A Different Field Study

I recently had the opportunity of meeting my Social Enterprise Mentor, Anoop Prakash (MBA 2001). Anoop, a US Marine before coming to HBS, is a now a management consultant. His experience is therefore a little different from the ones we have been reading about in the past weeks. What follows is an excerpt from a conversation we had over lunch…

Tell us something about your particular experience in Social Enterprise
I did a Field Study in Social Enterprise during the second term of the EC.

Together with 5 fellow EC students (Oliver Backhouse, Daniella Ballou, Tebogo Skwambane, Faraz Ali and Stephen Moret ), we designed an action plan on how to increase access to AIDS drugs in Malawi.

How did you come to think about it?
I had already done a Field Study during the first semester, and loved the experience. The idea of replicating the Field Study experience came after attending a conference at KSG. Dr. Jim Kim, director of Partners in Health (www.pih.org), an NGO operating in health sector within developing countries, was a keynote speaker in a panel debating AIDS problems. The passion he put in his speech inspired me to find some way to help. It was mid December, by then. We had a brief meeting, and decided we could work together.

Our group consisted of friends with different backgrounds: experience in pharmaceuticals, biotech, international NGOs, plus a person who was originally from sub-Saharan Africa. We started meeting in early January. We chose Malawi because it seemed suitable to our time and resource constraints: politically stable, not too big or geographically inaccessible, and without enough international attention yet, despite its serious AIDS problems. We researched intensely becoming literate about all sides of the issue by interviewing professors at HBS, KSG and BU, by calling experts in Boston, nationwide and internationally, and by studying pharmaceutical distribution regulations. In sum, we learned a great deal about HIV and Malawi.

Who helped you?
We received help from many people. Dr. Jim Kim’s organization became our corporate sponsor, eventually funding our travel to Malawi. Thanks to him, we got in touch with David Scondras (see www.searchforacure.org), who worked alongside us and provided direct contacts with other NGOs and Government officials in Malawi. HBS was very helpful too. Professor Diana Barrett was our Faculty Sponsor, and the Social Enterprise Initiative funded our lodging expenses.

What were the end results of your Field Study?
In early March, four of us traveled to Malawi for a week. I have to say that it was not easy. A few of us had to skip classes (a cardinal sin at HBS!); but, we thought it was worth it. We visited several communities, had meetings with International NGOs, and arranged official meetings with officials from the Government of Malawi. We met the Vice President and the Minister of Health and Population, who appointed a person to follow the project. We conducted further research in situ, and came back with a great deal of new information. Ultimately, we finalized our recommendations, and received important feedback from the people we had involved. After preparing a final presentation for Professor Barrett, we eventually submitted our work to David Scondras.

I am proud to say that our report, integrated with additional data that David had provided, was used by his NGO to win financing worth approximately $30 million from the UN-based ‘Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.’

Very good! Who would you contact, if you were a student interested in a Field Study in the Social Enterprise, today?
Things have changed a huge amount, for the positive. I am sure that there are many more opportunities available to you now. My first stop would definitely be a chat with the Social Enterprise Faculty. Ask them if they have ideas or projects in mind. I would also contact Stacey Childress, Director of the Initiative on Social Enterprise. Then I would look for HBS Alumni who work for Social Enterprises or are in fields related to the public sector. And, of course, I still believe that your passion and ideas should drive your field study search and creation, as was the case with us!

You are now working in the private sector. Are you planning a transition to Social Enterprise? And, if so, which difficulties do you see?
Well, my family will soon move to another city, and I will leave my job in consulting. I am, in fact, considering transitioning to social enterprise. I have a friend who is developing a very interesting business idea for a social enterprise, and I would love to work with him on that. The major difficulty I see today is of being taken seriously. Social enterprises still do not enjoy the same level of credibility that private ventures do. But, things are changing, and my concerns are surpassed by the personal gratification I would gain by accomplishing something that has such a positive impact on society, as my Field study had.

This profile is part of a semester-long series that highlights the lives of HBS alumni involved with nonprofits, socially oriented for-profits, and government. Each featured alumni is a participant in the Social Enterprise Club’s mentorship program, which currently facilitates interactions between 35 mentor/student partners. For more information about this program, please contact Ted Hill at thill@mba2004.hbs.edu.