Monthly Archives: July 2009

This is our "intake" centre and the hub of our operations. The centre is where all interpreter requests are taken, co-ordinated and dispatched.  The centre operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and reflects the Multilingual Community Interpreter Services' commitment to serve the needs of those with limited English and non-English speaking people in accessing social services, especially individuals experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault.

The centre is where all interpreter requests are taken, coordinated and dispatched. The centre operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and reflects the Multilingual Community Interpreter Services' commitment to serve the needs of limited and non-English speaking persons in accessing social services, especially individuals experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault.

To date, my professional career has been a series of occupations that would invariably draw blank stares and a litany of questions when I tell (highly educated) people what I do for a living.

When I worked as an urban planner, I was often asked if I planted trees for a living. Things did not improve when I became a policy advisor in the areas of municipal management and housing. I was repeatedly asked if being a policy advisor meant that I was a secretary.

You can imagine the fun I am having this time around when I tell people I am interning as a strategy consultant for a non-profit social enterprise. What puzzles people the most is not my job title, but rather the term non-profit social enterprise. While most people understand what a non-profit organisation is they are less knowledgable about social enterprises. I will be honest and admit that, a few months ago, I too was one of these individuals. Read more

Market research in the traditional business setting is a breeze. Purchase some Nielsen or Forrester reports, run some customer focus groups, analyse your competitors’ financial statements, mine some retail data – and you’ve got the general patterns and trends you need to make a solid strategic business decision.

Much of my work in Kenya has focused on understanding the market and the needs related to maternity health and determining how to establish a sustainable model to provide quality health services to low-income women before, during and after labour. But where to begin? We have no market research reports. There are no systems to capture consumer data.

Reading scholarly journals and World Health Organisation white papers will only get me so far (really not very far at all). In order to understand the health marketplace for poor consumers, I must see it with my own eyes, hear it with my own ears and speak directly to as many patients and doctors in low-income neighbourhoods as I possibly can. I call this 3-dimensional market research (3DMR). Read more

School children learning without desks

School children learning without desks

“How can I help to get these kids a Lapdesk?” – I get this question all the time from my friends and classmates. And I want to have a good answer. An actionable, simple answer such as: “Go to our website, choose a school from the database and buy a Lapdesk for them.”

So how can our company make this happen? One of my main goals this summer is to launch an online initiative and to develop a plan for scaling it up – creating a home for individual donors who will become “Lapdesk friends”.

While our current website is functional and rich in information, I want to take it to the next level: to turn it into a dynamic communications platform connecting Lapdesk’s partners, sponsors and beneficiaries. I want to enable individuals to donate Lapdesks to a school of their choice and to track our progress – all online. Read more

Everyone who works at the Environmental Defense Fund wants to change the meaning of the term “business as usual”.

The EDF was founded with its original intent to do just that, through whatever means necessary, to force those who were harming the natural environment to stop and pay society for their ecological “sins.”

You might even be familiar with its old unofficial slogan, “sue the bastards”. Despite this history, the EDF may currently be the leading proponent of market-based solutions and for working with corporations to find “the ways that work”. How did this happen?

This morning I found myself yet again in the conference room, this time with Fred Krupp, the president of EDF for the past 25 years. With these questions in my mind, I was priveleged to hear at first hand from the man who was instrumental in that change. Read more

One of the first tasks I was asked to tackle for the California Fisheries Fund was the challenge of measuring the performance of the fund and its mission impact. Not in strictly financial terms, either. The goals of the CFF are three-fold:

Increase conservation measures supporting commercial fish stocks and their natural habitats.

Help revitalise California’s coastal fishing communities after decades of economic decline.

Assist fishery related businesses to make the transition from open-access to a catch-share based management regime.

Capitalised currently at $5M, you’ll notice something missing from those goals: nothing about earning the investors a financial return. While the goal of the fund is to remain solvent and self-supporting, this is a mission-driven, financial instrument, providing low-cost capital to higher risk businesses in need. Read more

I always find it fascinating to compare issues facing health systems in countries in different geographies with drastically different socio-economic characteristics and needs. The problems and potential solutions are often more similar than one would expect…

In the US healthcare reform debate, the issue of incentives for doctors has been a critical focal point. The US health insurance system relies heavily on a fee-for-service model, which tends to result in higher overall costs stemming from increased administrative costs and higher incomes for doctors. Read more

Imagine: You are nine years old. You go to school. It’s winter. You enter the unheated classroom and sit in your chair or on the floor. And then you start your daily lessons… But wait – you don’t have anything to write on. You don’t have a desk…

Today, I had a life altering experience. I helped with a Lapdesk handover ceremony in King Zwelithini Primary School in Soweto (a Johannesburg township only 20 minutes away from the city’s glossy financial district). The students, wearing tidy green uniforms, were waiting for us with such excitement on their faces, singing and dancing to greet us.

A warm welcome by the school choir

Our client and the Lapdesk team unveiled the surprise – 385 colourful, new Lapdesks stacked in neat piles, waiting to find an owner. For many of the children, this will be the first new thing they’ve ever owned. Theirs to take home and do homework, theirs to use at school every day.

Jacob Ramaru, Lapdesk’s National Field Operations Manager, led the ceremony. He is a master at that – the kids were laughing and reciting after him in four different languages – incredibly inspiring to watch! The dreams and energy warmed up the classroom – future lawyers, doctors, accountants and presidents shared aspirations in one voice! (Engineers were not as numerous…)

Jacob talking to the students

Now, what exactly is a handover ceremony? Read more

Five weeks ago, I left the comforting environs of Cambridge, Massachusetts and MIT Sloan for the unknown challenges awaiting me with the California Fisheries Fund.

Anticipating a huge cultural shift, I was prepared for pretty much anything, other than the highly professional, financial district high-rise in San Francisco where the CFF is co-located with the EDF.

I was also not expecting that I would find myself using nearly every subject I covered in my first year of MBA studies.  Within the first two weeks.

No, that is not an exaggeration. Read more

About a week into my job, I quickly realised that the prices we charge for our services invariably result in a heated debate about what the “right price” should be.  Nowhere was this more evident than in the meetings we held to discuss pricing strategies for the requests for proposals.

Within the organisation, there are two schools of thought on this issue.  The first argues that we should offer our services as cheaply as possible. MCIS after all is a non-profit organisation, therefore it should not be concerned with making money. Rather, its focus should be on ensuring that limited and non-English speaking persons can access social services through the use of interpreters.  Read more

Everyone goes to Harvard Business School eager to start their business careers. Not me, at least not yet. This summer I decided to volunteer in Africa before setting off to a full-time job.

Lapdesks in action

Lapdesks in action

I am writing from Johannesburg, South Africa where I’m working at a company called Lapdesk.

I first heard of Lapdesk on my first day of class at Harvard when I was handed a case study about the company. And I was confused. I was at Harvard Business School. I expected to learn about a Fortune 500 company or a famous CEO. Why were we focused on a South African company whose goal was to eradicate classroom desk shortages throughout Africa by manufacturing ergonomically designed Lapdesks made out of high quality recyclable plastic?

What is ergonomically? Good question – they’re shaped like kidney beans and have a comfortable handle.

After an inspiring discussion, combined with a 20 minute video conference with the founder, Shane Immelman, I realised why. There are 80 million children throughout Africa without a desk. That is a huge business opportunity. Lapdesk is addressing this social problem, with a dynamic private sector proposition. Read more

Greetings readers and to my fellow MBA bloggers!

It has been a little over a month since I touched down in Nairobi, but in terms of knowledge and experience accumulated, it feels like eons. I’ve had the privilege of working with Acumen Fund, a global social venture fund dedicated to providing critical goods and services to the Base of the Pyramid (BoP), people earning under $4 per day. My focus this summer is on healthcare systems in East Africa, specifically mapping out the ecosystem for healthcare products and services and assisting with due diligence on pipeline investments with the potential to improve the health and well-being of low-income patients. Read more

Did I just hear those words?  Having been distracted by the brilliant 28th floor view of the Bay Bridge, I was quickly thrust back into reality.

As I was sitting in on a conference call with the Director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Corporate Partnership Program, the title referenced phrase is how he described the expectations of his business “partner,” FedEx’s chief engineer. It wasn’t too far off from the sentiment I was expecting when I first arrived here five weeks ago, although I must admit I didn’t hold quite the negative bias about it.  After all, I had searched out and taken a summer position with an explicitly environmentally oriented organisation for a reason. Read more

I have now surpassed the halfway point of my three-month internship with Multilingual Community Interpreter Services (MCIS) in Toronto. For the past 8 weeks, the bulk of my time has been devoted to writing responses to Request for Proposals (RFPs) and developing a framework to help MCIS work towards its social impacts and measuring the outcomes of these impacts.

While a generalisation, it is accurate to say that many non-profits devote a large portion of their time and resources chasing scarce and short-term funding, in order to stay in business. It comes as no surprise then that I have written two RFP responses to date. I admit, I do feel the pressure of writing a winning response to these contracts because they are vital to MCIS’ financial sustainability and in turn MCIS’ ability to pursue its social justice agenda. The pressure to win has meant working 14 hour days. The first year MBA experience, with its punishing workload, has certainly prepared me well for these working conditions. Read more

Over the coming weeks, four MBA students will share their internship experiences as they work with not-for-profit organisations. Follow our blog as the students put their business school knowledge into practice across the world.

You can read our full business education coverage at Read more