“You’ve heard of a bank run? I’ll show you a bank run!” And with those words, my CEO dashed out of the office to ensure the security of his company’s funds in the latest crisis sweeping through the Argentine financial system. With a large, growing government debt and the one-to-one currency convertibility plan in place, Argentina’s economic stability (or lack thereof) was a constant factor during my summer internship with the Endeavor Initiative.
Endeavor is a nonprofit organization with a mission to become the leading supporter of entrepreneurship in emerging markets. The companies selected to be a part of the Endeavor network have passed a screening process that evaluates the potential for the company to become an entrepreneurial role model and create positive social change.
My role was to provide strategic advice and direction to the energetic founder and CEO of a small, Buenos Aires-based telecommunications software company called Service Bureau Intetel. Through ten weeks of evaluating internal operations, estimating external markets, brainstorming strategic options, and analyzing Argentina’s economic situation, we developed a growth plan for the company based on a repositioning of its service offerings and a reorganization of its management ranks.
My position in the entrepreneurial company was much like that of an outside consultant. I focused my time on researching competitors and new markets, and on meeting with the management team to discuss some of the proposed changes in organizational processes and metrics. Like many businesses, they have no idea how profitable individual customers are, and they do not have different processes or policies for customers of different sizes or segments. While the founder is a natural-born salesman, he had never thought about looking at his customers through a marketing lens.
Endeavor sponsored five different MBAs in the beautiful city of Buenos Aires working for various startup companies. The presence of the other students enhanced the experience considerably, since we all became resources for each of the other companies. For instance, the Endeavor Argentina office conducted weekly meetings with local experts to provide a forum for discussing the issues we were encountering with our entrepreneurs and offer advice for structuring our work. Each MBA was also responsible for presenting an informal case study of their respective company and the problems they were facing. In this way, we all obtained a better perspective of the challenges inherent in trying to start and grow a business in an emerging market.
I chose the non-profit internship for several reasons. First of all, I found their mission of encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship in developing countries to be compelling and a clear use of my business skills to create positive social change. The entrepreneurs that are a part of the Endeavor network are selected based on their potential to become role models and their desire to improve their home countries.
Secondly, I have a desire to work internationally, and my previous experience studying and working in Latin America made me a good fit with Endeavor’s current operations in South America. Since my undergraduate days, I have studied international business and Spanish in Mexico, performed consulting work in several South American countries, and visited a Peace Corps operation in Ecuador. My summer in Argentina only accentuated the fact that each of the countries in the region has its own culture, issues, and way of doing business.
Finally, I chose Endeavor for its focus on entrepreneurship. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I have always viewed the business world as a place where working hard and creating value will be rewarded over the long term and will benefit others as well as yourself. In this aspect, I was able to see the development of skills in individuals involved with each of the entrepreneurial companies in the Endeavor network and the value-creating role they play within their countries.
Thankfully, Argentina survived the one-man bank run this summer. I’m just glad I was there to witness it.
Since 1982 the HBS Nonprofit and Public Management Summer Fellowship has provided financial support to current MBA students who choose to work in nonprofit and public sector organizations during the summer. Over the life of the program, over 350 students have participated in the program, with a record 48 students for summer 2001.
Sponsored by the HBS Initiative on Social Enterprise and the Social Enterprise Club, the Fellowship is funded by the School and alumni donors. The program has three principal goals:
To enable students to take jobs in nonprofit and public enterprises where their HBS training will provide significant benefits to the organization and the community it serves;
To expose students to the rewards and challenges of public and nonprofit management;
To enrich the HBS community and the quality of the MBA education by increasing the number of students with experience in the nonprofit and public sectors. For more information, contact Margot Dushin, HBS Initiative on Social Enterprise, firstname.lastname@example.org.