MBAs Without Borders: Experience In Emerging Markets Gives Graduates An Edge

Experience in emerging markets differentiates MBAs from their domestic-bound peers–not to mention the lifelong memories.

MBAs Without Borders: Experience In Emerging Markets Gives Graduates An Edge

“Without question, I’m far more likely to hire MBA graduates who have had management consulting experience in emerging markets over graduates who have not,” said Amit Sinha, Head of Database and Technology Marketing at SAP.


As an employer who hires graduates from many MBA programs, Sinha himself took advantage of the International Business Development program when he was a graduate student himself several years ago at the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley.

“Graduates who have worked on projects in emerging markets develop a unique blend of experience in innovating solutions, along with collaboration and teamwork, can-do attitude, and humility,” explained Sinha. These are vital qualities for professionals at a company like SAP, shared Sinha, because SAP works across all major global companies, impacting 70% of world trade. “Cultural sensitivity to business practices is essential, and so is the ability to identify opportunities in fast growing markets.”

“Our clients are global,” said Sinha, “so the problems they need us to solve are global. We can’t help them if we don’t understand the worldwide context ourselves.”

“You develop humility,” said Sinha, “by learning how to take feedback. You might have ideas in principle, but when you go into a country, you have to listen to a variety of people–perhaps doctors, community organizers, and others–and understand from them: What do you do today, and how can we help bring market principles to bear to help you solve local problems?”

Sinha also explained that the team can include one expert in microfinance, one in public health, and another in marketing and publicity. Together the group brainstorms, creates a hypothesis, meets with customers and stakeholders in the community, and then develops their recommendations.


The MBAs Without Borders experience is transformative

“It changed my life,” said Atmore Baggot, referring to the management consulting position that was arranged for him by MBAs Without Borders (MWB) a program of CDC Development Solutions. MWB matches individuals and teams from graduate business schools around the world with skills-based volunteer projects in emerging countries.

After completing his MBA at Thunderbird School of Global Management, Baggot joined ABT Associates through MWB to work on three projects in Paraguay. One assignment was to help a major healthcare NGO to shift off of USAID funding to become financially self-sustaining. Baggot conducted a comprehensive consulting project including strategy, marketing, finance, and human resources.

Following an intensive 18-month MWB experience, Baggot was hired for the position he’s in today by Gallup. Together with a team that he supervises, Baggot works with company’s banking clients, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economy, to create jobs through the development of small and medium enterprises in Mexico.

Although Baggot had business experience in between college and Thunderbird, his work had been at a private equity firm. “The consulting experience I gained through MWB was transformative because it qualified me for my current job at Gallup. I wanted to consult with clients on business strategy and help companies in developing countries,” he said. “Now I’m doing what I love.”


His dream is to expand the Gallup science throughout Latin America.

MBAs Without Borders: For students seeking to challenge themselves in new environments

Jailan Adly, Senior Program Director, MWB, sees a burgeoning interest among graduate business students worldwide in the skills-based volunteer experiences in emerging markets. “The richer the variety of perspectives and life experiences that MBA students bring, the greater the value to the management consulting team and to the clients,” he said.

Triin Visnapuu is on an MWB assignment in Marrakech, Morocco, working with Al Kawtar, an association for handicapped women to create and sell crafts. Visnapuu, who blogs here, is helping them to restructure in order to qualify for national healthcare benefits and also build a profitable and sustainable enterprise.

“After graduating from HEC Paris I went back to banking for a year and then decided to look for something completely different,” Visnapuu explained. “I wanted to give back to the world as I feel quite fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience the things that I’ve experienced in my life. I also wanted to challenge myself and put myself in a completely alien position. I have indeed found new challenges, primarily the question of how to overcome differences when working with people.”


Visnapuu grew up in Estonia and obtained her BSc in Economics and Business at Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, prior to working in banking and then getting her MBA.

According to Amanda MacArthur, Vice President, CDC Development Solutions, “MWB participants come out of their experiences better prepared to face the challenges of global business, they are more creative and able to address challenges with limited resources, they have learned to ask the right questions and they understand the opportunities of frontier markets.”

Harvard, MIT Sloan, and Berkeley involve the majority of their students in international experiential learning

While MWB engages individuals and teams from a vast array of graduate business schools worldwide, a number of MBA schools sponsor their own international experiential learning programs. Each school’s curriculum precedes the “in-country” component with rigorous preparation and follow up. Students work in teams studying the countries where they’ll be working, the client, and the business challenge in the context of an emerging market.

MIT Sloan School of Management’s Action Learning program involves 300 students annually; most work in teams of four, and the in-country experience is two weeks in duration. According to Michellana Jester, Program Manager of Action Learning, MBAs in the Global Enterprise Lab collaborate with Ph.D.s on many of the projects.


More than half of all the MBA students at the Haas School of Business at UC-Berkeley participate in the IBD, according to Kristi Raube, Executive Director.

Harvard Business School involves all first year MBA students in the Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD), including one week in-country; students work in teams of six. In describing the intensive preparation that occurs in advance of the trip, Professor Alan MacCormack discussed with me how students collect data and create and test their various hypotheses regarding their clients’ challenges.

Once the students meet with their clients in-country to test their hypotheses, he said that “where the business environment is distinctively different than in the U.S., students learn the most.” He elaborated by explaining that “there are so many basics that you take for granted–like electricity. And then there are institutional voids, as well as challenges related to the regulatory environment. Students can read about it, but there is nothing like seeing it first hand to truly understand it.”

“For every difference you see, there are likely to be opportunities, especially in terms of infrastructures for business,” added MacCormack.

MacCormack also commented on humility, just as Sinha did. “Through these international experiences you learn humility. That your knowledge is incomplete until you observe and listen. That’s a skill that will help you in a lot of scenarios in business today.”

About the author

Korngold provides strategy consulting to global corporations on sustainability, facilitating corporate-nonprofit partnerships, and training and placing hundreds of business executives on NGO/nonprofit boards for 20+ years. She provides strategy and board governance consulting to NGO/nonprofit boards, foundations, and educational and healthcare institutions. Korngold's latest book is "A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot," published by Palgrave Macmillan for release on 1/7/14