July 30, 2012 12:07 am

MBA Challenge Q&A - 2020 Vision for Change

Bethan McDonald

Bethan McDonald, MSc student in Public Health

2020 Vision for Change is one of six teams shortlised for our MBA Challenge. In an FT interview, team members explain their motivations.

Why did you decide to enter the challenge?

Bethan: I have a PhD in infectious diseases and have been conducting HIV research since 2003. I have also had the opportunity to work in Ghana and have visited Ethiopia, The Gambia and South Africa. Additionally, I have been involved in the data analysis for a community health and education project in Kenya. I am excited to be able to apply my project management, research skills and knowledge of working in developing countries to the field of eye care.

Marc: The challenge brief aligned perfectly with the social entrepreneurship angle which I was pursuing during my MBA. As an emerging market business school, the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business encourages us to seek new and innovative ways to tackle social challenges from a business perspective. The contest seemed like a fantastic way to apply what I’d been learning in class to a real-world scenario.

Bruce: Being a spectacle user from the age of 11, I have become well aware of the stigma that surrounds their use and so I believe that to attempt to reduce this stigma would have lasting effects for the success of these young men and women.

Leanne: My public health training has taught me the value of finding appropriate and cost-effective interventions and this was an opportunity to use a business model to address a public health issue.

Lucy: Prior to taking the Masters in Public Health at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, I worked for two years with a foundation delivering eye health services in the South East Asian nation East Timor. There, I experienced the multiple barriers faced in delivering eye care services to the general population in low resource settings. I wanted to enter the challenge because it asks participants to address these issues directly and within an often hard-to-reach group.

Sumona: I fell in love with social enterprise when I came across the Aravind Eye Care System at Harvard Business School. I later completed my Masters in Public Health at Harvard and visited and investigated Aravind as a model of eliminating avoidable blindness for my thesis. I was inspired by the vision, passion and drive of the founder, Dr. Venkataswamy.

Why do you think your business plan should be chosen?

Marc: I believe our plan is not only innovative, but extremely implementable. We decided to embrace the technological component by leveraging mobile platforms, and Africa is leading the world in this department at present. Mobile banking is just one area of the mobile industry where Africa is pioneering new technologies with great success; our plan seeks to leverage this expansion.

Leanne: Our multidisciplinary team consists of ophthalmologists, doctors, scientists, eye programme managers, researchers, policy makers and financial professionals. Our strategy proposes an innovative low cost (but high quality) social marketing strategy which is able to simultaneously conduct market research and generate public health data on the prevalence of refractive error. It also involves young people from the beginning and thus, the product is informed by the consumer.

How have you found the experience of working with students in other regions?

Leanne: Well, since we are scattered all over the world it was quite challenging to co-ordinate meetings working in three different time zones! It has also been quite a bizarre experience to work together having never met.

Marc: It has been a great challenge, but worthwhile. Our team has members in Africa and Europe, with varied ages, backgrounds and experience. The unique perspectives have made our proposal stronger, as we have sought to leverage “out the box” thinking as much as possible.

Bruce: It has been an incredible challenge not only working with a group of people in different time zones but also within a group comprised of very busy individuals. I have learnt a significant amount about arranging meetings, communication strategies and decision-making, all within the constraints of this geographically dispersed team. Goal setting and successful division of work has also been something that I have improved my understanding of.

Bethan: It has been a great experience to work with students from around the world. I feel this brings the essential differences in perspectives to design and implement a successful intervention. Holding discussions at pre-determined times rather than the ability to discuss ideas freely as they arise, can sometimes feel frustrating, although this format does allow time for team members to research their ideas before feeding back to the group.

How do you feel your MBA has helped you with the challenge?

Marc: The MBA has showed me a different way to frame problems – one that encompasses a broader array of players and factors. This change of perspective has greatly improved my ability to create innovative solutions. That, combined with the emerging market focus around social entrepreneurship, has allowed me to approach the challenge with fresh new ideas.

Bruce: One of the main goals of the UCT MBA programme is to stress the importance of our social responsibility and expose the multiple ways that one can make positive contributions to our country, continent and planet. This has assisted with not only the excitement to join such challenges and initiatives but also to seek help from likeminded individuals within the business school with experience in these types of ventures.

Compiled by Charlotte Clarke

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