Time with the Champions

Beautiful Nairobi. Lots of greenery, lovely weather, friendly people, great beer…what’s not to like!

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As in many developing countries, income inequality, high unemployment, rural-urban migration and other issues combine to create a large population living in poverty, dwelling in informal settlements ( read: slums) like Mathare. (view from my office)

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Unemployment is pretty common, with a correspondingly high crime rate. The HIV prevalence exceeds the national average. Tuberculosis, malnutrition, hypertension and diabetes are also rampant.

Run by German Doctors Nairobi, BARAKA HEALTH CENTER provides quality, accessible and sustainable health services to the vulnerable population in this community of around half a million people.Picture Baraka health center

Rose has worked in Baraka since 2007, and leads the ‘community team’.  I believe it’s more apt to call them the ‘Community Champions’With the community team

The community team delivers one of the core services of this centre. Their job is to go into the dangerous streets, narrow alleys, unmarked houses and unventilated shacks with ‘flying toilets’. They follow up on patients, identify people too sick to come to the clinic, pick out malnourished children and adults, monitor drug adherence, and refer these people to the feeding centre,the health clinic, the HIV/TB care centre or to other appropriate services.

I spent one day with them on the field to help me understand the center’s work, I couldn’t take pictures to avoid undue attention. Only Rose was bold enough to make phone calls on the street, and she told me: “they see me as their mother, and no matter how ‘bad’ these boys become, they’ll still find it hard to attack their mother; but you make sure you keep your phone well”. (I kept my phone very very well!)

In my time here as an ESMT Responsible Leaders’ Fellow, I hope to contribute to keeping the centre open and running sustainably. If I ever run out of motivation….I’ll just spend another day with Rose and her courageous team-  field trip for me, daily work for her.

With Rose

Fresh Perspectives

Do my experiences make me think about myself and those around me in a new perspective?

Most of us like to experience something new from time to time. Not just for the fun of it, but because new events and observations enrich your thinking, and make you a better person. Thanks to the diversity I encountered, I’ve discovered myself new from time to time. The important part of this whole new-and-diverse-experiences aspect for me, is the learning that lasts. What I experience, does it add a new perspective to my outlook?

I put this question to my decision to join ESMT’s Full-Time MBA program.

As I was putting together the different pieces of information I gathered in my research leading to the MBA application, one factor became more and more prominent: the prospect of enriching experiences. And when I integrated my MBA-selection-criteria with my priorities in life, it came out as a non-negotiable factor. After my fitment analysis, I was convinced that ESMT is the BEST choice for me. With all the research, talking to trusted advisors, figuring out financials, working on essays, profile preparation etc. I had gained substantial momentum, and I was in a very positive frame of mind. I was upbeat on MBA prospects at ESMT.

If only life were such a smooth ride! Gaining from prior experiences, I had factored in contingency, but what transpired next, blew me over. Over the last four months I’ve experienced tumultuous times. My sister-in-law (SiL) died a day before I had my admissions interview at ESMT. And this happened within a few months after my sister lost her unborn baby to pregnancy complications. These events devastated my aging parents, and they both developed serious health issues. The family was shattered. My SiL was more a friend to me than a family member. It was hard to cope with her sudden demise. It still is.

In a short span of time, my priorities changed. I wanted to spend as much quality time as possible with my family. This meant I had to compromise on an essential part of my finances. The momentum I had gained in the run-up to MBA application was waning. Doubts cropped up in my mind if the timing was right for MBA. I couldn’t decide, nevertheless I went ahead with the admission procedure. When ESMT offered me admission, I paid the deposit and left for India, with “Deferral” as Plan B.

The time I spent with my family, though short, proved crucial. My parents totally recovered, my brother came out of depression, and my nephew and niece had a lovely time. I gained momentum, but doubts still lingered. In the initial days after joining the program, I was still asking myself if I made the right choice. After three weeks at ESMT, I can answer affirmatively.

The class has a rich professional and cultural diversity. The first module of MBA@ESMT has provided me a good context of general management, decision making, and economics. And I am sure the modules-to-come will further strengthen my understanding of business and will provide the necessary tools to approach business problems. This however was expected.

What impressed me positively is that this MBA has helped me develop a fresh and more embracing outlook towards uncertainty in life, recognise shortcomings in my approach to decision making, appreciate more than before the importance of Plan B in life, and experience group dynamics in light of changing ground realities.

If I have to choose one word to convey my experience so far, it would be REFLECTION. The program has led me to reflect more – Who am I, as a person, as a group member? How do I perceive others around me? How do I respond to a life situation? And it made me look at my past in a new perspective. I can’t fully verbalise the value of these experiences.

Will I be able to put to use all of what I learnt to my life right from this moment? May be not. But they will surely influence my response to all new situations. Right now, I am trying to internalise what I have undergone so I can make a positive and lasting difference to my approach to life. So, yes, MBA@ESMT does make me think in a new perspective. And it has filled me with hope that this will be a life-changing experience.

Till next time, your’s lovingly

santom!

 

The Room with a View

The walls are rising, rising very fast. A little more than 11 months have passed since the day I arrived in Berlin, and the view of the Berlin skyline from Auditorium 1 at ESMT was an integral part of my classroom experience. The historic Berliner Dom, the Altes Museum, the E&Y building on a far corner, the moving arms of the cranes carrying steel rods, frames and what not and the Berlin skyline in general, were the unnecessary but often unavoidable distractions to many of the current students of the full-time MBA class (if not many, at least for me). The “Berliner Schloss” coming up right across the street is unknowingly taking away the view that once had offered me an enjoyable momentary distraction.

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Change, they say, is the only thing that is constant. At this point in time, I could not agree more. I was a stranger on the 13th of January this year—to the city, to the 61 other colleagues of my class—but not anymore. The MBA journey has been filled with memories, both sweet and bitter, memories nonetheless. There have been moments when the case readings seemed never-ending, assignments stretched late into the evening, and work in general seemed overwhelming. There were deadlines one after another after another. One of my biggest learning experiences this year is that precisely during such moments, I should not ask for the rush to pause, for the flow to slow down; since such a wish is akin to wishing for death. There will be work, there will be change. The best we can do is to stay prepared and face it head on. As long as we breathe, at least minimally, life moves.

Why do I bore you with philosophy on change right now? Did I run out of topics to write, and is it the usual non-coherence of my thoughts? Well, we graduate today. I could not think of a better theme than “change” to write briefly about.

Life ahead is interesting, full of opportunities, I believe. Some of us head back home to take a break before we restart the job search, some stay back to look for opportunities, and some others are all set to start their new career. All the best to everyone.

I will miss the view, I will miss the class, I will miss ESMT.

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M.B.A & C.E.O – An attempt to connect these six characters

The term “Chief Executive Officer” is believed to have come first into existence (or) acceptance around the year 1917, roughly the time when modern managerial form of business was being shaped in the western world. Much has been written about this role, often considered the pinnacle of the corporate ladder.

M.B.A & C.E.O - An attempt to connect these six charactersA brief look back in time reveals a rather interesting evolution of the CEO. Starting in the 1910s, moving into the 1950s and 1960s (a period that was characterized by major western economies and Japan recovering from the ravages of the second world war) to all the way till today; the CEO has evolved from being an “entrepreneurial individual” who developed his/her own institution to the “corporate leader” of today focused in maximizing “stakeholder value”.

In trying to comprehend whether or not a management degree primes you for the role of a CEO, it is necessary to understand what key attributes characterize today’s CEOs (and hopefully the future CEOs’ too). I understand that a CEO must be honest, positive but not overly optimistic, tough but at the same time inclusive, forward thinking and inspirational. By no means is my list exhaustive but all that I am saying is that the role of a CEO demands a multitude of characteristics, a few of which complement one another and few that do not. That being said, does a management degree equip you with all the aforementioned?

Well, yes and no. Yes, because I believe that management education indeed encompasses both theory and practice that delivers leadership, managerial, entrepreneurial and collaborative skills to the graduate. No, because that is only a part of the picture. The learning comes as much from outside the classrooms as it does from within them. The numerous group assignments will teach you team dynamics, and necessity to engage with & listen to other voices in the room. The coffee break chats will reveal interesting stories of your peers, stories that will be a part of your conversations years down the road after you have left your campuses. The field trips will give you a perspective of the ground realities in a variety of industries. The simulation exercises, business plan competitions, and case challenges will bring you the much needed perspective to understand and analyze the dynamic & complex world of business. The research thesis will initially drive you to think about contemporary and complex issues within your  field of interest and later push you to apply the numerous frameworks/ theories/models into practice. I could go on, but let me conclude.

Ace the exams, do the assignments, crack the cases but at the same time, make genuine connections, embrace new experiences, volunteer, learn a new language. In brief, maximize every available opportunity to learn. The path to becoming a CEO is challenging and chances are today’s graduates will progress to become CEOs in a world of business that would have changed drastically than what it is today. The best we can do is to stay prepared. It is not the degree alone but the “MBA experience” that prepares you for this exciting ride ahead. All the best.

References: The Lives and Times of the CEO, a strategy+business report

It is time for you to help

Our class (ESMT MBA 2013) has numerous links to the Philippines, and we are all very concerned with the recent news surrounding Taifun Haiyan. The impact of the storm in the region has been catastrophic. In the Philippines alone around 10 thousand people have died and over 4 million have been left homeless. The efforts to return to a life somewhat close to normal are underway, but it will take a considerable amount of time before the people in this region recover. International help is coming from different destinations to the Philippines and we as members of the ESMT community want to contribute to this cause as well.

Recently we were reminded of how powerful nature can be when we were visited by Xaver, one of the strongest storms to fall on Germany in the last decades. Luckily for us, the country’s infrastructure and organizations were well prepared. Despite winds exceeding 150 km/h, the damage, as well as the number of casualties Europe-wide, was relatively limited.

As you may want to see it, we are either blessed or lucky to be living in cities and countries with limited natural disasters and with well prepared infrastructures that offer protection when required. However, given that 7 billion people are living around the world, it could have easily been the case that we wouldn’t be where we are today. If we were at the other side of this story, we would be the ones needing the help of others more fortunate than us now. The fact is that we are the more fortunate ones today, and we therefore want to jointly make an effort to help our brothers and sisters in the Philippines.

How will we do it? The ESMT Social Impact Club is organizing a donation drive.  At our graduation event we will display boxes that attendees can use to make donations. Furthermore, we will use our networks and the networks of our school to broaden the reach of our undertaking.

With whom will we do it? We have selected a reliable partner who is involved in micro-financing for the poor. They are called Opportunity International Deutschland, and they are a Christian-motivated non-profit whose goal is to provide micro-financing services for the poor at large to support their sustainable development. They have a strong presence and network in the Philippines with over 30 years of local history and a total of around 1 million micro finance clients. Approx. 50.000 of their clients were significantly affected by the storm. Branches and employees of OID were impacted as well. OID is now supporting reconstruction efforts, and they will be a major vehicle of financing for the poor as they try to get back on their feet. All the funds we collect will go to OID.

How can you help? If you want more information you can write us at: social_impact_club@esmt.org. If you identify with our cause you can make a donation by following this link: www.oid.org (please enter the payment reference: “Taifun ESMT”). We thank you for your interest and potential support!

Warm regards from Berlin, the ESMT Social Impact Club.