IE MBAs Fly to South Africa to Guide Social Projects
Emzingo fellows are flown to South Africa to help small projects find their feet
IE Business School MBA students have the exciting chance to travel to South Africa and develop their leadership skills while guiding community-led projects.
The programme, Emzingo, which is led by recent IE MBA grads Drew Bonfiglio, Ramon Marmolejos and Amani M’Bale, puts IE students on six-week placements with small South African projects, where the students are challenged to help the owners achieve their goals.
Although all the participant students (or ‘Emzingo fellows’) are volunteers, they do earn course credits towards their MBA by taking part.
“The three of us met on an incubator program which allows MBA students to incubate venture plans to gain course credit,” explains Ramon, Emzingo co-founder. “So Andrew, Amani and I had the chance to develop the plan while still studying at IE.”
“We were all aware of South Africa’s enormous social needs, with high poverty, HIV and educational needs, and high unemployment.”
The three of them realised that work with social projects was highly sought-after by fellow MBA students and that there was a strong need for guidance in many small South African organisations.
With this in mind, they decided to do some research into using South African social projects as a vehicle for a leadership project for IE MBA students.
“We made our connections out there through Amani, I did the recruiting, and Andrew went to South Africa and built relationships with organisations there.
“The organisations we looked for were transparent in their dealings and in greatest need of leadership.”
Drew adds: “After three and a half months of discussion and decision-making, we were good to do it for real. Once IE gave us the OK to run the program I was on the ground in Johannesburg within ten days, getting the research going.
“One of the things I love about IE is that they're so entrepreneurial. They're willing to take a chance in something they believe could have an impact. They put their money where mouth is, supporting alumni and helping MBA projects get off the ground.”
The programme has just completed its second year, and 13 IE MBA students of 12 nationalities have recently returned from projects.
Current MBA students Caroline Muito and Pablo Esteves worked together on Student Sponsorship Projects (SSP), which aims to provide leadership skills to academically talented kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“It's incredibly rewarding,” says Caroline. “Part of the organisation’s work is providing the students with scholarships to help them go to private schools. Just seeing how they help the children move from rural schools to top institutions in Johannesburg is amazing.”
“Student Sponsorship Projects identified two areas they wanted help with: brand awareness and engaging alumni. They want to be able to create an alumni community for continuity after the kids leave high school.”
Most of Caroline and Pablo’s work has cantered on helping the organisation with marketing, strategy and communication.
Pablo says: “The great success of our work was that… we used our respective skills for the project. I have more of a marketing personality so I did the marketing strategy. A third fellow was IT and Caroline covered strategy. Straight away we were accepted into the heart of the team."
Ramon and Drew explain Emzingo hopes to partner with the same organisations in the future to ensure long-term benefits. All of their partners from last year have accepted the programme again in 2011.
“One thing that's been most been most impressive about partners and fellows is how they bond,” says Drew. “By the beginning of the second week the language switches from ‘the organisation’ to ‘we’.”
“The reason this happens is pretty simple. Partners value and welcome fellows into their team. Emzingo fellows aren’t seen as interns by the partners, because they have so much to offer in terms of skills and experience.”
Admission to the programme is competitive and Drew believes this is because it stands out to MBAs as a chance to make a difference.
But why Emzingo has been a success, he says, is the overall experience. “We send a group of 13 individuals who happened to have class together to a community. They come away talking about what challenges they’re going to share together after finishing their MBAs. That's the appeal.”
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