Rwanda Provides Students with Hands-On Learning
The 2010 January Term break at HBS was no time to kick back for the 403 first- and second-year MBA students who signed up for the Immersion Experience Program (IXP). In search of the kind of deep understanding that can come only from being there, the students joined faculty-led programs to China, India, Peru, Rwanda, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and Vietnam to observe local economies, study management practices in the field, and interact directly with business and community leaders. In addition, domestic programs took place in New Orleans, Boston, and Silicon Valley. Programs to Brazil and Costa Rica take place in March.
This year, for the first time since the IXP was launched in 2007, an international program went beyond observing a country’s business environment and engaged in short-term consulting projects. (Such projects are also part of the New Orleans IXP.) In Rwanda, 35 students worked with seven NGOs, small businesses, and a government agency, variously focused on issues of social enterprise and business development. Student teams tackled projects with the goal of providing concrete solutions to management problems.
One team developed marketing plans for Indego Africa, an arts and handicrafts cooperative that empowers women to rise out of poverty by selling their own crafts. Another team created a syllabus for teaching entrepreneurship for Mission Schools International, an organization founded by Brendan Kennealey (MBA ’06) that is building secondary schools in Rwanda’s most impoverished villages. To help improve the function of the Rwanda Development Board, another team examined the cost to business of governmental bureaucracy.
“I believe that people learn the most about another country and culture by having to accomplish something abroad,” says HBS professor Lou Wells, who led the Rwanda IXP. Accompanying Wells were Laura Moon, director of the HBS Social Enterprise Initiative, and Dana Pratt from the School’s IXP office.
“Participants have to think through issues that we often fail to cover adequately in the classroom,” Wells adds. “They organize into effective teams and have the chance to work on a problem for several days, as opposed to the length of an Aldrich class period. They also have to think about how to communicate their recommendations in a sensitive way and in a different culture — both the Rwandan culture and the different cultures of NGOs. And they have to worry about ensuring that their impact will really continue after they leave.”
At the end of the two-week program, the HBS students were invited to meet with Rwandan President Paul Kagame for a wide-ranging two-hour discussion on international aid and economic planning, among other topics.
Wells says the active roles students played, along with the focus on business development and social enterprise advising, make the Rwanda IXP a potential model for more international IXPs in the future.
— Margie Kelley