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In a recent MBA blog post on FT.com, a Ghanaian student from the European School of Management and Technology, in Germany, was fired up by a comment from Barack Obama, US president: “ ... I have come here, to Ghana, for a simple reason: the 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well ... ”
The student, Ernest Kwame Gyimah wholeheartedly agrees. He is convinced that there is no better time to implement sustainable businesses in Africa and wants to use his MBA to help achieve this.
He is not alone. A changing mindset among MBA students and professors alike means that social entrepreneurship is making its way to the top of the business school agenda. In particular, students are honing their skills through a plethora of competitions and challenges with social innovation as the theme.
In January 2012 the FT launched its own MBA Challenge in collaboration with Sightsavers, an international charity which works with partners to eliminate avoidable blindness and the FT’s chosen charity for its 2011-2012 appeal.
Groups of students from three continents were set the challenge of developing a business plan to market spectacles to young people in one or more developing country in Africa or Asia. Each team had to include at least one MBA student, but students from other disciplines such as medicine and health could also participate, as demonstrated by the six teams shortlisted for the final stage of the challenge.
Students representing 21 institutions, including 16 business schools have been shortlisted.
“Now people are going to business school with the intention of making a difference,” says Marc Low, an MBA student from the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business in South Africa, who is participating in the FT challenge. Having worked in finance and investment before his MBA, Mr Low applied to business school and has entered the challenge because he wants to broaden his perspective.
His classmate and FT challenge team mate, Bruce Longmore, has a similar mindset. A medical doctor, he has a passion for public health in developing countries and hopes that his business school education will give him a broader understanding of people management. He and Mr Low with five other students, including those from other disciplines, are part of the team 2020 Vision for Change. .
For the final stage of the challenge, each team must submit a comprehensive business plan. As glasses are not yet commonly available in many developing countries, many young people are anxious about wearing them for fear of looking different or being teased. In the majority of cases they stop wearing them, with the consequent negative impact on their education.
“I come from a small town in India so I understand the stigma attached to wearing glasses [that] people still have,” says Pankaj Arora, an MBA student from Cranfield School of Management in the UK.
Mr Arora entered the FT challenge with The Glass Strangers Team because he has been keen to work in the private and public sector since working as a fund raiser for the Red Cross.
“To make change, there has to be a combined effort between NGOs and private companies,” he says.
The winner of the FT MBA Challenge will be announced in October 2012. The remaining teams will be profiled in the FT throughout August.
For more details visit: www.ft.com/mba-challenge
Profile: cartoon character
● Team name: The Glass Strangers
● Schools represented: SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, India; Cranfield School of Management, UK; Cranfield University, UK; Thunderbird School of Global Management, US; University of North Carolina, US
● Business proposal: to tackle the social stigma that is attached to wearing spectacles in India through storytelling, an important aspect of Indian culture
● Key strategies: publish a series of 10 comics following the story of “Sonu”, a cartoon character aged between 10 and 12 who has to wear spectacles. Initially Sonu is uncomfortable wearing glasses but as he starts to succeed in sport and his studies he gains self-confidence and respect from family and friends. So that Sonu will also appeal to readers in other countries, visual cues and commonly used words will be used. To obtain the next edition of the comic readers will have to mention a clue stated in the previous edition and will also have to show their Sightsavers spectacles. In phase two of the strategy, a national TV and radio advertising campaign will take place, featuring Sonu with spectacle wearing Indian personalities, such as Anil Kumble, the former cricketer, and Viswananathan Anand, the world chess champion. This will help children and adults identify with stars who never considered that wearing glasses hindered their success
● Funding: £20,000 is needed to create Sonu and publish 10 editions of the comic, plus a further £25,000 to produce advertisements on All India Radio and Doordarshan National TV channel. Probono support from animation companies and organisations that work in eyecare will also be explored
Profile: mobile phone
● Team name: 2020 Vision for Change
● Schools represented: the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, South Africa; London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK and Harvard School of Public Health, US
● Business proposal: implement a social marketing strategy that uses mobile technology to increase the acceptability and wearing of spectacles among young people in Kenya
● Key strategies: launch a school-based, interactive spectacle design competition. The business plan takes advantage of Kenya’s widespread mobile phone coverage. Using their mobile phones, participants will choose their favourite glasses frames and colours via SMS from a selection on promotional posters. Involving young people in the design of the spectacles in this way will help to give them ownership of the product. A relevant Kenyan personality and role model will endorse the campaign, ensuring national recognition of the brand. A mobile app – the iSight Test – which has been specifically adapted for the Kenyan market – will be used in eye tests in schools. Mobile technology will mean that the testing process is quick and cheap and will allow non-health professionals to conduct the tests. The strategy targets teachers and parents as well as young people. The research data collected will be used in market analysis of the preferred designs of spectacles and to develop the brand. It will also generate public health statistics, help to transmit campaign messages and will mean that there is continued evaluation and monitoring of the eyecare needs of young people
● Funding: the iSight Test app has already been donated. Since much of the strategy will rely on mobile technology a partnership with national mobile provider Safaricom will be explored to help with start-up costs. A partial government subsidy will also be discussed
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