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Michaela Tanjangco is studying for a Masters in International Management at Esade Business School in Spain. She is also a member of the five-strong Esade team whose project has made the shortlist for the Hult Prize 2014 finals. The Esade team’s project – Harambee – aims to raise awareness and provide diagnosis, treatment and care for people with hypertension in marginal neighbourhoods.
Ms Tanjangco originally chose to study medicine but switched to business because she believed this would enable her to tackle social problems on a much larger scale. Having grown up in the Philippines, she has volunteered for various organisations including the Philippines typhoon relief efforts.
1. What inspires you?
Aside from last-minute panic? To be honest, thoughts of the future inspire me. It’s a bit weird to say, but it’s true. I always think about what could be, what should be, and what ought to be. It’s either exciting, frightening or both. Either way, it makes me want to work towards whatever end-goal I have in mind.
2. What is an average day like?
Student by day, entrepreneur by night! Coming from a non-business background, I always learn something new in class. Plus, we have a great batch of students, so it has been fun getting to know everyone. Outside class, when my teammates and I are working on Harambee, I enjoy the entire process of developing the project. We spent a lot of time trying to discover and develop [ideas], thinking about what could work, how to present and improve it, and so on. It’s an enriching experience.
3. How do you deal with pressure?
I work through it. The only way to rid yourself of pressure is to rid yourself of what’s causing it. The best way to do that is to get things done.
4. What would you do if you were dean for a day?
I would add more fieldwork experience to the curriculum. The case method we use at Esade is great because we learn about the various challenges companies have faced and resolved in the past. However, I think the key takeaways would be better understood and ingrained if we learnt by doing. For example, the entire process of putting together Harambee taught me a lot of things I would not have learnt otherwise.
5. What academic achievement are you most proud of?
Believe it or not, passing my first and only year of medical school! The course was hard enough on its own, but the fact that my heart wasn’t in it made it a constant struggle. I had a lot of emotional ups and downs. But in retrospect, a lot of what I learnt and experienced there influenced the next phase in my life. I wouldn’t be happily part of a social enterprise tackling chronic diseases if the healthcare industry and the medical field were not dear to me.
6. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
You have to seize opportunities, but you also have to be proactive and hardworking. Opportunities can be hard to come by, but working hard opens many doors and makes it easier when an opportunity presents itself.
7. What do you hope women in business will achieve?
I hope they achieve the recognition and respect they deserve. There are a lot of women in business doing amazing, game-changing things. It would be great for the younger generations to see more of their accomplishments.
8. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
I find my niche. I kind of take a step back, observe and learn from them. I try to understand the areas they are good at, and I look for areas where I can provide the most value. That way, my key competencies complement theirs and we can foster an environment of collaboration instead of competition.
9. What is the last book you read?
The last book I read that still resonates with me is Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary. I’ve read a few books since then, but whenever I think of the last book I read, this is the one that comes to mind. It was very simple, powerful prose. It doesn’t claim to be impartial, but it shows how Islamic history parallels western history. To me, this was very interesting because I grew up in a westernised culture. Seeing the world through their lens gave me a lot to think about. The book provides an interesting paradigm shift, especially since our world is getting smaller and more connected.
10. What is your plan B?
I came to Esade with the idea that I was doing this because I wanted to find a job. Now I want to create jobs. If Harambee doesn’t work out, then I’ll go back to the drawing board. This experience has been extremely empowering: I feel that I can attain my grand ideas if I take concrete steps and seize opportunities. I will probably start by getting a job to pay the bills and gain more experience, but I think I will eventually create a social business back in the Philippines. I don’t know when, but I know I will.