Thunderbird students made friends, gained real-world experience and applied global business knowledge during recent consulting projects in Cambodia and Guatemala. The students also racked up some impressive numbers during the Thunderbird Emerging Markets Laboratory, a capstone course that previously has placed teams of students in Albania, Peru, Rwanda and Vietnam.
The Cambodian team attended 37 meetings with 15 stakeholders, accumulating 245 contact hours and 1,500 total project hours in five weeks. That adds up to 60 hours per week per person.
The Guatemalan team, meanwhile, helped design a global business workshop and train trainers from 24 key organizations. They produced a 120-page course workbook and logged similar hours to their Cambodian counterparts.
The groups returned to campus in March 2011 and reported their results to Thunderbird Professor Michael Finney, Ph.D., in open presentations that attracted students, faculty and staff from all over campus. Here is a summary of the Cambodian project:
TEM Lab team members found an abundance of paper when they arrived in Cambodia on Feb. 1, 2011, to begin a consulting project for nonprofit information technology company Digital Divide Data (DDD).
Their first day on the ground, the students walked among aisles of patient records stored in the back room of a local hospital. “They have humongous amounts of paper,” TEM Lab consultant Oseas Ramirez ’11 said. “Some hospitals have no digital record keeping system at all.”
The team found conditions even less efficient in the financial services industry, where banks lack uniform systems for checking client credit histories, vetting loan applications or sharing account information among branches.
Ramirez uses Phnom Penh traffic conditions as a metaphor for the country’s business dynamics. Motor scooters and cars dodge each other with no identifiable patterns, and foreign drivers who try to follow the rules only make things worse.
“In Cambodia, driving is an art,” one local manager told Ramirez. “If you follow the rules, you will block the way and create an accident. It happens all the time with foreigners around here.”
TEM Lab consultant Kathryn Benbow ’11 said the streets also provide evidence of Cambodia’s resourcefulness. She said many of the vehicles that zigzag through traffic are formerly wrecked luxury cars and sport utility vehicles from the United States that have been brought back to life in Cambodia.
“Although the cars are secondhand, it gives one a sense of the country’s ability to seek out and seize opportunities,” she said.
TEM Lab consultant Michael Finch ’11 made a third observation from the Phnom Penh streets, where he saw evidence of Cambodia’s huge disparity between the rich and poor.
“My first thought when I stepped into Cambodia was, ‘This is a poor country,’” he wrote in the team’s Thunderbird Knowledge Network blog. “People who do not even know where Cambodia is on a map would most likely be aware of this bit of information. But it is not until you actually see and smell and touch it that you understand how little most of these people have.”
The TEM Lab team had to consider these real-world dynamics as they helped DDD explore business opportunities in Cambodia’s health care and financial services industries. The company, which provides job training and employment to young workers in Cambodia and Laos, specializes in digitization of paper records with a high degree of accuracy.
Consultant Jessica Bellama ’11 said the project required her TEM Lab team to use its full range of Global MBA skills. “We used every course we’ve had so far,” she said. “And we got a chance to apply the learning in a challenging emerging market.”
The students developed recommendations for DDD based on assigned tasks, but consultant Zachary Hall ’11 said the team also worked to deliver added value. “We not only addressed the client’s specific concerns,” he said, “but we also looked a step beyond.”
Ramirez described the project as a turning point in his career. “Without a doubt, this is the most important learning experience I have had at Thunderbird,” he said. “I never thought I could become so enamored with a country in such a short time. But I really grew to love Cambodia.”