iVaccinate My Child is one of six teams shortlisted to compete in the final of this year’s FT MBA Challenge. The challenge aims to help caregivers in Uganda gain access to vaccines for their children and is run in collaboration with FT seasonal appeal partner the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Key statistics:

  • Team name: iVaccinate My Child
  • Team members: Alfa Bumhira (team leader), Sana Suh, Omkar Naik, Thais Cavinatto, Justyna Sienkiewicz, Mary Mei, Jessica Harrison, Theresa Le
  • Schools represented: Chicago Booth (US), University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Mentor: Sazini Mojapelo, head of citizenship at Barclays Africa

1. Why did you enter the challenge?

Alfa: This is my second year participating in challenge. The opportunity to help make a difference in the world motivated me to participate again. Last year, my team helped World Child Cancer with ideas on how to build a microfinance infrastructure in Ghana to help children suffering from cancer and became one of the finalists. What inspired me further was the chance to learn more about non-profit organisations and how their problems relate to problems faced by private sector organisations.

Jessica: I wanted to make a difference and I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn more about developing countries. Also, I knew I had a strong background in supply chains and thought I would be able to examine the IRC supply chain model and optimise it to reach more children. I was right about learning more about developing countries; however, building a streamlined supply chain model in Uganda is proving to be challenging. I am grateful to have a diverse group of teammates who offer unique perspectives. Together we are developing innovative, real life solutions that can support IRC immunisation goals and reduce the under-five mortality rate.

2. What are your thoughts on the situation in Uganda?

Alfa: The right solution for Northern Uganda is building a model that is locally owned and sustainable. Many organisations perform well in the early stage of their campaigns but sometimes they fail because they lack the knowledge or the scale to understand the long-term dynamics in the communities they serve. Northern Uganda will succeed if the local Ugandans are the central players in the business models my team or others are developing for the IRC.

3. How have you used your MBA skills to solve the problem?

Alfa: MBA education teaches you to look at problems from many different angles and develop various well thought-out assumptions supported by facts and data. The most important thing about problem-solving is to be able to logically structure ideas and test how viable those ideas are to the main question or problem your are trying to solve.

The classes that have been helpful to me are corporate finance, macroeconomics, strategy lab and managerial decision-making. I have leveraged resources and programmes offered through Chicago Booth MBA Professional Associations, Chicago Africa Business Group, and various other clubs. And we have several mentors, including Michael Cook, a board director of a STEM Forward programme in Wisconsin. We have also managed to get advice from universities professors and healthcare workers in Uganda.

4. How would you summarise your proposed business plan?

Alfa: Our team does not view the children immunisation issue in Kitgum and Lamwo districts as just an isolated healthcare issue but also an economic, political and social one. We are developing ideas that are centered around IRC’s core capabilities and how the organisation can effectively leverage the current infrastructure provided by the Uganda Ministry of Health. There is a role the private sector and other non-profit organisations can play through working together. We want to have a scalable solution that is applicable to local trends and sustainable once the IRC decides to move on to other districts in Uganda or other African countries.

5. What are you enjoying the most and what are you finding most difficult?

Jessica: I came into the project wanting to approach problems like an MBA student, and that is exactly what I got. I enjoy working as a team because we challenge each other to do better. I see problems differently now, and I feel more confident in making suggestions as long as I have facts to support them.

I found researching countries like Lamwo and Kitgum challenging because up-to-date information is not readily available on the internet. It made me more resourceful in my approach to data gathering. I relied on communication with local people, and learnt to dig harder when the information was not apparent. These are lessons that I am currently applying at my current job, and I am already seeing an improvement in my work.

6. What do you plan to do after you graduate?

Mary: Through this competition and based on my past experiences working with ministries of health across Africa, I have seen the need to improve access to and knowledge of data for decision-making. Data is critical for NGOs and ministries to understand and change the situation on the ground, whether it’s scaling-up child immunisations or stemming an Ebola outbreak, and access to education on data analysis should be accessible at all levels of a health system.

After graduation, I hope to build an educational platform for data analysis tools that will allow ministries of health to customise and modularise their in-service training to quickly scale human resource capacity.

7. What tips would you give to students interested in entering the challenge next year?

Justyna: Even though it may be difficult to juggle school work, internships, job hunting with the challenge. My top three tips are:

#1 – Just do it! When approached by Alfa to participate, I had just started my one year full-time master’s degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and was working as a volunteer case worker with the Jesuit Refugee Service, and yet, I did not hesitate. I was attracted to the unique character and goal of the FT Challenge. By using our skills and networking with peers from other countries, we are creating a business plan to help caregivers in Uganda gain access to vaccines for their children.

#2 – Communicate with your teammates on a regular basis. Despite the fact that our team members are located in four different continents, we hold weekly Skype meetings, brainstorm our ideas over WhatsApp and exchange emails daily.

#3 – Be bold and reach out for assistance to experts in the field. In order to obtain crucial information regarding immunisation in Uganda, we have contacted a great number of individuals who have been keen to share their knowledge and expertise with us.

Read about the other five teams

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