nation and Jeremy Supinski—won the Global Business Case Competition for their analysis of Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner. The business case, written by Foster School Professor Suresh Kotha, focused on the Boeing 787 production problems and identifying future directions at Boeing.

gbcc-winners“The Foster team did a great job of identifying the issues of the past and creating solutions for the short term. The team then really focused on how to create stronger opportunities in markets using Boeing’s existing and new competitive advantages, recognizing that Boeing has increased its competitive advantages with the trials and tribulations of the 787,” said Rick McPherson, Foster School management lecturer and the UW team’s advisor.

This team was one of four teams that made the final round along with students from National University of Singapore, Copenhagen Business School, and a mixed global team consisting of a four students from universities around the world (US, Hong Kong, Spain and Singapore). Undergraduate finalists presented to a panel of corporate judges, including the finance director of the Boeing 787 project.

Judges commented that many of the student presentations—in addition to the winning UW Foster School team—were on par or better than those by leading consultants and experienced professionals. And the students pulled their analyses together in a mere 48 hours.

The Global Business Center has put on GBCC for the past twelve years and this is the 2nd time a UW team won.

PHOTO:  The 2010 Foster School winning team with Hans Aarhus of Boeing (third from left) and Foster Associate Dean Tom Lee (far right).