This post was written by second year Duke MBA, Deidre-Ann Nelson. Deidre’s post originally appeared on Fuqua’s “Daytime MBA Student Blog” which has lots of great posts about the Daytime MBA experience from the student perspective.
Needless to say, consulting is definitely a hot topic at business school! And I wanted to investigate the world of consulting for myself, but with a hands-on experience outside of an internship. Fortunately for me, this is a unique business school opportunity, and Fuqua has several options to choose from.
This past spring, I participated in the Global Consulting Practicum in Social Entrepreneurship (GCP) led by Fuqua’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship. GCP is now a part of the overall Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum (FCCP) which provides opportunities for student teams to consult with both commercial and social sector clients in the US and abroad.
Through the program, I was able to consult on a product development and market entry strategy for a social enterprise, and earn course credits at the same time. My client was Shane Immelman, current CEO of Kommunity Groups, a South African based education development and uplifting organization. With a small staff (around 20 people), they were operating several businesses, including the successful LapDesk or TutuDesk initiative, which provides portable desks to school children in South-Saharan Africa.
In order to participate in the practicum, I completed an application, was selected, and then put into a 5-person team. We took classes once a week in the evening, during Fall Term II (specifically from November – March) to help us learn consulting frameworks, understand consulting engagement, and complete initial research for our clients. From March 2 – 16, we spent two weeks on-site with our client in Johannesburg. Our classes continued after the trip until April, focused on a series of working sessions and presentations on our findings.
As is true in the professional world, there were plenty of challenges leading up to our March departure. This included an intense MBA curriculum (hello operations and the infamous cranberries case*), interviews for summer internships, health issues, conflicting team schedules, and client engagement challenges. As March approached, my team learned to become very flexible as we had significant changes to the scope and context of our project.
But then visiting Johannesburg was a phenomenal experience that added tremendous context to the project. History came alive as my team and I traveled around for our consulting assignment and interacted with local citizens. This was my first one-to-one exposure working with a social entrepreneur and it was inspiring. The Kommunity Groups team had a lot of energy, relentless passion, and blinding hope in their mission and impact, even when faced with stark challenges. In the end, my team was able to observe a ton, and we provided several short- and long-term recommendations to help the business finish their product and think through a profitable market entry strategy.
While we worked really hard in South Africa, there was also plenty of bonding time — from visiting the Apartheid Museum and the World Cup stadium, to a weekend Safari in Pilanesberg. Forget NatGeo, this was the real thing! Though I was getting over a miserable cold, it didn’t take away from just how fortunate I felt to be experiencing so much, so quickly.
The practicum allowed me to understand the impact consultants can have on an organization. The experience also provided interpersonal growth and new peer relationships. My team was awesome and we really leveraged each other’s skills and interests to solve a challenging issue for a client doing very meaningful work. In my opinion, whether you pursue a consulting career in the end or not, opportunities like this are invaluable.
* The cranberries case is commonly covered during our operations course. It is a live simulation case, and teams of students make “live” management decisions that impact the profitability of the factory. Teams compete to win the case.