The Global Consultancy Project

A global student consultancy can open students’ eyes to challenges businesses face in other parts of the world—and sometimes change everything they thought they knew about business.
The Global Consultancy Project

At a time when business educators are looking for ways to integrate both global perspective and hands-on learning into their programs, some schools have found a way to accomplish both objectives in one fell swoop: the global student consultancy. Schools with global consultancy projects often count them among their most well-received and worthwhile programs.

Even so, the global consultancy is still a relative rarity on b-school campuses. This may well have to do with the level of time, effort, and resources necessary to run these programs. Project coordinators must search the globe—literally—for clients with suitable projects and resources. Then, they must establish funding through client fees, school grants, private donations, or student contributions; select participants from a large number of applicants; and integrate on-campus coursework with travel to the destination country.

Three schools on the U.S. East Coast and one in the United Kingdom are among those that have established track records with their global consultancy programs. These include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management in Cambridge; Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Management in Hanover, New Hampshire; Yale University’s School of Management in New Haven, Connecticut; and the Manchester Business School in the United Kingdom.

The most effective global consultancy projects strike just the right balance, say the directors of these programs. They must be large enough to present a challenge to their students and small enough to be tackled within a few weeks. More important, clients must deliver worthwhile educational experiences to students, and students must deliver solutions that will make their clients’ businesses better.

Students soon discover that entrepreneurship is not always romantic or easy, especially in countries with infrastructures still in their formative stages.

MIT’s Global E-Lab:

Delving into Developing Markets

by Richard Locke
The Global Entrepreneurship Lab at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, which launched in 1999, is an interdisciplinary program that enables management, engineering, and science students to work closely with top managers of international high-tech startups. Most of the 160 students enrolled in the program are Sloan MBA candidates, but some also come from MIT’s Media Lab and engineering program.

Through Global E-Lab, we not only provide companies in developing economies with the kind of business expertise they otherwise could not afford, but also expose students to the issues affecting startups around the world. Participants learn how to navigate countries without U.S.-driven corporate governance, government oversight, or legal systems. They soon discover that entrepreneurship is not always romantic or easy, especially in countries with infrastructures still in their formative stages.

The E-Lab Process

Before the academic year begins, I look for companies in emerging markets that have achieved local success and are poised for global expansion—they just need help taking that next significant step. Selected companies fill out in-depth questionnaires, in which they outline their history, the demands of their projects, and the expectations they have for our students. We post these questionnaires on our internal Web site, and students decide which projects interest them most. In 2005-2006, for example, students selected startups in South Africa, Guana, Rwanda, Nepal, Turkey, India, and Vietnam.

In September, students begin their Global E-Lab coursework and form four-person teams. In October, teams bid on the projects, and we match each team to a client based on the team’s skill set. We advise students that, to win a project, at least one team member should have a firm grasp of the company’s technology and another should understand the country’s culture and infrastructure. Even then, we inform all teams that, although they will be assigned a project, it may not be one on which they originally bid.

Once a team is matched with a project, students begin the research phase, communicating with their clients by phone and e-mail to establish expectations and keep clients informed of their progress. In January, when MIT classes are not in session, students travel to meet their clients for three to four weeks, gathering more information and holding face-to-face meetings with managers to make sure the project is still on track. At the end of the visit, each team gives a formal presentation of its findings and recommendations to the organization’s top management, along with a written report.

Our Consultants in Action

At first, potential clients of Global E-Lab may wonder whether business students can really provide sound advice to international companies. Once they actually work with us, however, they find that our students not only offer sound advice—they make a difference in the success of their businesses.

One example is a student team that traveled to Dalian, China, to meet with the managers of HiSoft, one of the most successful information technology providers in China. Its managers wanted to enter new markets, particularly the U.S. However, their attempts to attract U.S. customers had been so far unsuccessful.

Through research and interviews, the students found that saving money was not enough of an incentive for U.S. companies to outsource their IT to a Chinese supplier. Instead, U.S. companies also wanted to extend their capabilities and expand their business knowledge. Our students recommended that HiSoft take time to develop more sophisticated services, gain further traction in their existing markets, and win smaller U.S. accounts before pursuing larger opportunities.

HiSoft made the perfect client for our global student consultants. It was located in a challenging business environment, had a history of success, and presented a compelling problem for our students to solve.

New Experiences, New Possibilities

I’ve found that the Global E-Lab experience can change the career paths of participants. For example, Liesbet Peeters, a 2005 graduate from Sloan’s MBA program, worked with companies in the Ivory Coast, Peru, and India as a Global E-Lab participant. That experience led her to a job with the World Bank Group. She spent the summer after her graduation traveling throughout West Africa for the International Finance Corp., a subsidiary of the World Bank, teaching entrepreneurship skills to young adults and helping young artisans improve and market their products.

Stephen Hazelton, another 2005 graduate, worked with a venture capital firm in Vietnam during his consultancy. Today, Hazelton is creating a securities industry business in Hanoi, Vietnam, that will provide the basic trading and institutional support that we take for granted in Western countries.

As Peeters’ and Hazelton’s experiences illustrate, global student consultancies not only provide valuable services that many companies could not otherwise afford, but also open students’ eyes to a world of opportunities. Students may enter our program planning to pursue careers in the Fortune 500 companies or on Wall Street; but at graduation, many decide to take a pass on Wall Street to seek out the career options that emerging economies have to offer.

Richard Locke is the Alvin J. Siteman Professor of Entrepreneurship and Political Science and a founder of the Global E-Lab at MIT’s Sloan School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For information on the Global E-Lab, visit entrepreneurship.mit.edu/glab/.

The Tuck Global Consultancy:

Reaping the Rewards

by John Owens
During the ten years that we have operated the Tuck Global Consultancy, MBA teams have completed 104 assignments for more than 70 clients in 51 countries. In that time, the Tuck Global Consultancy has become our most popular second-year elective. Unfortunately, our main difficulty is that we cannot satisfy demand—for every six students we enroll in the course, we need one cash-paying client. As a result, half of our MBA class wants to participate in the program, but we can only enroll about a third.

For those who are selected, however, the experience is life-changing. At graduation, most participants tell us that the global consultancy project was the most important experience they had at the Tuck School. It’s a highly visible program with very tangible results.

How the TGC Works

Clients hire our students as they would hire any corporate consultant. Each company pays a $23,500 administrative fee, which only partially covers the cost of the program, as well as for the team’s travel and other out-of-pocket expenses. That means that the cost of our MBA consultants depends largely on the client: A company in India will pay more than one in Mexico City.

Each year, we typically do 15 projects that take 13 weeks to complete. During the first phase, which occurs during the summer or early fall, students take five weeks to research the company, communicate with company managers, and refine the project scope. Once everyone agrees on the project’s parameters, the clients sign a letter of engagement that the students provide.

In the second phase of the project, students spend an intensive three weeks “in country” to conduct primary research on the market and meet face-to-face with top managers. Before they return to the U.S., they present their current findings to the client and ask the managers to indicate any alterations they would like them to make.

In the third and final phase, students travel back to campus and spend four to six weeks assembling their final report before presenting it to the client. Students make their final presentations via video conference or face-to-face meeting with the client.

‘In Country’ in Tanzania

One of the Tuck Global Consultancy’s latest projects was for the Muhimbili University College of Health Sciences in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The MUCHS School of Pharmacy planned to build a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant on land obtained through a grant from the Tanzanian government, and it wanted our students to create a business and feasibility plan for the project. Because of the complexity of the project, the Tuck Global Consultancy created its first interdisciplinary team, which included students from Tuck as well as Dartmouth’s schools of medicine and engineering.

During their three-week visit to Dar es Salaam, our students investigated the Tanzanian pharmaceutical market and drug distribution system, conducting interviews with doctors, pharmacists, distributors, and government agencies. By the end of the project, the students confirmed that the project was viable and made 30 recommendations to MUCHS based on their extensive research.

The project will take many years to complete and will require future Tuck MBAs to return to Tanzania in 2007, and possibly even 2008, to get the plant up and running. Because of the long-term nature of this project, our students kept intensive files on each stage of the project, so that the next team can pick up where the last left off.

Stories to Tell

The Tuck Global Consultancy requires a concerted marketing effort to let companies know how they can benefit from our students’ expertise. I spend half of the year marketing our consultancy projects to potential clients, and I keep a database of likely clients with whom I maintain regular contact.

Attracting student interest, however, is never a problem. The word is out on the rewards this experience has to offer. The global consultancy program forces students to use all the skill sets and functional knowledge they’ve learned, while operating in a country where they face unfamiliar cultural and linguistic challenges. In the end, students work harder than they ever expected—and enjoy the experience more.

In fact, most students place their global consultancy experiences at the top of their resumes. Telling employers they completed a summer internship at The Gap in San Francisco is one thing; telling employers they worked on a pharmaceutical consulting project in Tanzania is quite another.

John Owens is the director of the Tuck Global Consultancy and adjunct professor of business at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business in Hanover, New Hampshire. For information about the Tuck Global Consultancy, visit mba.tuck.dartmouth.edu/cib/tgc/.

Yale’s Global Social Enterprise:

Students in Charge

by Tricia Bisoux
Sometimes all it takes to start a global student consultancy is a group of students who want to make it happen. In the 2004-2005 academic year, students at Yale University’s School of Management in New Haven, Connecticut, launched the school’s first Global Social Enterprise (GSE) project with the United Nations. This year, students continued the GSE, designing entirely new global consultancy experiences.

The GSE accepts only 20 participants each year to keep the costs low and logistics of travel manageable. This year, participants included nine second-year and 11 first-year MBA students who formed three teams of six to seven students each. “We wanted participants who demonstrated adaptability,” says Karin Barry, one of three student leaders. “Given the conditions and stressors we would face, we chose students who we felt would be able to withstand the pressure.”

Destination: Madagascar

During the summer, the student leaders leveraged school contacts and conducted online research to determine the next GSE projects. They looked for organizations with a socially responsible focus, an English-speaking project manager, and facilities the students could use while on-site. After soliciting feedback from faculty and students, the leaders focused on three organizations in Madagascar:

  • Mad Imports, a company that sells handmade art by native artisans from Madagascar and Kenya, asked GSE students to help it increase the living standards for the greatest number of artisans and improve its overall operations.
  • The Andrew Lees Trust (ALT), a U.K.-based nonprofit organization that manages seven social and environmental projects in southern Madagascar, asked the GSE to create a business plan to help it maximize the success of a coconut-growing cooperative. 
  • Habitat for Humanity-Madagascar, which has built 539 houses for Madagascar citizens since November 2000, needed help in restructuring its loan payment system. It also wanted to create better relationships with volunteers and donors.

The Madagascar projects incorporated elements that the previous year’s UN Project did not, says Caroline Tsai, another GSE student leader. “The UN Project was completed over two weeks in South Africa,” says Tsai. “However, students told us that they felt two weeks wasn’t long enough to make any real impact.”

As a result, students and faculty advisors added a preliminary research phase to the project and created a for-credit, six-week course, “Managing Social Enterprises in Developing Countries,” that students would complete prior to their trip. The course comprised a series of lectures that covered the broad concerns of businesses in developing markets, as well as those specific to Madagascar.

A Sense of Pride

During the fall, as students were finalizing their project choices, they were also securing donations for the trip, which was not covered by university funding. Then, the project work began. Except for its student-run nature, the 2005–2006 GSE project shared the same characteristic stages of other global student consultancies. In January, students began the course, conducted preliminary research, and contacted their clients. In March, during Yale’s two-week spring break, the students traveled to meet with their client organizations and conduct in-country research. Once their on-site visits were completed, student teams prepared reports outlining their final recommendations to their clients.

During their on-site research, students learned quickly that consultants must often radically change their original visions for their projects when their clients change the variables. For example, while still on campus, the students that worked with ALT had meticulously learned everything there was to know about coconut farming. It wasn’t until they arrived in Madagascar that they discovered that the co-op also planned to plant cashews and legumes. Suddenly, the students had to learn everything there was to know about cashew and legume farming—and revise their entire approach to the project.

“Employers who sponsor the educations of your students already think your program has value. It makes sense to ask them if they would like to realize more value by sponsoring a global consultancy project.”
—Gary McLaughlin, University of Manchester MBAproject coordinator

In late April, all teams finalized their recommendations to their clients:

  • The Mad Imports team developed a new pricing strategy and a new accounting system in Excel. It consolidated Word files that the company had used to track orders into a single customer relationship management system in Access. 
  • The ALT team created a preliminary business plan for the farming co-op, complete with cost and revenue projections. 
  • The Habitat for Humanity team recommended, among other things, that the organization create a system of prepayments to give borrowers a sense of ownership in the loan process and mitigate risk. The team also built a Web site, created an e-newsletter, and developed new volunteer opportunities to help Habitat create and maintain better relationships with its volunteers and donors.

GSE volunteers take special pride in the completion of the Madagascar project. Not only did they provide a valuable service to their chosen companies, but they also designed and implemented the entire program from start to finish.

Nathaniel Keohane, assistant professor of economics at the Yale School of Management, served as the GSE advisor. He emphasizes that his role was mainly as a sounding board—the students did all the work necessary to make the consultancy projects happen.

“If I or another faculty member had designed the template for the project, secured the funding, and told the students, ‘Here’s where you’re going, and here’s what you’ll be doing,’ it would have been a very different experience for them. It wouldn’t have had the same hands-on involvement or the same meaningfulness,” says Keohane. “Much of the value of the GSE consultancy project is that students thought of the possibility of going to Madagascar. They chose the companies, they made the schedule, and they secured the funding.”

That level of involvement and initiative creates an environment where students take ownership of the experience, he adds. In fact, Keohane notes that two students who participated in the GSE Madagascar consultancy projects returned to the country once the project and the school year ended. They are currently working with nonprofits they had encountered during their research.

“GSE participants may never write business plans for coconut plantations again, but they learn the unique problems that businesses in these markets face,” says Barry, now an MBA graduate. “They face new challenges and stretch their skills and thinking in new ways.” In other words, these students emphasize, global consultancy experiences provide students with opportunities that no traditional course or study trip can easily duplicate.

For more information about the Global Social Enterprise program at Yale University’s School of Management, visit students.som.yale.edu/sigs/GSE/.

Tapping Global Potential

As these examples show, global student consultancy projects can take many forms—they can be faculty-run or student-run, university-funded or privately funded, at some expense to clients or completely pro bono. Business schools can choose the particular features of their own programs according to their unique circumstances. What’s important, say these directors, is that students emerge from their experiences with enhanced skills and changed perspectives.

These directors also would like to see more business schools start their own global consultancy programs, so that more organizations are aware of the expertise and enthusiasm student consultants bring to the toughest global business problems. Their stories offer a starting point for any school that wants to add a global consultancy to its curriculum—and a rich, worldwide network of corporations and nonprofits to its contacts.

Richard Locke is the Alvin J. Siteman Professor of Entrepreneurship and Political Science and a founder of the Global E-Lab at MIT’s Sloan School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For information on the Global E-Lab, visit entrepreneurship.mit.edu/glab/.

John Owens is the director of the Tuck Global Consultancy and adjunct professor of business at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business in Hanover, New Hampshire. For information about the Tuck Global Consultancy, visit mba.tuck.dartmouth.edu/cib/tgc/.

For more information about the Global Social Enterprise program at Yale University’s School of Management, visit students.som.yale.edu/sigs/GSE/.