The MBA challenge: help children with cancer

Use your new skills to help children with cancer in the developing world

Much key medical equipment is in short supply in Malawi © Javier Blas

At Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, the commercial capital of Malawi, the electricity goes off twice a day. Each time, the nurses grab the most vulnerable children and run with them to the intensive care unit where there are spare batteries for emergency power. Lights are an expensive luxury, used only when guests visit. Beds don’t have mattresses, blankets are full of holes, and paper and needles constantly run out. The cost of importing these materials means doctors have to think twice before they use them.

“We need to focus on enabling local hospitals to be sustainable so that they can make decisions about their own budgets and what they should invest in,” says Allison Ogden-Newton, chief executive of World Child Cancer (WCC), the Financial Times’ seasonal appeal partner.

The charity aims to improve access to drugs and treatment for children with cancer in poor countries. Working on projects in Cameroon, Central America, Colombia, Bangladesh, Ghana, Malawi and the Philippines, it twins international hospitals and volunteer specialists (paediatric oncologists) with teams on the ground.

This year, WCC will help more than 3,000 children. Yet it is estimated another 100,000 young patients, who could be saved with comparatively simple treatments, die unnecessarily from cancer each year in developing countries.

Broader problems in health systems mean these children enter a medical system with few resources, staffed by overworked and undertrained doctors and nurses. In Africa, for example, Burkitt lymphoma, a cancer that can often be cured easily if detected early, can account for up to half of cases. But it is often diagnosed late or not at all.

Having traditionally worked with medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies to raise awareness, WCC now wants input from future business leaders through the FT MBA Challenge.

The challenge is to develop recommendations for the long-term sustainability of WCC projects in developing countries.

The charity is working with seven hospitals worldwide and hopes to take on another three, in Kenya, Myanmar and Zambia, by the end of this year.

Registered teams will tackle resource gaps in difficult environments, working with local project managers. They will be asked to provide analysis and ultimately find solutions to the problems they identify.

The challenge is open to teams of between three and eight students, of whom at least one must be studying at a university or business school in Europe, a second in the Americas and a third in Asia or Africa. At least one participant in each team must be studying for an MBA at the point of registration.

“MBA students are good at taking a fresh perspective on things and suggesting new people to bring into the conversation,” says Ogden-Newton. MBA students, she recalls, worked out 10 years ago how expanding mobile phone networks to Africa could be profitable as well as ethical.

“That creative process can be extremely powerful,” she says. “Young people are vital for equality… they may not feel very powerful right now, but they will go on to achieve it.”

The winning team will be chosen for its ability to take account of local conditions, the quality of its ideas and for its collaboration with a local partner.

The deadline for team registrations is March 31 2014. The FT is also running a matching service for individuals seeking to join a team. For more information, visit or email

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