I4H Ethiopia, Work Over Worry

Gavyn Ooi and Puneet Ruparel
Gavyn Ooi and Puneet Ruparel

Gavyn Ooi is a Global MBA '17 candidate and Carey Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, concentrating in Healthcare Management and Enterprise Risk Management. He received his Sc.B. in Chemistry and his A.B. in Economics from Brown University. He can be contacted at gavyn.ooi@gmail.com. Puneet is a first year GMBA student and the President of Carey's Entertainment & Film Club. He has an advanced diploma degree in Film and Television Production from MET Institute of Mass Media and a degree in accounting and finance from Mumbai University. He also oversaw his family business of exporting engineering products and expanded it into a 5-million enterprise in 7 countries, which earned him the 'entrepreneur of the year' award.

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Presentation day. It was break time. As we watched the shuffle of people leave Room 204 for coffee, we sat relaxed, having just given our final presentation for Innovation for Humanity (I4H), a flagship component of the Carey Business School’s Global MBA program. Overall, a pretty standard procedure in business school: give a presentation on work you had done, and people ask questions. Standard.

Soon, out of the corner of our eyes, we saw someone approach us. We stood up, and he introduced himself as an executive at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the NGO our group had worked for. He congratulated our group on our presentation, and offered his business card and an amazing invitation: to present at CRS headquarters to multiple functional teams. Like the bells of high heaven, as if it couldn’t be any clearer, we then realized the following conditional certainly rang true:

If you see past I4H as simply school work, then people truly notice.

I4H is a unique opportunity that truly tests you—it tests if you and your team can really deliver value to the partnered firms and constituents. That value really has nothing to do with essays, class presentations, homework, or exams—all those things are just a function of being in a classroom setting, and a way to keep score. Real value is separate from all that. There may be a bit of fuzziness with regards to this distinction, but people can certainly tell if something you’ve said can really impact their organization.

Business students sometimes lament the fact that we’re not in the “real world”, and it’s certainly true. We aren’t quite there. Carey’s Dean, Bernie Ferarri, said this during orientation that stuck with us:

“Here, we’re practicing – we’re firing blanks. So when you’re out there… you make it count.”

I4H is practice (we won’t be fired from business school). It’s a safe space. But at the same time, it’s critical that students approach working with these organizations as if it were the “real world”—that’s where students truly learn and grow, even in the face of unforeseen challenges and cultural differences that are intrinsic to the I4H experience. (Fun Fact: in the Ethiopian calendar, it’s currently 2008.)

So let’s be concrete here: Our team was tasked with implementing a fortified foods pilot study for adolescent females in rural Ethiopian schools. To be sure that this market research was held to the highest ethical standard, we required buy-in from various stakeholders, including six local schools, the local government, the health bureau, and our CRS contact in Ethiopia. This buy-in was critical. It ensured that our task scope did not change, which required the submission of a formal proposal to the local health bureau that was rejected on New Year’s Eve. We’re proud of our group assembling that date to make the proposal improvements needed to ensure its approval—this event was the linchpin that ensured a successful study of the region, and a subsequent robust statistical analysis of the market.

This brings us full circle back in Baltimore, with CRS asking our group to present in front of their research and development teams. Our client saw the value we created as our methods can be replicated in other countries for similar programs. Herein is the true value of I4H—it tests you and your team to the fullest and throws you off the cliff. It’s a refreshing fall, and whether you land on your feet is up to you and your team.

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