Notes from the field

Consulting for Humanity: Perspectives on the Carey Business School Innovations for Humanity Course

12/22/2014

AUTHOR: Gaby Colocho 

The Innovation for Humanity (I4H) course was one of the main reasons I joined the Carey Business School Global MBA program. I was looking for an MBA curriculum that would teach not only the fundamentals of business management but also be sensitive to teach about the world’s most difficult problems affecting the very poor and encourage students to tackle them. I believe that this is what “business taught with humanity in mind” represents.

My experience with the I4H course was eye-opening, truly humbling, challenging, but rewarding all at the same time. The course is strategically designed to mirror what a consulting project would be in real life, which is an excellent opportunity for students like me who have limited experience in conducting consulting projects abroad.  It is also a great opportunity to learn about creative business ideas to address “bottom of the pyramid” problems in the field of healthcare, water, education, solar energy, and others. In my case, I had the pleasure to work in a team of four with a social enterprise in Hyderabad, which provides affordable safe drinking water to low-income communities mainly in rural India. Consulting for Naandi Community Water Services (NCWS) was an incredible opportunity for me to learn about a sector and business model with which I had no previous experience. In addition, my team and I had the fortune to meet and interact with the local communities where Naandi serves, and even have tea with the local councils (Panchayats).  It was through the meetings and interactions with members of the local community that helped me realize the impact of this project and my passion for working in this field.

While NCWS provides a much-needed service at a very low price of approximately 0.01 US cent per liter, they were facing sustainability challenges at the time of the project. As a team with diverse backgrounds, we were able to assist NCWS in identifying opportunities to generate more sales and reduce costs. As simple as this may sound, the journey to derive to our recommendations was challenging yet rewarding. To identify potential sources of new sales, we had to first understand why customers were not purchasing water on a regular basis as projected by NCWS. Secondly, we had to investigate and identify the main sources of costs and find alternatives to reduce them. My team relied on each other’s expertise and what we learned in the first few weeks of the course. In addition, we had to quickly become “experts” in the process of purifying water via reverse osmosis and have a deep understanding of the value chain of NCWS. 

In line with Hopkins’s research principles, we had to study the problem and formulate a hypothesis around what we thought the problem was. Once in the country, we had fewer than three weeks to visit the client site, build rapport with clients and their customers, and conduct field research to collect as much information as possible to test our hypothesis and find applicable and realistic solutions.  

After graduating from the Global MBA program this past May, I have been working on a consulting project for an international microfinance that is diversifying its portfolio to better serve its clients to include non-financial products and services such as clean drinking water and water filters. Thanks to the lessons from the I4H class, I can intelligently contribute to this consultancy project because I’ve gained an understanding of the water industry in India and social enterprises, as well as the ability to interact with people from other cultures and backgrounds. 

It was truly a life-changing experience that every business student should have, especially in a period where customers are demanding that companies be conscious of the environment and do more for those most in need. Thinking about the triple bottom line is important for future business leaders, and I believe this is the principle behind the course and the Carey Business School.

Featured image: Gaby Colocho (right, first row) with other Carey Business School classmates and the local people 


AUTHOR: Shervin Esfahani 

Before attending the candidate day at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, I, honestly, did not think that the Innovation for Humanity (I4H) course would be the driving factor in choosing my MBA program. I was there for the healthcare focus and the opportunity to flex my science background in the field of business. But over the next year, a course I thought had little importance led me on a journey that exposed me to new things I never realized existed, both personally and globally. The sheer scale of progressive knowledge, unadulterated hope, humility, and the understanding that altruism can exist within profitable business was captivating. It changed my life in a way that has allowed me to mature, while thinking about difficult and seemingly hopeless problems with a focused lens on innovation, growth, and opportunity.

Among the many offerings of the course was a deep immersion into the working culture of India. It was a fascinating opportunity that came with its own challenges. Our diverse team of four comprised of individuals from Mexico, Switzerland, China, and the United States. We built a strong bond and learned to work together to ultimately deliver a useful solution. The entire process was incredibly gratifying. As a team, we learned a tremendous amount about how different the business environment can be in such a different culture. However, we also saw how corruption can play an integral role in markets, how our backgrounds could be leveraged, and eventually, how we could provide value to a country filled with incredibly passionate and intelligent people.

My project team’s engagement was with the South Asian Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resource Studies (SaciWATERs), a gathering of some of the most influential and educated scientists and activists in South East Asia working to change the way water resource management is done. As a consortium, they work to amass knowledge and evidence surrounding all the moving parts that aid in the recovery of the water situation in South East Asia. With this information, SaciWATERs aims to build a defensible argument against unfavorable government policies. Our team focus was the illegal water tanker businesses that remain rampant across Hyderabad, India. These businesses pull water from rural areas for delivery into the city and suburbs. These businesses have flourished as a result of lack of oversight, regulation, and control, and, consequently, led to a decimation of the water table. Although contrary to existing policy, we quickly realized that many of such illegitimate businesses were funded and protected by corrupt local government officials. While these politicians grow wealthy, poor farmers are taken advantage of, and thereby drain their irrigation wells in exchange for fast money.

We spent many days in the rural areas surrounding Hyderabad interviewing tanker drivers, farmers, landowners, and the local population. Slowly, we began to understand the urgency of the situation, and the sheer massive scale of water being drawn: A single pump in a small village can pull 4.2 million liters every month. By the end of our engagement with SaciWATERs, we were able to provide them with a valuable deliverable: a comprehensive framework to assess the economic and natural impact of the tanker business on Hyderabad. While the impact of our work would not be immediate, there was a great sense of gratification in knowing that it would be an important piece for the preservation of water and the future of SaciWATERs. 

 Since completing the Global MBA program in May, I’ve been working as a digital marketing manager within the pharmaceutical industry. At first glance, working in the pharmaceutical/biotech industry may not seem to benefit from the skills learned in the I4H course. However, that’s not the case. I work regularly with international clients/colleagues, and my experiences from I4H have allowed me to play a more pivotal role in these valuable interactions. The curriculum at Carey is one of few that truly bring the bottom of the

pyramid at the forefront of students’ minds. The same students move on to become key leaders across industries, with the passion and knowledge to make change. This coursework will always resonate with me and shape my decisions in the future, and I look forward to seeing how others at Carey help transform the world with the same experiences. 

 

Featured image: a local water tanker business in India. 

Keywords:

Carey Business School, SaciWaters, Naandi, Gaby Colocho, Shervin Esfahani

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of Johns Hopkins University or the Johns Hopkins University Global Water Program.