Responsibility begins at School

Since I am already in Harare for over a week now and have walked my talk, I feel entitled to say something about the ESMT Responsible Leaders (RL) Fellowship and the opportunity it has given me to explore the social and nonprofit sides of business. I still remember it was May of 2013 and I was browsing through websites of various Business schools to find a program which best matched my requirements. ESMT’s MBA program design and credentials definitely beckoned me but another thing that appealed to me was RLF, hidden in small texts somewhere under the international exposure options. I didn’t have much idea about it then but I did inquire during my interview with Nick Barniville, Director of MBA Program. When I finally decided to join ESMT, I wouldn’t say RLF was the only reason but it definitely played a role subconsciously. It gave me an impression about how committed ESMT is towards its social responsibility and towards imbibing that in its students and community.

Rahul Jain about the Responsible Leadership Fellowship (RLF)

I joined in January 2014 and the first meeting regarding RLF was held in April, if I remember correctly. Wulff Plinke, founding Dean of ESMT and Professor Emeritus, introduced us to what RLF was all about, what assistance was available and what were the expectations of school from its fellows. Those who were interested were told that they need to find a nonprofit organization of choice and look for a suitable role with it. Once this is done school would be sponsoring the student and pay a stipend for up to six months during the assignment. Student status of the fellow would also be extended by another six months in line with this program. Assignment was supposed to be in a developing region of the world where there were most pressing needs for expertise but safety of fellow was also a priority.

Although we were expected to find organization and role ourselves, I must say that the school’s and Wulff’s network came very handy at every stage. We were presented with host of options during our July meeting where various well known organizations came and presented possible opportunities. Wulff and Nick, who were managing the program, encouraged us throughout and helped us in overcoming our predicaments and making the right choice.

I was committed towards the fellowship from the beginning but there was always an anxiety around whether I would be able to get the right assignment and would there be an impact on my career post it. Keeping all my doubts aside I decided I really wanted to do this and I was able to secure a volunteering opportunity in October with WeltHungerHilfe in their Marketing division. There was no looking back afterwards and I was waiting eagerly to start on this assignment since then.

We graduated in December and I flew to Zimbabwe during the second week of January, after packing all my bags in Berlin. And after spending a week here I would say I did make the right choice by choosing ESMT. What I found in May 2013 was indeed what I was looking for.

I don’t know how many business schools in the world have similar programs but RLF is definitely a unique opportunity provided by ESMT to inculcate a sense of social responsibility in its Graduates. The financial commitment towards it and support provided by ESMT is indeed commendable. I would like to congratulate and wish good luck to my other five classmates and Responsible Leaders Fellows, from this year, who embarked on this journey as well and are excitingly looking forward to their volunteering assignments in different parts of the world.

They say charity begins at home but for me responsibility begins at schools with right values, people and commitment.

MIM Batch 1 Module 1, Checked!

Hello from Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow, Russia!

You readers are lucky today because I am stuck at this airport for 20 hours of layover and I have no other better things to do right now. Haha kidding! I was planning to post this on the plane a few hours ago and I’m going to do it now before holiday kicks in and I would be too busy having fun to write.

So Module 1 of MIM was over and the winter holiday starts, finally! To say “finally” is somehow a bit of a bluff because now that it’s over, I sort of think it was like last week when I set foot on Berlin’s cool, hard ground. Things happened so fast (as we all know) here at ESMT and before we knew it, we have tackled 7 subjects + language course + a series of skilled and career workshops. It looked as if we would never make it, but we did. Now, that reminds me of what Francis (our beloved Decision Theory professor) said one fine day: “I’m not here to make you feel comfortable about yourself. I’m here to challenge you and push you beyond your limits.” He was right. I guess we all need a bit of pull, and push, and maybe a kick once in a while too.

Well, if you ask me how my experience was here at ESMT, I would say it has been a life-changing experience. I’m not going to talk about what I’ve learned or how great ESMT is because we all know that. At a personal level, I have made great friends. There were ups and downs, and as time goes by we’ve grown to share more and more meaningful things. There were tears of frustration, tears of joy, and even tears of laughter. I still remember one fine evening on the U-Bahn to the language school when we looked at each other’s tired faces and we just laughed and laughed till we cried. There were days when everyone’s eye-bags were a little bigger than usual. There are other days when the girls stop wearing even the slightest make-ups or even bother how their hair looks like or what clothes they were wearing. There were also times when tension rises, group dynamics flipped and the air seems less friendly. But hey, we got passed that with high spirits! I absolutely enjoyed the Christmas Dinner last night and the Secret Santa’s events hosted by Blanca and William. It was relaxing, fun, and yummy. Great company, great wine… Now what’s more to ask for? Below are some of us who managed to squeeze into the picture:

MIM Christmas Dinner

Before I get carried away, I would like to send my regards to all my fellow MIMs out there who are either travelling or getting ready to do something fun this winter holiday. Spend your quality time wisely before coming back for the second amazing race, alright?

With Love,
(and sleepiness)

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.


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.


My First 3 days in Berlin

So Anne did mean it when she told us few weeks ago that “It will get better”. Yes, we were somehow complaining about the workload, of how we barely survived all those Decision Theory homework and statistics problem sets (mostly), getting the study group together to accomplish certain tasks, and last but not least: seeing the beautiful Berlin. When I signed up to be one of the bloggers here, I told Claudia that I could write two or three times a week. Look at me now: writing my second post after 7 weeks of my first one. But this also means that life is getting better now. I am not sure whether the schedule is getting more relaxed or we simply got used to the schedule. Maybe the latter.

So now that I have a bit of time before Monday kicks in (I thought I only dread Mondays when I was working, but it haunts me now still!) I would like to narrate a little story of my first month in Berlin.

If you read my previous post, you would see how excited I was. I arrived in Berlin two days before the program started, which was 7th of September. It was 9am when I landed at Tegel, and I took a cab to a shared apartment that Bar (our awesome Israeli MIM) has found for me. I was to share with an Israeli lady of about 50, living alone in her two-room apartment. We agreed that I will stay for one month and see how it goes before deciding whether to continue my stay. So she welcomed me warmly to the reasonably cozy room with shared bathroom and kitchen of course. There was no living room so she made me tea and offered me cookies in her own room. She was kind and warm, in general. I did not really mind too when she told me I couldn’t have access to internet now because there was something wrong (in which she couldn’t explain) and that she will “borrow” the internet connection from the neighbor for me. I was still ok when she told me I am not supposed to use the washing machine without her there, because she was afraid it will break down. Even when she told me to make sure I don’t use warm water too much when washing my dishes because it will mean more electricity, or when she told me I was not supposed to cook a lot “because Berlin’s food is really cheap!”, I was still ok. After all, I already got the vibes that I should find a new place next month and for now just be nice and do whatever she says. She was pretty considerate though; she even offered to show me the nearest bahn station and the neighborhood. She said she felt like she was having a little daughter at home again.

So the next day after I slept off my jetlag, I went and give her the rental and deposit of 1000 euro. I changed all my money in Phnom Penh, my hometown, in a local currency exchange center that is supposed to be the most trustworthy among all in town. I did not have a bank account yet, so I gave her the money in cash. Then I was off to ESMT to meet Anne and was supposed to meet Bar later for the first time. While talking excitedly to Anne, I got a call from my landlady “Where are you? You need to come right now, your money is fake and the police is here. I don’t care where you are or what you are doing, just get here right now.” I was stunned. She gave me the address and hung up. I couldn’t even remember the address, being on my first day in Berlin and not speaking a word of German. I called her again and she started repeating the same dialogue before I managed to spell out the name of the street from her. I immediately hopped on a cab, not wasting even 1 minute. While on the cab, she called me two more times. It took only 15 minutes to get there, and the last call was when I was right in front of Deutsche Bank – where she was with two policemen nearby. I went to her, before she could say anything I said “I am really really sorry”. She replied “You better be, you better be. This is your last day in my apartment. I sensed the anger, so I turned instead to the policemen and ask what I could do. They informed me that one 100 euro note (not all) was fake. They needed my passport and information for record purposes and that was it.

However, my landlady kept repeating how embarrassing it is for her, and that it was her first time getting into such situation after 50 years of life, and that “she deal with bad people and bad money”. She kept repeating how well she welcomed me, how she thought I was a good person. No matter how many times I apologized, she just did not care. As a background information, she has German citizenship but does not speak German. So one banking staff was there to interpret what the policemen said to her. So now, the fake money issue is done but the policemen and the bank staff were busy explaining to her that this kind of case are pretty normal and they face it almost everyday. It’s not her fault, and it’s not my fault either because fake money is everywhere. They were arguing, somehow. I was there, watching the bank staff and policemen arguing with my landlady on my behalf. I felt really overwhelmed by her attitude and I already had watery eyes, almost crying out loud. Fortunately, Bar turned up on time and explained to her in their language. After a while, she calmed down a little and said I could stay with her as long as I need to get a new place. I politely said it’s ok, I do not want to bother her. She kept insisting until I said “You felt bad right? I also feel bad, so NO thank you!”.

After the event, since Bar was there, we all went for a cup of tea nearby the bank. She kept repeating how nice she was to me, and now that she calmed down, she was saying nicer things. I offered to pay for the 2 nights that I have stayed, but she refused, and gave me back 900 Euro that were not fake. I moved out later that evening to Bar’s couch in her living room which felt so comfortable after such a dramatic day. For that, I can’t thank Bar enough for her rescue. Bar later explained to me that the reason why it was such a hassle was because the landlady did not carry an identification with her, while claiming to be legal German citizen but does not speak German. The policemen also told Bar to help to try to calm her down because she was too emotional about it.

Ending: I stayed at Bar’s couch for a week, then found a pretty room (but expensive) to stay for 3 weeks, then moved to another place for one month, and now I’m blogging from my “permanent” room. I still remember the email she sent to Bar wishing her to “have a nice life” after we parted.

So that was my crazy start in Berlin. What’s your story?

MiMs – Gladiators in Suits


6 weeks have whizzed past since the inaugural MiM programme took off on the 9th of September 2014 at the ESMT. Time certainly flies when you’re having fun!

We’ve crunched through Statistics, Decision Theory, Operational Behaviour and Business Economics. Starting next week, we’ll be taking on Financial Accounting and Decision Making.
I just did the math, and it turns out that in the last 44 days, we have done 9 handed-in assignments, 13 case studies, 3 exams and 3 presentations (not forgetting the 2 photo shoots :-).

As Olivia Pope would say in my favourite TV series, Scandal,
“We’re gladiators; gladiators in suits.”
The MiM programme is definitely not for the feint-hearted. Coming from a purely, maybe even dryly, technical background, the MiM has had a demanding and rigorous start.
The midnight oil has certainly been burnt on many a night in the past weeks. So feeling like a zombie in the morning is now somewhat normal. The other day I jokingly said,
“I’ll probably walk onto the graduation podium to the Thriller soundtrack in the background in June 2016- dance moves and all.”
I must take my hat off though to my fellow MiMs who are generally a very jolly lot. So even on days when we’re groggy and could do with extra sleep, we can still afford to laugh and at least be happy zombies.

34 students, 19 nations, 5 continents – that’s our MiM class.
Being in a class of people who hail from all corners of the world and bring different experiences, perspectives and flavours to the table has made for a very rich learning experience.
[Side-bar: I must add that I am particularly impressed that nobody has asked me if I speak ‘African’ – that’s always a good sign.]

‘Til the next blog entry:
So long, gladiators!