This post was written by Duke MBA student Michael Ferguson. Mike is in his first year at Fuqua and just returned from India as part of CASE’s Global Consulting Practicum in Social Entrepreneurship.
Since setting foot on campus in early August, we’ve consistently been reminded that part of what distinguishes Fuqua’s student body from that of other business schools is that we’re selected on the belief that we can all be global “leaders of consequence”. During the trials of the fall terms, it was hard not to see this as a cross between creative wordplay and marketing rhetoric. However, participating in the Global Consulting Practicum in Social Entrepreneurship, one of Fuqua’s enduring international programs, showed this phrase to be much more meaningful.
For months leading up to Spring Break, my team had been working with a major microfinance company in Andhra Pradesh, which was hoping to increase its social impact by extending agricultural services to farmers in the area. From Fuqua, we collaborated with our counterparts in Hyderabad at unusual hours, working around the constraints of our other classes, and around our lack of experience in agriculture. We were able to acclimate to the academic aspects of the trip, but, upon arriving in Hyderabad at the front end of Spring Break, we found some finer aspects of doing business in a developing country.
During our first week, in an effort to understand the challenges facing our partner organization, we spent some time with the farmers. As someone who’d never even been on a farm in the United States, this was something of an awakening. This certainly exhibited poverty beyond anything I could have conceived from a sheltered American perspective. However, amid this pervasive suffering, there was an encouraging sense of optimism that, with the right help, from the right partner, future generations in their villages might live better. We felt truly privileged to be able to apply the skills we’d learned in our jobs and in business school to be able to help, however incrementally, during our project.
Our second week involved attempting to help our client convert government infrastructure, currently in disrepair, for private use. This was a challenging goal – the red tape inherent in dealing with the many levels and departments of the Indian public sector created significant hurdles. Attempting to overcome this took some creativity, and some flexibility as well. And our analysis didn’t always match what the client thought was best. In the end, we were successfully able to recommend a workable plan of action for our client, though, with six weeks left in the term, our work certainly isn’t done yet.
A day long odyssey of a trip home, combined with a business school line of thinking, has a way of causing a person to try to summarize the key takeaways from a trip so monumental as this one. For me, the teamwork aspect of our project was very interesting. Yes, I’m fully cognizant that we get a healthy dose of teamwork in our courses and in extra-curricular tasks, but there was something about bonding amid farmers and Indian government officials that made cohesion even more important.
Additionally, being able to use business skills in service of the bottom of the figurative pyramid was, with all due respect to my various former employers, something of a new experience for me. Perhaps my cynicism has been washed aside in my time at Fuqua, but when I was hunched behind my computer poring over financial spreadsheets as I had done so many times before, all the pretense seemed to have vanished, and it all seemed to be that much more meaningful and enduring for me.