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U.Va. Darden School Students Embark on Global Field Experiences

Building on an early record of success, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business is taking its innovative approach to teaching graduate business students about global social innovation to an expanded list of countries. Recently developed Darden electives, called “Global Field Experiences,” enable second-year students to help people in various countries conceptualize, develop and maintain sustainable businesses.

A group of students recently returned from Tunisia, where they worked on a business development project. Darden’s Center for Global Initiatives, which manages GFEs, will send more student teams to Memoto in Stockholm, Sweden, and to the University of Venda in Thohoyandou, South Africa, this month.

In Tunisia, Darden students worked alongside MBA for Executives participants from the Mediterranean School of Business in Tunis, helping to develop business plans for the proposed launch of a new social enterprise called INASanté – the country’s first health care services accreditation agency.

In Sweden, students will help creators of the recently launched Narrative wearable camera, a tiny device that can clip onto clothing. They will co-create marketing plans to promote the product in military and medical device customer segments.

In South Africa, students will work with the University of Venda on complex issues related to the development of a third income stream so that the university can diversify bases of support and enable increased capacity.

“This project gave our students a unique window into the challenges of health care services in North Africa,” said Marc Johnson, executive director of the Center for Global Initiatives and faculty leader for the Tunisia assignment. “I know from our partners that the Darden team helped them think through some of their challenges in launching this new social venture and helped advance their aspirations to have a sustainable organization that will improve health outcomes for people in Tunisia.”

“What most resonated with me was how much I learned about a country through a one quarter-long project,” second-year student Leslie Viano said. “Building a financial model and presenting a new venture to potential clients are skills we learn in class. Yet, these skills are only useful if you know the cultural context, and I quickly realized I did not.

“It's up to us to ask the right questions, do the research, and most importantly, adapt quickly to the circumstances to provide the most effective recommendations.” 

This spring, student teams will head for Austindo Nusantara Jaya in Jakarta and Papua, Indonesia; ETI in Istanbul and Eskisehir, Turkey; Freeset in Kolkata, India; and will work with the company MediaWave to help develop markets for their digital media platform in the United States, Europe and the Middle East.

  • Students will work with Austindo Nusantara Jaya on new business development activities.
  • Students will assist ETI, the largest food manufacturers in Turkey, with strategic market research activities.
  • Students will help Freeset Global with issues related to retail growth of their U.S. business.
  • Students will partner with MediaWave to develop business strategies for operating in other parts of the globe.

“These electives are a direct response to our internal and external stakeholders’ input as well as student feedback requesting more experiential programming and global opportunities in their curriculum and MBA program,” said Michael Koenig, Darden’s senior assistant dean for degree programs. “These are innovative in that they have significant flexibility in the duration of the client consulting engagement at the heart of any GFE, as well as a strong focus on socially responsible engagements, which are making a difference in people's lives around the world.”

A Look Back at the Inaugural Year of GFEs

In the global program’s first year, about 20 students were afforded an impressive set of experiences in business development.

  • In spring 2013, six students traveled to Baruyan Barangay, one of more than 400 villages within the Philippines’ Oriental Mindoro province.
  • Further west during a GFE in Zambia, Darden students helped Buffalo Bicycle Company enhance its financial model, raise new capital and seek new investors. Greg Molnar, a 2013 Darden graduate, describes his experiences in Zambia through footage he captured while conducting work on the ground alongside his classmates.
  • During Darden’s first GFE in Tunisia, students teamed up with students from Darden’s partner school, the Mediterranean School of Business, to develop business plans in support of branchless banking and to help families facing Alzheimer’s disease.
  • In Tanzania, Darden students worked with the World Bank on ways to spur economic development through training and education in the realm of Microwork – small jobs completed over the Internet by many different people that compose a single large project or effort.

Looking ahead, Darden will continue to engage its alumni to help in the identification of new GFE locations.

“We will also be actively working with the internationally focused student organizations, such as the Darden African Business Organization and the Darden Emerging Markets Development Club, to identify new opportunities,” Koenig added.

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