January of 2018 offered members of the Global MBA class the opportunity to participate in the Innovation for Humanity program at Carey. Students from two cohorts formed teams and travelled to Peru, Rwanda, Jemez Pueblo, and India on a mission to truly experience what business with humanity in mind looks like in action. Some of our classmates have already shared their experiences, and this blog post highlights our team’s journey in Peru.
We had been working remotely with our I4H client, Associacion Taller de los Ninos (TANI), for almost a quarter before we visited Peru. TANI is an NGO focused on development health and education for children and women in San Juan De Lurigancho—the poorest district of Lima. Our objective was to help TANI run a financially sustainable organization. We had studied their financials and developed an understanding of their operations working like a typical corporate consultant. While still in Baltimore, we had established a broader strategy and were prepared to make recommendations.
On our first day in Peru, we wanted to jump right into implementing the project plan we had chalked out before leaving for Peru. Instead, our sponsor pointed out, “Let’s visit the district. Before you get on with your work, I want you guys to understand the people we’re helping and where they come from.” We did not want to deviate from our schedule as we had done our research before going to Peru and thought we knew what to expect. As we traveled a few miles, we even remarked that the district did not seem that bad and did not resonate with the descriptions that we had received in our earlier interviews.
Then, we took a left turn from the main street and realized that the world had changed. What we saw, we could not have imagined. There was no road, just random paths on a rocky terrain. The houses represented assemblies of metal sheets roofed over precariously bound structures of bricks. We learned that there was no electricity and each household could at best manage 2 barrels of water for 3 days of use, for which the women from the household would have to travel at least 10 miles. Moreover, the area was an illegal dwelling, exemplifying the corruption levels that had pervaded the region.
This reality check changed our thought process. We understood the dilemma our sponsor faced, i.e. keeping to the core mission of the NGO while seeking to create a business model that is self-sustainable and relies less on fundraising. Over the course of a week, we interviewed TANI’s employees working in various capacities. They epitomized passion at work. Their relationship with TANI spanned over decades and a few had been with the organization since its inception. Some were helped by TANI in their challenging times, and they decided to give back and dedicate their lives to TANI’s mission. We needed to be part of the TANI family and imbibe their values that had been changing lives in the region for the last 40 years.
The two phrases we had been using in our conversations until that point, “increase revenues” and “save costs,” seemed the two most difficult things to achieve in the context of the problem at hand. The organization needed to take baby steps, gradually changing practices and procedures as to not upset the community that had come to love TANI and the work the organization does for the community. We could draw their roadmap only if we were critically evaluating our own thinking. This was a stage where our past experiences and individual accomplishments did not matter. We each had to be the best team player we could be. There were no quick solutions. The only skill that mattered was listening and the only strength that counted was willingness to learn. A truly humbling experience.
During our on-site engagement, we discovered realistic feasible solutions to very challenging problems and saw a few of our recommendations implemented within days of making them. Our project may have begun with signing a team contract that defined individual roles and penalties for slacking, but our project ended with the satisfaction of supporting a good cause and a promise of continued help to our sponsor.